Thanks to a data-first analytics approach inspired by the film “Moneyball,” Pegasus Senior Living is on an upward trajectory in staffing and occupancy.
The Dallas, Texas-based senior living provider is thinking about more operations growth internally than external growth. With current capital market constraints, CEO Chris Hollister sees select acquisition opportunities for external expansion and staffing improvements as two ways to push the company forward.
“We have a pretty severe funnel for evaluating acquisitions,” Hollister told SHN during a recent interview. “We don’t want to do things that are too deeply broken. We don’t want properties that are spread out.”
The makeup of an attractive acquisition varies from one opportunity to another. The company has a small portfolio in Texas under contract for acquisition of communities in Dallas, Houston and on the Texas Gulf Coast in what Hollister said was an “attractive opportunity” for the company stemming from a low purchase price from a firm exiting the senior living industry.
“My perfect portfolio is five properties in the DFW area that are 70% occupied with good data on them that have reasonable capital partners,” Hollister said. “I don’t see us doing anything until at least the second quarter [of 2024] besides what we’re doing.”
Earlier this year, Pegasus completed memory care renovations to four communities as the company builds off of the success of the Connections memory care program that was developed by Dr. Sandi Petersen and is based around the concept “move, connect and learn.”
Pegasus Senior LIving operates 37 communities, with 35 of those communities structured in a RIDEA joint venture Welltower (NYSE: WELL).
Winding up the ‘Moneyball’ staffing approach
As Hollister detailed earlier in the year, Pegasus is evolving using an approach first inspired by the movie Moneyball.
Under Pegasus’ approach, substitute baseball for senior living, swap out former Oakland Athletics Executive Vice President Billy Beane and pinch hit Paul Green, a University of Texas at Austin Assistant Professor of Management at the McCombs School of Business.
Pegasus has partnered with Green in what Hollister described as a “handshake deal” with potential to monetize the new data model into the future.
“This is a souped up, custom designed system similar to Predictive Index,” Hollister said. “But this is more about what specific attributes of leadership style are best suited for senior living communities.”
In wading through the data, Green recently gave Pegasus leadership team members profiles of what leadership styles frontline teams like and offered leads to potential future recruitment targets. The profile also created a way to measure which leadership styles could help drive “the best net operating income” when it comes to bookkeeping and business management, Hollister said.
“One of the key findings has been that it’s about people who are thoughtful in a cognitive sense to make decisions as opposed to reacting emotionally, and that’s different from cognitive ability,” Hollister said.
That means Pegasus can use data in the future in hiring decisions to determine the best fit for leadership roles to help drive a community’s fiscal recovery. Another interesting take away from the recent meeting with Green, Hollister said, was that leaders who “give encouragement all the time” were negatively correlated with performance of frontline staff.
To make sense of that perplexing data insight, Hollister likened the scenario to a NCAA Division One head coach that mentors and trains elite talent able to offer constructive criticism, while balancing praise to aid in their athletic development.
“We need a whole new look,” Hollister said of changing how Pegasus executes its workforce strategy. “We want to go deeper. It is still very early days but we are hopeful it yields a better outcome as we use, feed, and revise the model.”
That means diving in and examining which candidates Pegasus is hiring for health and wellness directors, community sales directors and business office manager positions, in what Hollister said were the “core four positions” the company was focusing on to strengthen its operational bench.
Rollout of the new data-driven model is already underway, with Green training the Pegasus Senior Vice President of People and Culture Katheryn Pigott on how to use the model.
“We have openings right now, and we’re gonna start using it immediately,” Hollister said.
As Hollister sees it, he’s self-described as Moneyball’s Beane, allowing team members to interview candidates and make recommendations before looking at the data himself and also making a recommendation. Overall, Hollister envisions a scenario of Pegasus tracking the hiring recommendations and outcomes in a longitudinal study.
“I am going to listen to the model,” Hollister said. “If they overrule me, we’re going to track this and feed data in,” Hollister said. “We can go find these people and I think we have to start looking out of the sector.”
‘Clear path to 90%’ as recovery continues
Looking ahead, Hollister said he sees runway to grow the company’s occupancy to and beyond a crucial milestone. But doing so isn’t always easy, as evidenced by “a handful” of lagging Pegasus communities still in recovery. Hollister said occupancy is hovering in the 80th percentile, a result due to the communities’ “overbuilt Sunbelt locations combined with, frankly, challenges with execution”.
Despite those challenges, Pegasus has seen success with its more recent strategy of focusing on growing its memory care operations.
“We’re doing some memory care conversions that are still leasing up so I think we have a pretty clear path to 90% and greater over the next year or two,” Hollister said. “We’ve had operational challenges that we have to own.”
Hollister said he believes the senior living industry, specifically its workforce, is still recovering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that staff across the space are “still traumatized.”
That’s led Pegasus to create a new benefit package for employees to support mental health and support for struggling team members. That also means supporting new staff with additional training, especially getting new team members accustomed with infection control, resident rights and dementia care before stepping foot on the main floor of a community.
“We’re all in a caring business and I think caring starts at home and we’ve got to figure out how to take better care to love our employees more,” Hollister said.
In the future, Hollister said he sees an operating climate infused with technology that will be helpful in predicting and minimizing falls and injuries related to one of the most common medical incidents reported at senior living communities nationwide.
That’s because Hollister believes the industry is pushing residents towards the edge of a “cliff on affordability,” noting the need for more middle-market senior living growth.