Senior Living Operator LifeSpire Primed for Growth After ‘Foundational’ Moves in 2023 

The past year was “foundational” for senior living operator LifeSpire of Virginia, with President and CEO Jonathan Cook saying the organization is taking momentum into 2024 with future growth planned.

“We’ve gone back to a somewhat sense of normalcy, and the staffing issues the last 18 months threw everyone for a headspin,” Cook said. “We’ve been working on a lot of the foundational systems to put us in a position for growth.”

LifeSpire revamped its onboarding and hiring process to improve hiring using a digital platform that streamlines applications by condensing applications into five fields of information. In addition to making hiring easier, as other operators have done, LifeSpire uses PolicyStat software that allows for managing company policies and procedures going forward.


Over the years, that has helped break down the silos that formed between LifeSpire’s communities, all of which were operating “very independently” in terms of new policies and procedures prior to Cook’s arrival as CEO in 2014.

“Several years ago, we had over 25,000 policies and we had to purge that,” Cook said. “Now we have one platform that’s all online and it’s obviously foundational.”

Cook said that despite past challenges in staffing, LifeSpire is now “knocking it out of the park,” having success on retention. Three years ago, LIfeSpire had a 12% staff vacancy rate, up from 5% in pre-pandemic years. Fast-forward today and the company reduced vacancies overall to 7%. To complicate staffing troubles, the fact remains that 60% of the company’s positions are entry-level jobs, Cook added, even amidst a recovery.


“We’ve started to recover and we’re getting close,” Cook said on solving staffing issues.

Solving turnover has been a key area for operators to focus on in 2023, with LifeSpire reporting a 28% turnover rate to 40% depending on the position and community.

Nursing positions remain the toughest puzzle to put together. With success on its compa-ratio, a measurement of pay that compares an employee’s salary to the median compensation for similar positions in a target market. In the last three years, LifeSpire has increased salaried wages by 37%. Other benefits have included creating a financial literacy program for staff to help relieve stress coupled with wage growth that “starts with salary.”

“Our whole goal is if you’re with us for two or three years, we don’t want to lose you,” Cook said. “I think the key to the secret sauce is making sure that people know that you care about them, and the package of other benefits.”

But that 37% increase on wages wasn’t absorbed by residents, it was fueled through occupancy growth portfolio wide to the point at which the company’s communities are full, Cook added.

LifeSpire swapped out its medical supply company in order to better capture care revenue and outsourced Medicare billing overseas. Another highlight was the company’s recent shift with group purchasing of utility services to save “six-figures annually,” Cook noted.

“It’s subtle things like that that create quite a few efficiencies,” Cook said. “The more efficient we can be, the better off we are.”

In terms of internal growth, LifeSpire will continue to expand its footprint at existing communities, from adding independent living revenue opportunities while downsizing skilled nursing exposures across the portfolio.

“Internally we call that right-sizing our communities and we’re trying to get to 20% higher level of care with assisted living, memory care and skilled and 80% independent living,” Cook said.

Externally, LifeSpire continues to pursue acquisitions and affiliations, rather than force through extensive new development, even as the company continues on manageable addition projects in the near-term. The company uses a matrix to determine the viability of a prospective acquisition, Cook added.

“We’re getting acquisition and affiliation opportunities left and right,” Cook said. “External growth is more likely going to be through affiliations or acquisitions.”

After acquiring The Summit three years ago, LifeSpire realized it didn’t have the necessary foundation in place to absorb a new community quickly, which in-part prompted the focus on continuity of operations and policy management.

With market demand strong for independent living, LifeSpire has “waitlists in the hundreds” at three of its five communities. That, coupled with its higher acuity care settings will prime LifeSpire for future success, Cook noted.

At its Richmond, Virginia campus, LifeSpire recently added 20 cottages and added three full-time employees, compared to a heavier lift with higher-acuity development which requires more staff to support residents. Additional independent living units will come to the Roanoke property, along with added memory care units at the Summit. Other external growth will include IL amenities expansion and some “hybrid homes.”

“We’re going to look at renovations and hybrid homes at our Chesapeake community in Newport News as well as the Richmond campus,” Cook said. “So at four of our five communities, we’re full speed ahead.”

Moving forward, Cook said he believes the industry will continue to shift towards consolidation, not out of financial strain, but born of creating strength in scale, Cook noted.

“We’re going to continue to see a drive towards quality and that’s one of the things we want to focus on in 2024 is elevating our standards of care and our standards of practice and our services and programs,” Cook said.

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