Nonprofit CEOs: Partnerships, Community-Based Services are Keys to Success

SAN DIEGO — A panel of nonprofit seniors housing owner-operators has revealed what it believes to to be the keys to success — entering into partnerships with other organizations on a selective basis and providing community-based services outside the seniors housing properties’ walls.

The insights came during the CEO Panel, held Tuesday morning at LeadingAge’s annual meeting in San Diego. The panel moderator was Thomas Meyers, managing director with Ziegler, which teams up with LeadingAge each year to compile a list of the largest nonprofit seniors housing providers.

Panelists included Mina Breuker, CEO and president of Holland Home based in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Lisa Hardy, president and CEO of Emerald Communities based in the Seattle region; and Keith Frndak, president and CEO of Concordia Lutheran Ministries based in Western Pennsylvania.

Myers noted that, in the nonprofit seniors housing space, the vast majority of operators — including the three panelists — stick primarily to one state or even one market. Large-scale continuing care retirement communities dominate the space. “Nonprofit seniors housing is, and always has been, a local affair.”

When speaking on how their companies succeed, the CEOs provided remarkably similar responses. All three companies have a robust presence in the larger community, usually through home care or hospice services. Frndak estimates one-third of Concordia’s business comes from those services, and “expects that ratio to grow.”  At Holland Home, those services account for slightly more than half (52 percent) of its business.

Additionally, all three partner with other organizations — even competitors — to tackle the challenges of the industry. For instance, Holland Home partners with four competitors to operate a health insurance payment management company, while all three companies have partners to help manage labor shortages.

Holland Home partnered with a local community college across the street from one of its skilled nursing facilities, building a new nursing program classroom and offering those students work in the facility. “It’s been a great recruitment opportunity,” said Breuker.

Similarly, Concordia worked with a local technical school to provide $1 million a year to support 40 additional registered nurse training positions. “Whoever has the most nurses will win (as labor becomes more scarce), so we’re loading up,” said Frndak.

To retain existing employees, Concordia goes even further.

“Last year we spent $1.4 million on birthday gifts, Christmas parties and tickets to Pittsburgh Pirates game — though Pirates games are pretty cheap these days,” said Frndak. (The Pirates compiled a record of 69-93 during Major League Baseball’s 2019 regular season.)

At Emerald Communities, the company partners with a company that allows team members to draw against their paychecks early in emergencies. Emerald is also actively seeking joint venture and affiliation partners for a variety of plans, most pressingly to serve middle-income seniors. “We’ve dated a lot, but haven’t married anyone yet,” joked Hardy.

— Jeff Shaw