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5 Senior Living Operators to Watch in 2024

Editor’s Note: SHN Editor Tim Regan and SHN Reporter Andrew Christman contributed to this article

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Steady recovery amid ever-changing challenges, new operating models to spur innovation, consolidation and partnerships— these are some of the traits of senior living organizations standing out in 2024.

Companies are pushing through headwinds and their work is worth tracking. What follows is a list of senior living operators worth keeping an eye on in 2024:

Lutheran Senior Services

St. Louis-based Lutheran Senior Services (LSS) has been on the move this year, most recently by announcing its intent to affiliate with Diakon, a Lutheran-aligned senior living operator based in Pennsylvania.

The deal is slated to create a new senior housing and care organization with a footprint of one dozen life plan communities, one assisted living community and nine affordable senior housing communities. Going by the most recent LeadingAge Ziegler 200 report, that would make LSS the 12th-largest nonprofit senior housing operator in the country.

“[The deal] will make sure that we are better able to compete for talent; make sure that we can continue to add and to grow specialty positions within the organization; create career-ladder opportunities for our team; and then obviously, increase purchasing power, negotiating power, spread overhead, improve access to capital,” LSS CEO Adam Marles told Senior Housing News in March.

Marles and the organization are not done growing and evolving this year, either. He previously told SHN that the organization has a new strategic framework and is engaged in a “pivot year” in 2024. That pivot includes moving away from skilled nursing and deeper into core private-pay senior living services such as independent living, assisted living and memory care.

“For us a laser focus right now is making sure that we have sustainable communities for the long-term, recognizing that boomers’ demands are going to be so much different than our current consumer,” Marles told Senior Housing News.

The organization’s focus on evolving for a new demographic of older adults, plus its fast and continued growth in 2024, make LSS one worth keeping an eye on this year.

Retirement Unlimited, Inc.

Retirement Unlimited, Inc. (RUI) is a company that’s likely already on the radar for some senior living industry watchers. But the operator has become an even more important one to keep an eye on in the last 12 months.

In late December, RUI announced the acquisition of Brandywine Living, a deal that increased the company’s portfolio to 59 communities across the country. With the acquisition of Brandywine, RUI picked up new scale in New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania.

The Roanoke, Virginia-based senior living operator has been on a fast growth trajectory since 2021, when it had just 12 communities in its portfolio. And in 2024, the company has gone on a hiring spree by adding regional-level leaders across the country.

The company has grown in recent years with the help of real estate investment trust Welltower (NYSE: WELL), and in 2023, that relationship helped fuel the launch of a new luxury brand for RUI. Welltower CEO Shankh Mitra has also identified RUI as a top operating partner for the REIT.

Helping to lead RUI is President Doris-Ellie Sullivan, a seasoned senior housing industry leader with a clear vision for the company’s future in a fast-changing industry. 

Sullivan represents the next generation of industry leadership, and in 2023, she earned a spot as a Senior Housing News Changemaker. At the time, she spoke about the need for operators to evolve for the incoming baby boomer generation.

“Our customer coming through the doors is completely different,” Sullivan told SHN in 2023 as part of that interview. “Going through customer-journey mapping, looking at other industries – I think senior living needs to focus on that.”

In 2024, REITs and other deep-pocketed companies are in the driver’s seat with regard to new growth, and RUI’s Welltower backing will likely keep its lane for future expansion wide open. That reason, coupled with the company’s leadership, makes RUI a senior living operator to watch this year.

Onelife Senior Living

Onelife Senior Living recently merged with Ally Senior Living and created a 19-community senior housing operator and management company in February, with headquarters in Denver, Colorado.

The combined company was born out of Onelife Founder Zack Falk and former Ally CEO Dan Williams’ shared vision for what the future of the senior living industry looks like. Both found vision and mission alignment and both shared the challenges of running a small to midsize operator during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“You need some scale in order to get the resources to make the building successful and I think both Zack and I realized that and I think the other, smaller companies may be in the same position.”

Now with approximately 1,500 employees and will focus on value-add acquisitions from distressed properties, Onelife will focus 2024 on integration of systems and teams of the newly-merged companies with the goal of three acquisitions by the year’s end. The company recently completed an acquisition of a community in Henderson, Nevada in the Las Vegas metro area.

“The main goal is to get all that sorted out going into next year we’re really well-aligned with all of our systems and how we operate so that we can be a best-in-class operator. We’re not going to let the integration process stop us from growth,” Williams said during a recent SHN Transform podcast interview.

Onelife and Ally’s merger could be how smaller senior living operators might fuel growth by joining force, and for that reason, makes Onelife a provider to watch this year.

Affinity Living Communities

Affinity Living Communities gained new prominence earlier this year when it was labeled as one of the “major players” in the space by Welltower CEO Shankh Mitra, after the REIT acquired a 25-property portfolio managed by the company for nearly $1 billion in February.

President Darin Davidson has noted that Welltower is “a partner with shared values and forward thinking.”

“The Welltower partnership will enable us to enhance and extend our ability to execute our mission of creating thriving communities in which our engaged residents live full and happy lives,” he said in a press release at the time.

The 3,900-unit portfolio is mostly concentrated in the Pacific Northwest and expands Welltower’s “wellness housing portfolio.” The communities are purpose-built with an average age of eight years, with resident rates of about $2,100. They typically span 30,000 square feet of amenity space.

According to the REIT, the Affinity portfolio carries margins close to 60%, and there are opportunities to further expand it by three or four new properties a year.

Looking ahead, wellness-focused properties for low-acuity residents will represent a bigger part of the REIT’s strategy, with companies like Affinity Living Group potentially at the forefront of that strategy. That, along with the active adult sector’s still-popular status among investors and owners, makes the company worth paying attention to this year.

Gardant Management Solutions

The senior living industry is at the cross-current of two major trends: The need to offer middle-market rates for residents, and the need to educate prospects about what senior living is in light of new scrutiny on the industry.

Bourbonnais, Illinois,-based Gardant Management Solutions sits at the nexus of both trends.

Thanks to the addition of about two-dozen former Pathway to Living communities to its portfolio in 2023, Gardant is now one of the largest assisted living providers in the country with 80 communities. The company’s middle-market model utilizes a combination of private pay rates and Medicaid waivers to keep costs lower for residents.

Gardant currently serves about 6,000 older adults through the Medicaid waiver program, an effort that has required “an entirely different business model altogether,” Simpkins said.

The operator’s model was on full display earlier this year during a Senate hearing prompted by recent Washington Post articles on resident elopement, when Gardant Management Co-President and COO Julie Simpkins spoke about the need to offer middle-market options for residents.

“With a rapidly growing elderly population, we need a public and private partnership to incentivize more providers to develop these models,” Simpkins said at the Senate hearing. “From expanding more affordable long-term care options to workforce programs addressing the growing caregiver shortages, these efforts could make a real difference.”

Simpkins is not shy about the fact that she sees a greater role for federal and state governments in helping subsidize the cost of senior living – and she is not the only one in the industry who feels that way, either.

Given the company’s fast growth and innovation at the forefront of the public payment trend in senior living, Gardant Management is a senior living operator to watch in 2024.

The post 5 Senior Living Operators to Watch in 2024 appeared first on Senior Housing News.

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