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Did Brookdale Really Prove Bigger Is Rarely Ever Better?

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By Steve Moran

If you are a regular reader of Senior Housing Forum you know I have written some pretty tough articles about Brookdale (as well as some nice ones). 

First and foremost, our goal at Senior Housing Forum is to write articles that make the senior living sector better. While I know putting Brookdale in the headline drives traffic and that there are lots of ways to go negative on Brookdale, in many cases it does not really help the industry. (I want to note that this is not criticism of other publications like Senior Housing News that are more specifically focused on reporting news.) Keep in mind that is not to say I have not written articles out of frustration, but I usually discard them when -- upon reflection -- I realize are not really helpful to anyone.

I would like to say that I am mindful that having someone publish something negative about the company they work for is discouraging and demoralizing. I try very hard to keep that in mind when writing negative things, asking if it is worth it. Sometimes the lessons are so important that the answer is yes and sometimes we write about companies while hiding their identity and . . . sometimes we get it wrong.

Is Bigger Really Bad?

On June 12, 2017, Senior Housing News published an article titled “How Brookdale Proved Bigger is Rarely Better in Senior Living”.  It was a great headline and I went on reading . . . the basis for the article was a panel discussion at the Post Acute Link Care Continuum Conference in Chicago on June 12. Two quotes from the article  really jumped out at me:

“The trick to a healthy deal market, panelists agreed, lies in making sure that providers don’t get too big.”

“In senior living, bigger is almost never better—and some of the industry’s largest players found that out the hard way.”

I am not sure how we decide or who decides what “too big” is or means. I further think that all that has been proved is that so far . . . Brookdale has not been able to leverage their size and turn it into something amazing.

It’s Complicated

It turns out that this is actually a very complicated question because not only does it include size but you also have to factor in the complexities of being a public company. With being public comes the pressure of quarterly earnings, which, in turn, cause some leaders to engage in short term tactics rather than long term strategies.   

The Minority View

I know I hold a minority view, but I believe it is possible with the right leadership, the right focus and the right culture to have a 400, 500, 800 or 1,200 community senior living community and be very successful. I would agree that no one has managed to pull it off yet but that does not mean it is not doable.  

Here is what it would take for Brookdale or any senior living community to make it happen:

  1. Extraordinary visionary leadership (please do not see this as an attack on Brookdale leadership).

  2. The discipline to hire and grow leaders in the middle that can then trickle down that vision all the way to the property level.

  3. The commitment to be as entrepreneurial as possible up and down the leadership tree.

  4. The recognition that everything corporate has to be only about supporting what happens at the community level.

  5. The ability to listen to those who are doing the work. To value the “here’s-what-needs-fixing” feedback more than than “here’s-what's-working" feedback (something any kiss-up can do).

Someday someone is going to make it happen and it will be a beautiful thing. Who knows it could still happen with Brookdale. In fact, I would love to see Brookdale prove the naysayers wrong.

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