By Susan Saldibar
It isn’t easy to get to 100% occupancy. So it’s cool to hear about communities that do. Cooler yet is when they can stay at 100% for over 100 days! You wonder, who did it and how did they do it? The “who” in this case is Ballard Landmark Senior Living.
Ballard Landmark is just one of the senior living communities owned by GenCare, a small Seattle-based operator with properties located in the Seattle area and two new ones in Tacoma and Federal Way. You may not have heard of them. And that’s okay by GenCare Founder and CEO, Leon Grundstein, who is perfectly happy for his communities to “fly under the radar”. (Who wouldn’t be at a sustained 100% occupancy?)
Steve Moran recently interviewed the leadership team on a podcast. Online with Leon were Corporate Executive Director Danielle Parker, and Marketing Manager Mindy Beyers.
First, Steve asked Leon to share some of their secret sauce.
“We have kept our community network small on purpose,” Leon says. “We pride ourselves on actually implementing and doing the things we say we can do,” he adds.
Leon went on to describe what they call their “whole life living”. This involves a set of four guiding principles that are central to their care concept. In a nutshell, they cover culinary, physical fitness, mental fitness, and purposeful living. Leon acknowledges that these are not new concepts. But he makes it clear that real actions support those concepts. “We’re not here to throw around a lot of jargon. We’re here to truly make life better for our residents.”
And they are doing just that with 100% organic menus (that took a good year to fine-tune), injecting things like dance into their fitness programs, and getting their staff and residents involved with local schools and charity programs. They even have a “director of vitality”, whose performance is assessed on the levels of participation of staff and residents. The goal is always total engagement by all staff members.
Their reward is a dedicated team, several of whom have been on board for 10 years or more. But they have no trouble attracting new talent. “We have some very seasoned people coming here from larger communities,” says Leon. “They like us because we implement what we say we are going to implement.”
Danielle agrees. “All of our leadership roles and department heads have all been here since the beginning. And our ancillary service providers, housekeepers, even our fabulous dishwashers, are moving up to desk positions and/or going off to college.” I have to admit I haven’t heard anyone reference “fabulous dishwashers” before. But, then, Danielle started off modestly herself, “I personally started as a dining room server in a retirement community, so I’m always looking for talent and promoting from within.” Very cool.
So how did they even get to 100% occupancy, let alone sustain it for 100+ days?
Steve asked Mindy to share how the 100% occupancy goal took off. “It had been a long time since we had been at 100% occupancy,” Mindy explains. “So, I reached out to the entire team last February and said, ‘Okay let’s go for 100!’” And they did. But Mindy knew they could do more. “By March 31st we had gotten there. I think they all thought that was it,” Mindy chuckles. “I just said, ‘Okay now let’s shoot for 100% for 100 days”. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Lest this all sound way too simplistic, the GenCare folks were quick to explain to Steve that this kind of goal, sustained for 100-plus days, couldn’t happen just anywhere. It was a true team effort and the leadership team’s enthusiasm was felt by everyone, all the way down the chain of command. Of course, hanging on to that 100% occupancy didn’t come without some challenges. “We had 6 move outs in March,” Mindy tells Steve. “That required my maintenance man to come in at 2:00 a.m. to turn an apartment around. As to his willingness and can-do attitude . . . I just can’t say enough.”
From 100% down to 99.6%. No one is complaining.
So, are they still at 100% occupancy? No, and they have absolutely no problem with that. “That’s no longer our top focus,” Mindy says. “We wanted to prove we could do it, we did it, and it made our team so much stronger.” But the focus is where it should be: on making sure their residents enjoy a high quality of life. As to their occupancy rate today? 99.6%.
Steve was impressed. “I really like the idea of the common goal and all team members keyed into it. So often that is missed in senior living as everyone goes off and does their thing,” he says. “And as to the 100% thing; you’re right. Having that as an ongoing goal could lead to making decisions not always in the best interests of the residents. And, where did you say you are now? 99.6%? That’s not bad. Not bad at all!”
There’s much more on the podcast as Leon, Mindy, and Danielle share with Steve some of the great things they have going in terms of building strong relationships with social workers and providers as they move on with new initiatives and goals. It’s all on the podcast, which you can watch here: