LWC21 Let’s Hear From the Leaders Session

In this session from our 18th Annual HJ Sims Late Winter Conference, in February 2021, thought-provoking insight from exceptional leaders across the non-profit and proprietary segments of the senior living industry was shared in an open dialogue. The leaders discussed key developments and current trends influencing their organizations. Highlights include:

  • Crisis Management and Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Staffing Changes During and After COVID-19
  • The Need for an Open Line of Marketing & Communications
  • Social Awareness

Resilience in Crisis/Lessons Learned

The COVID-19 Pandemic has created challenges previously unseen. Suzanne highlighted the importance of adaptability, and  maintaining the ability to pivot  quickly to rapidly changing  circumstances and state guidance. Tom shared that most communities  had disaster recovery plans in  place, including Pandemic plans, however had focused largely for  events such as hurricanes and  earthquakes, with less active  preparation for a Pandemic event.

Speaking to recovery, David said that while slow, recovery has started. Beyond the vaccines, there are positive signs. For instance, leads, tours and inquiries are increasing. Both Watermark Retirement Communities and HumanGood communities have  seen a significant uptick in web traffic. David acknowledged that recovery has been uneven across  regions, in part because of differing local rules regarding the closing of  campuses due to positive tests among residents or staff.

Staffing Changes During and After COVID

John stated that COVID exacerbated, rather than created, staffing challenges faced by senior living communities. The question facing organizations is how much of the increase in staff expenses is permanent and which will abate as the Pandemic eases. Tom added he does not expect a return to pre-COVID levels, due to the lessons around infection control, greater  customer expectations and the need to increase wages to attract and certain staff. John pointed out better wages for front-line health care staff are necessary on an industry-wide basis, otherwise recruitment will become increasingly difficult. Suzanne added increased fees were previously met with strong resistance from residents. During the past budget cycle however, as the majority of fee increases were  funding higher staff wages, Aldersgate encountered little to no resistance. Others also indicated their staff appreciation fundraising efforts yielded record results. 


Tom discussed Benchmark’s efforts to maintain an open line of  communication with their communities, residents and families. In fact, throughout the Pandemic each community has  been sending daily communications regarding the status of COVID-19 on campus. John discussed his organization’s efforts to leverage technology, such as tablets, to advance efficiency while improving resident and team member experience. 

Social Awareness

Suzanne shared that socially distanced marches were organized  at Aldersgate, with leadership from staff, following the death of George Floyd. These occurred on and off-campus, were attended by staff and residents, and even those in the  skilled nursing facility. John  offered that their internal conversations with staff showed that while good intentions were recognized, they are not enough, that people of color and LGBTQIA+ staff are looking for actions and outcomes. Further, it  was understood that this is a  journey, and these efforts cannot be viewed as short-term programs. Suzanne added they should not be called programs, as programs  eventually terminate, and these should be permanent changes. John added that piecemeal or one-off  approaches often do more harm than good. David pointed out that Watermark was able to leverage  experienced gained through an art/training reach-out effort to the  LGBTQIA+ community, called  “Not Another Second,” to implement training around race  relations. 

For more information, please contact Andrew Nesi at [email protected] or Curtis King at [email protected].

For coverage on any of our other conference sessions, please visit our events page.

Panel of Industry Leaders

John Cochrane Headshot

John Cochrane
President & CEO

Tom Grape Headshot

Tom Grape
Chairman & CEO

David Freshwater
Watermark Retirement Communities

Suzanne Pugh Headshot

Suzanne Pugh
President & CEO

Replay our 18th Annual Late Winter Conference