Christian Living Communities had a foundational year in 2023 with progress made on multiple fronts, including pushing occupancy and financial results past pre-pandemic levels.
The Denver-based senior living organization launched its own in-house digital marketing agency, Cappella Digital Marketing Solutions, which CEO Jill Vitale-Aussem said “resulted in significant improvements in lead generation at a lower cost than we were paying with an outside agency.” That success has spurred CLC to begin exploring offering those services to other non-profit operators.
In January, CLC kicked off a new strategic review period to inform its next chapter, Vitale-Aussem said.
Assisting the organization as advisor is Ryan Frederick. Frederick collaborates with senior living consultancy Nexus Insights, and he also is CEO of Here, the company formerly known as Smart Living 360.
Christian Living Communities has tasked Frederick and a team of board members and leadership with taking a deep-dive into the organization as it stands now and where it should focus in the future.
“I think we’ve done a good job narrowing our focus over the last few years. what makes sense for us, but we really need to define in a more proactive way,” Vitale-Aussem told Senior Housing News.
CLC spent the last three years pruning its total community footprint, which today stands at 10 communities throughout Colorado, six of which it owns. Although the organization doesn’t have any large expansion strategies ready to go for the new year, Vitale-Aussem said her intention is for it to seek selective growth in the coming years, likely in Colorado, where it can continue to create efficiencies and regional density.
“We’re very, very rigorous for evaluating new opportunities that come our way based on what we’ve learned [since 2016],” she said.
Marketing agency helps drive foundational year
Among the organization’s big achievements in 2023 was reaching and then exceeding pre-pandemic occupancy levels. As of the end of the year, the company’s occupancy rates registered at nearly 98% for its independent living units, and 90% for assisted living and skilled nursing.
To that end, Vitale-Aussem said the creation of the new in-house marketing agency, Cappella Digital Marketing Solutions, has made all the difference in getting new prospective residents through the door.
Building a digital marketing agency was not easy and required hiring additional experts in search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing. But doing it this way is “still less expensive than it was paying an agency, and you have much more flexibility,” Vitale-Aussem said.
“We’ve had a huge increase in website traffic, lead generation and inquiries because of that,” she added.
Given how useful the agency has been for CLC, Vitale-Aussem said the organization plans to provide it as a service to other nonprofits as a new business line, potentially to other operators outside of its local market footprint.
“We don’t have this big, aggressive growth plan, and we only want to work with aligned partners,” she said. “There are other organizations that we’re in conversations with right now.”
Another success has been in employee turnover, which has been a challenge for senior living companies since even before the pandemic. Turnover for all of the organization’s community positions was 47% in 2023, a decrease compared to the organization’s 59% turnover rate in 2022. Vitale-Aussem added that some communities in the organization’s portfolio have below 40%.
In tandem with those improvements, CLC also worked in 2023 to substantially eliminate its use of agency workers. Last year, the organization launched a centralized community staffing department and formed an internal staffing agency called the “CLC Flex Team.” As a result, some communities in the organization’s portfolio are now agency-free, while others have continually reduced agency worker usage.
“It’s not just about the cost – more importantly, residents deserve to receive care and support from people they know and trust and our team members deserve to work with people they know and trust,” Vitale-Aussem said.
All of that has led to “renewed excitement and commitment to financial stewardship throughout the organization,” a big achievement in light of the organization’s challenges since the pandemic started in 2020.
“It’s just really great to see that our culture is so strong, especially coming out of such a challenging time,” Vitale-Aussem said. “I feel like we’re in a very strong and stable place right now.”
New strategic review ongoing
Although the organization has made progress on multiple fronts, it is not done evolving in 2024. That is reflected in the ongoing strategic review with Frederick.
Over the last three years, CLC has evolved and grown into a leaner organization by re-evaluating partnerships and managed communities. In doing so, the organization narrowed its focus to the state of Colorado.
But that is just the beginning of what Vitale-Aussem hopes to achieve. In January, CLC kicked off a six-month strategic review that is meant to hone its focus even further, and inform where it can evolve next.
“[For example], where should we be growing, and in what service lines? What additional services are there that we can provide within our current structure?” Vitale-Aussem said.
She added: “It is equally important to decide what we will say ‘no’ to as it is to decide what we will say ‘yes’ to.
One thing that CLC will continue to prioritize is its “citizenship model,” through which it has “made great progress undoing the institutional practices that resulted from the pandemic,” Vitale-Aussem said.
The model is an approach to aging services that recognizes “each individual, at every age and level of abilities, has gifts, passions, talents, and experience that can make the community stronger and better.”
Growth is also potentially in the cards for CLC. The organization last grew its footprint in late 2023 when it began managing a Green House community with 90 residents in Loveland, Colorado through Cappella Living Solutions management services.
“We continue to review opportunities for growth through acquisitions and mergers and management of culturally aligned organizations,” Vitale-Aussem said. “We’re focusing on the mountain region but will consider opportunities that meet our business development strategy.