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Gardant Starts New Chapter With Overhauled Leadership, Growth Strategies

With a new leadership structure and a first-ever long-term strategic growth plan, Gardant Management Solutions has begun a new chapter of expansion and evolution in 2023.

Co-presidents Julie Simpkins and Greg Echols have spent the year looking to grow and evolve the organization since taking the newly created dual roles in April. That recently culminated in the addition of 22 Pathway to Living communities in Illinois and Ohio, along with three contracts from a Springfield, Illinois ownership group, bringing the Bourbonnais, Illinois-based company’s total portfolio up to 80 and representing its largest-ever number of management contracts taken on at one time.  

With a new corporate structure primed for growth, the company is not stopping there. Looking ahead to 2024, Gardant plans to focus even more on bringing more senior living communities into the fold, with a specialty in providing more affordable assisted living services by leveraging certain states’ Medicaid waiver programs and other creative financing tools.

Meanwhile, the company is seeing some wins in its operations, with an occupancy rate just over 96%, a turnover rate for executive directors trending in the right direction and an overall company value that has grown 14% in the year leading up to the ownership change.

“We want to become more vocal as a company to demonstrate to the industry at large, these are the things that we have found successful to make accessibility and affordability of care work,” Echols told Senior Housing News. “Not only for a company that needs to be profitable, but for real estate owners who are making a commitment and an investment in real estate who are expecting a profitable return.”

Building a platform for growth

Simpkins and Echols are measuring Gardant’s success in 2023 through three factors: the overall occupancy rate of Gardant’s senior housing portfolio, its executive director turnover rate and reducing the need for contracting with agencies to staff facilities.

Adding 25 communities at once is no easy feat, and requires a keen attention to detail. Given the senior living industry’s widespread challenges in 2023, the company adopted a mindset of continuous improvement and autonomy on the community level.

“I’m anticipating that we’re going to need to become more efficient, perpetually, and we’re going to plan to grow,” Echols said.

Among Gardant’s first steps for preparing for growth was overhauling the company’s leadership structure. In April, Gardant Co-Founder Rod Burkett stepped back from his role as CEO and became the company’s chairman. Echols and Simpkins took the reins as co-presidents, with the idea being that two are better than one when it comes to leadership.

Even before the transition, Gardant worked to identify and develop other leaders in the company as part of what Simpkins dubbed a “shift-up plan.”

In order to prepare for the transition of management of the 25 communities, the company also made sure to communicate clearly with residents, their families and employees on the management transition from Pathway to Gardant. Among the company’s goals was to keep as many employees as possible with the change.

“It was a partnership to make sure that, as this transition happened, the residents and the employees at the community were really not affected,” Simpkins said.

Because of those efforts, employees at all levels within the communities stayed on when Gardant took on management of the 25 communities, according to Simpkins. In addition, the operator hired 26 Pathway to Living team members who had overseen the communities in their prior roles..

In preparation for growth, Gardant shifted from a performance-based evaluation for employees to a “people-based strategy,” according to Echols. That focus allows future leaders to be developed within Gardant and encourages them to spend their careers there rather than taking their knowledge to another position elsewhere.

Central to those efforts is a robust benefits package that includes a new employee stock ownership program, which “has the potential to create long-term sustainability for ownership of Gardant while providing an opportunity for existing owners to be monetized when they choose to exit the company,” he said.

“It’s basically a commitment … making sure [the company] stays in the hands of those who are making Gardant viable today,” Echols added.

Autonomy was another piece of the puzzle.

“It takes an intentional focus on a culture of development … which says we are not waiting on our leadership to tell us what’s coming down the pike,” Echols said. “We are involving people in the process to create efficiencies.”

Those efforts have resulted in recent wins that include an executive director turnover rate of just under 21% and higher employee satisfaction scores. Staffing agencies are also used in just one of the company’s communities as of September.

“We were able to do it by recognizing the human resources that we needed that we were investing in,” Simpkins said.

The company’s leaders also attribute their careful planning to its relatively strong Covid recovery.

“Did we have challenges during Covid like everybody else? Sure,” Simpkins said. “We bounced back faster than most because we are continuously planning for the next thing and making sure we have people that are able to handle it.”

Planning for more growth ahead

Looking ahead, Gardant has its sights set on continued growth, with an emphasis on states that utilize the Medicaid waiver program since it fits the needs of the majority of its residents, such as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

The future growth in question is going to be “correlated to the aging population,” with Echols noting the population aged 80 to 84 is expected to grow 200% by 2040.Gardant also believes that it has room to grow beyond the industry’s standard penetration rate of ” between 11% and 12%.

“We know exactly how much we are going to need a capacity for care in the markets we serve,” Echols said. “At the same time, we know supply isn’t going to match the growth. We know there is going to be a shortage in the capacity for care that is needed.”

Gardant is planning to be more vocal about what it is and who the company serves.Echols noted there is a need to educate taxpayers about the benefits of Medicaid for senior housing, particularly in states where it is not being used as efficiently. The Medicaid waiver program that is utilized by Gardant has been historically important, Echols said, and it was a founding element of the company to help meet an unmet need with seniors in those states.

Gardant’s primary strategy for growth moving forward is likely to be acquisition-based due to the rising nature of construction costs. The company also works with multiple community owners with more opportunities for expansion down the line. .

“This growth that has been a result of Pathway to Living exiting from the industry has been the first opportunity for us to demonstrate to a broad group of new owners what Gardant can provide as a valuable manager,” Echols said. “We intend to do more of that.” 

The post Gardant Starts New Chapter With Overhauled Leadership, Growth Strategies appeared first on Senior Housing News.

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