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Goodwin Living CEO: Why Brain Health, At-Home  Care Are Next Frontiers for Senior Living Innovation

Goodwin Living’s future lies in expanding health service offerings as the senior living provider keeps its focus on staffing and other operational efforts.

The Alexandria, Virginia-based organization is a faith-based nonprofit that operates three communities in the northern Virginia area serving approximately 1,100 residents with a full continuum of care. Goodwin Living also manages a hospice program, certified home health program, clinical education program and its rapidly expanding Stronger Memory brain health memory care program.

“We’ve doubled the number of people we’ve served with certified home health services,” Goodwin Living CEO Rob Liebreich said in a recent episode of the Senior Housing News Transform podcast. “Our brain health program has grown to support over 20,000 people across the country, and so I see all those areas with opportunity for growth.”

Occupancy has “surged” in the last 14 months, increasing 8% in assisted living (AL) and memory care, landing at 92% overall, according to Liebreich. And in 2023, Goodwin Living infused $20 million into its three-community portfolio to upgrade and improve its communities.

“We were focused on making sure that our reputation has stayed strong,” Liebreich said. “Covid started and everything got painted dire and sad and we were able to combat that in our market and give a different view of the work we do. That’s been the biggest part of our comeback.”

Goodwin Living was named a top workplace in the D.C. region by the Washington Post in a ranking that competed across all industries, and in recent years increased its base wage rates by $7 for frontline workers. Turnover has reduced to 27%, the lowest reported in the last four years, with a goal of reaching 25% turnover and ultimately 20% over time.

As the company embarks on a new chapter, Liebreich is keeping his eyes open for other growth opportunities.

“There’s bound to be some affiliation opportunities, and maybe additional acquisition opportunities, and [we’ll] see what comes this year,” Liebreich said.

Highlights from Liebreich’s podcast appearance are included below, edited for length and clarity. You can listen to Transform on Soundcloud and Apple Podcasts.

On Goodwin Living’s recovery:

The journey has been extensive. And I think really the building back is just building back the trust with our team members to make sure that they know we have their back. That’s been a very important story over the last four years. I think with the occupancy side and revenues, we made some intentional decisions to err on the side of safety for the well-being of our residents, those we serve and our team members.

So, we spent a few more dollars, certainly in the millions, as we were going through the challenges of COVID. So coming back from that, our occupancy has actually been really solid, and it’s stayed consistent in our communities … we just acquired a rental community last year. That community itself has also seen a real surge in occupancy over the last 14 months.

That’s been where we’ve been focused. Right before COVID happened, we actually invested in some public relations and made sure that we could paint the picture we wanted to have in the minds of the consumer … I think that helped us, because as COVID started, everything got painted dire and [with] sadness, and we were able to combat that in our market and give a different view of what the work we do is, and so I think that’s been probably our biggest part of our comeback.

On occupancy recovery as a nonprofit provider:

It’s improving in all aspects. We’ve seen an uptick in the number of people on our Priority Club list, so we’d love to say that means there’s good energy out there and future people that want to move in. We’ve seen our assisted living and memory care jump 8% this last year.

I think one of the differences maybe is the longevity of our brand in our market, because we’ve been in service for over 50 years. We’ve been consistent, stable and we’ve been a place that people could count on. Nonprofits in our field have longevity, and I think that’s an advantage, and through the pandemic time, it’s been advantageous for us. Our money goes right back into the organization … in service to communities and our residents.

On Goodwin Living improving staffing and opportunities ahead in 2024:

First and foremost, it’s staying the course with our service to our existing residents and supporting our team members and the people that we serve in the general community. This last year, I would say one of our main focuses was on turnover rates. We have just about 1,200 team members. And this year, we were identified as the top place to work in the region by the Washington Post, which is voted on by our team members and compared against other organizations, not just senior living organizations, but all organizations. We felt great about that. We’ve been on the top 10 list for the last five years, so to come in the top spot this year felt great, given all the other things that are going on in our field.

We have the same focus to stay attentive to our team members and really make sure that they understand how important they are to the mission of the organization, how important they are for us to be successful, and we had about a 27% turnover rate last year, which was the best we’d had in four years. We’re going to stay focused on trying to keep turnover down to a minimum by getting that down to 25% and then down to 20% over time. That’s a key opportunity for us.

A lot of the work we all do is trying to build up the strengths of our managers, because a lot of times people leave the manager, not the organization. And so we’ve spent a lot of time building programs for new managers to provide skills and tools for them to be better at their work and interacting with their team members, and I think that’s been a really important part of the equation for us. We love to promote from within, so having career paths identified and helping people on their journey is important.

People want to have a voice, they want to work for someone they like; they want to work for an organization that has a strong mission orientation, and those are all things that we think are critical and important.

We started being able to provide $5,250 annually towards education pursuits, and we don’t require people to stay with us after we pay that, and that’s been a big step in the right direction for us. We realized that a lot of people have already gone through and paid a lot of money for their education. So this year, we’re stepping up and forgiving upwards of $5,250 a year for those who have student loan debt. We keep on listening more intently and more consistently, and as we get that feedback, we’re taking actions and then showcasing those actions back to our team members. I think it’s a simple formula that when done consistently hopefully will continue to bear good fruit.

On recent operational progress:

We’ve doubled the number of people we’ve served with certified home health services, our brain health program has grown to support over 20,000 people across the country, so I really see all those areas with opportunity for growth.

We’ve also seen growth in our At Home program, so I anticipate this year that we’ll continue to see growth there, and the acquisition of a new community is always going to take up some focus and time and energy. We’ve been able to bring that community from 65% when we acquired it all the way up to 92% [occupancy.] There’s still more left to be done there, but a lot of the lift has occurred there in the last 14 months. There’s bound to be some affiliation opportunities, maybe some additional acquisition opportunities.

On leveraging the operator’s nonprofit status:

I think our nonprofit status calls us to do work in a different way … As an example, we spend a half million dollars on our brain health team annually and that half-million dollar investment has helped over the last two-and-a-half to three years now impact at least 20,000 lives for the better with the Stronger Memory Program. It’s something that we don’t charge for, it’s a complimentary service, so that’s not a for-profit mentality, and it’s in line with our mission, which is to support, honor and uplift the lives of older adults and the people who care for them.

But we still have to be a strong business, and so we have to still be able to have more revenue coming in than expenses, and having investments in capital. When Covid hit, we went into our shells because we needed to reserve cash. Coming out of Covid, we were back to paying a 100% depreciation amount to invest in our existing communities. Our resources go back into the community consistently and we don’t have investors that are looking for a return of 25%, 35% or 40%.

Decision-making for us goes through a few more steps, so I have trustees that are responsible for the fiduciary success of the organization. They hire and have one employee, that’s me as CEO and president. So if I want to get things done, sometimes it takes a few more steps or a little bit longer. The second thing I would say is my ability to raise capital is really limited because I don’t have a return on investment as a driving force. You’re having to get more creative on that side if we want to find additional capital to do acquisitions or growth opportunities.

On Goodwin Living’s citizenship workforce initiative:

One of the greatest gifts that we get is by listening to our residents. And back in 2018, a resident came to the table and said our team members are awesome, but there was a fee of $725 for [some of them to become U.S. citizens]. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it’s impossible to save up $725 for the effort to become a citizen.We have over 65 countries represented by our workforce and 25% of our workforce are not U.S. citizens.

Now, five years later, we’ve been able to see 163 people having benefited from the program on their way to citizenship … and it’s really not easy.

So there’s financial support that occurs but there’s also support from our residents, and they are mentors for our team members to get through the U.S. citizenship test. It’s amazing to see the outcome of that. We do a celebration of that annually. We think, as a field, everyone should be doing something like this to say we welcome folks to come to us and serve in our field. We’re going to need that given all the challenges that we have seen.

Click below to listen to the entire episode:

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