American House Senior Living Communities is in “aggressive growth mode,” and new COO Brianne Zitko is helping to lead the charge.
The Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based senior living operator announced Zitko’s promotion from senior vice president of growth strategy to COO on May 11. In her new role, she will guide the company as it adds to its senior living portfolio, particularly in the Midwest and in Florida.
Currently, American House has 53 senior living communities in its portfolio, with six more in development. The company’s current partners include ReNew REIT, Harrison Street, Black Salmon and AEW Capital Management.
“We, right now, are looking to grow by about three to four communities per year through development and acquisitions,” Zitko told Senior Housing News.
Among her primary concerns is recovering occupancy, which at American House currently stands at about 78%. Before that pandemic, that rate was closer to 88%. Though it has some ground to make up, Zitko is optimistic that American House’s “comeback will be stronger than the setback,” and already, she sees the needle moving in the right direction.
“Just in the last 60 days, we’ve grown occupancy by 1.8%, and we’re on track to grow about another 1% with our projections for May so far,” she said. “So, it would appear as though, after the setbacks of last year, we’ve really gotten ourselves back into a mode of recovery.”
Zitko is also focused on aligning accountability for sales and operations teams to boost efficiency. For example, while some in the industry see sales teams as solely responsible for a senior living company’s revenue, Zitko believes that responsibility should be shared with operations teams.
“Every move-out save is critical to the revenue line,” Zitko said. “So, if the responsibility is … shared between operations and sales, that is a much more of an efficient process.”
Guiding that effort are seven “key processes” that Zitko sees as crucial for American House’s way forward: managing move-outs, controlling labor costs, recovering revenue, maintaining financial performance and accountability, benchmarking, culture and communication.
Zitko, who joined American House in 2019, is no stranger to senior housing. Over her career, she’s held leadership positions at Sunrise Senior Living, Belmont Village and Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD).
“This has been actually the third time that I have been appointed to an operations role … after managing a sales role,” Zitko said. “So, this will be my third rodeo.”
In particular, Zitko specializes in taking on and improving turnaround senior housing communities — and that is part of the reason American House tapped her for the COO role.
“My turnaround experience is being able to see communities that were in difficult shape with a lot of pressure from investors and such, and working with the teams to say, ‘We can do this, here’s how we’re going to do it,’ and then ultimately make it happen,” Zitko said.
She believes that, in order to build occupancy, senior living community leaders must shift to a mindset centered on what they can achieve.
“We all know the comeback is not easy, and we’re always going to have some challenges that we didn’t foresee,” Zitko said. “But we have to have that mental fortitude to make it through each challenge, and … to keep pushing to get where we need to get.”
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