The Wisconsin Invasion

In every industry there are opportunities to network and exchange information with one’s peers.  At a recent industry meeting that I have attended for nearly 20 years, I was struck by the number of strangers in the room.  It took me a minute to get my bearings and figure out what had changed.

In the past, many Wisconsin senior facilities were family businesses started because someone had a loved one who needed care.  And when compared to other states, Wisconsin has always been in the forefront of health care for seniors. Our leadership in nursing home and assisted living utilization is well documented.  As assisted living grew and became an industry unto itself, many national companies entered the marketplace with primarily growth and profitability objectives.  National companies built in many states, but, for a long time, avoided Wisconsin because we already had a significant number of facilities, many of them family owned, to meet the market demand.

A Changing Marketplace

In the past few years, things have changed.  First, because senior housing has been viewed as a good investment, the value of these properties increased.  Many Wisconsin owner/operators who had been in business for years, took the opportunity to sell their properties and retire.  Quite a few sold to corporations with home offices outside of Wisconsin.  Second, the cost to borrow money to invest in senior housing is at an all time low.  As developers looked around the country, they began to see that the opportunities in Wisconsin, and those in other states with many facilities, were fairly equal.  Many national companies have been building facilities and bringing their brands to Wisconsin.  Have you noticed that there seems to be a retirement community on every corner? (Unless, of course, there is a Walgreens on the corner already!)

Quality Care Managed Locally

There have been a number of stories in the media recently regarding serious problems in assisted living facilities.  These stories are tragic and every time I read one, I have the same reaction…. “Care needs to be managed locally.”  Unlike other products and services which can be made on one end of the country and shipped to another, quality assisted living is a direct result of the interaction between residents and staff.  That interaction requires supervision, management, mentoring, coaching and training.  A significant amount of my time is spent walking around our communities, talking to residents and their families, eating in our dining rooms and participating in our lifestyle programs. None of my time is spent on airplanes.

Consumers often evaluate the quality of a community based on how it looks because it is all they can readily see.  As I discussed in a recent posting, consumers need to consider the operator of the facility.  They need to understand who’s in charge and what role they really play in ensuring the quality of care.  Can you find their name?  Would they answer if you called?  Would they know anything about what goes on in their many communities across the country? I’m Beth Anderson.  I’m the Executive Vice President of the Laureate Group, a local family owned business.  I’m in charge, and if you call me at (262)  832-7123,  I’ll answer.