Inspired Disrupter: Making a Difference in Senior Living
Validus Senior Living CFO Lindsey Hacker on changing the industry’s traditional way of operating while overcoming challenges and striving for success.
Providing meaningful care while constantly innovating and placing great emphasis on resident and staff well-being is no easy feat. But that is exactly what Validus Senior Living is spearheading with signature programs at the company’s Inspired Living communities, which provide a host of services including independent and assisted living, as well as memory care.
“The goal is to empower our associates as they take care of our moms and dads,” CFO Lindsey Hacker told Multi-Housing News. Starting out in accounting and spending several years in the financing industry, Hacker fell in love with senior living once her professional path intertwined with the health-care sector. From the principles that guide Validus’ operations to navigating the pandemic in one of the most vulnerable sectors in the face of the crisis, Hacker shares her thoughts in the interview below.
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Can you please tell us about your career path and how it ultimately brought you to Validus Senior Living?
Hacker: Upon graduating with my master’s degree in accounting, I went to work for one of the Big Four accounting firms, Ernst & Young. I spent several years there working with numerous clients in both the public and private sectors, and many clients within the health-care space.
I first fell into senior living upon leaving Ernst & Young when I went to work for Horizon Bay as their director of accounting for the Entry Fee CCRC Division. I immediately fell in love with the industry, the people and the residents. My grandparents played a major role in my life growing up, and for me, senior living put a purpose behind the numbers. I knew I had found my “why.”
Horizon Bay was acquired by Brookdale Senior Living, where I worked for several years prior to coming to Validus in 2017. I spent time in many different roles of both finance and operations throughout the years and can appreciate how important experience in both lends to strategic thought processes and decision-making in this industry. It no doubt has been the reason for my growth path and success.
Validus’ mission statement speaks volumes: “We care, think, understand and act quickly. We commit to being 1 percent better every day. We are generous in spirit.” What exactly goes into these principles?
Hacker: This is our moral compass, which is at the heart of the culture of Validus/Inspired Living. Our moral compass is displayed throughout all our communities and we strive each day to truly live by these guiding principles.
The goal is to empower our associates as they take care of our moms and dads. Associates need to be able to make the best decisions quickly and in the best interest of our residents and associates. This business is challenging. Every day brings new hurdles, which can be overwhelming at times. We focus on the importance of small, but significant, positive change. That is the commitment to be 1 percent better every day—continuously challenging and improving ourselves without becoming engulfed in the challenges that each day can bring.
How are Inspired Living communities different from other assisted living and memory care facilities?
The Inspired Journeys Specialized Memory Care Program is an evidence-based philosophy of care dedicated not only to the needs of residents with memory challenges but also to the family, who often needs education and emotional support. It honors the legacy of individuality of all our memory care residents while helping our associates and residents’ family members support our residents on their journey of dementia.
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Please tell us more about the signature programs at Inspired Living communities.
Hacker: Inspired Living signature programs consist of the following: iCare is the collaborative care platform that tailors care to individual residents, beginning with a comprehensive evaluation to discover their unique needs and desires utilizing state-of-the-art technology.
The Inspired Journeys Specialized Memory Care Program is an evidence-based philosophy of care dedicated not only to the needs of residents with memory challenges but also to the family, who often need education and emotional support. It honors the legacy of individuality of all our memory care residents while helping our associates and residents’ family members support our residents on their journey of dementia.
The Home Sweet Home program helps each new resident experience the red-carpet treatment from the minute they arrive at our community. It is designed to ensure all new residents transition well into their new home.
Our Inspired Destinations program takes our residents and families around the world without ever needing to leave the comfort of the community. Each month, we travel to a new country where we learn of its amazing history, taste delicious cuisines and experience exciting cultures. Residents have their own passports and collect stamps as they travel the world.
All associates participate in our live Inspired Onboarding program and start at the same time each month to ensure consistency and proper training. As part of this training, we include our “Raving Fans” methodology of customer service and expectations of the Inspired Living experience as well as virtual dementia training, which is a real-life experience of what it is like to live with dementia.
You have implemented online payments through RENTCafé Senior Living. How did the implementation process go and how did residents and their families respond to the change?
Hacker: We have experienced great success with RENTCafé and have seen an adoption rate of about 70 percent. Our residents and families enjoy the flexibility of paying online via automated clearing house service or credit card as well as the capabilities to view statements, payments and ask billing questions. Our overhead costs for billing were also significantly reduced after moving to paperless billing.
Validus’ ample portfolio extends across Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Does the future hold any expansion plans and if so, what do they look like?
Hacker: We plan to continue to expand throughout the Southeast across the spectrum of independent living, assisted living and memory care. We currently have several communities under construction and potential management contract acquisitions in the works. The Validus team is extremely experienced in both new development and operating existing communities throughout the Southeast, and we will continue to grow our footprint up to the Northeast Coast.
What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered while navigating the pandemic?
Hacker: The biggest challenge we all faced as an industry in the very beginning of this pandemic was navigating unchartered waters in real time, when information was changing literally by the minute. Our focus is and will always be taking care of our moms, dads and associates, ensuring we do everything in our power to keep them safe and healthy. It was difficult managing through the different state restrictions being set and keeping up with all the changes. Our residents thrive on engagement, so keeping the families away from our residents was by far the most difficult.
Hacker: Like most of the world, our entire operating model needed to shift very quickly to ensure the safety of our residents and teams. Since the senior housing—assisted living—industry is not a skilled- or acute-care environment, the first thing we needed to ensure was widespread robust education of our teams.
We started a COVID-19 team that met daily—seven days a week—for the first part of the pandemic to write protocols and mobilize resources. Mask usage, hand hygiene, social distancing and personal protective equipment are now second nature. We screen all associates and any vendors or visitors and take their temperatures prior to allowing entrance to the building. Our cleaning process and solutions changed to using nontoxic chemicals against COVID-19 and performing more frequent cleaning.
We added ultraviolet light technology, which is not common in assisted living. These UV light cabinets give our teams the ability to sanitize and disinfect items in less than 5 minutes—perfect for high-touch items like keys, phones, eyewear and our iCare technology devices.
In the long term, when we create our new normal, I think we will see continued mask usage for a while. We will also keep our cleaning regime—with the use of electrostatic foggers—and the UV technology is certainly here to stay. I think the pandemic has made us have a stronger focus on all aspects of infection prevention, so although we are hopeful we will not have to remain 6 feet apart, many of the other precautions will remain.
Now that vaccines have become available, how is Validus approaching the vaccination process?
Hacker: We are approaching it with education, positive reinforcement and role modeling. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet—especially on social media—so we have done a campaign to ensure our teams have facts to base decisions on. Since the vaccine is not readily available to the public yet, we have highly encouraged our team members, but not yet made it mandatory, which is likely to come.
We also are doing raffles for those who get their vaccine. It is a sensitive time and sensitive subject, so we really are aiming our strategy at combating the misinformation campaign with education. We also have an email address that our teams can email at any time to ask questions. For our residents, we are seeing very high participation rates, which is very encouraging and not completely surprising since this generation saw polio become eradicated with the invention of a vaccine.
Looking ahead, what do you think we can expect from the senior living sector in 2021?
Hacker: I believe some changes we have seen throughout this pandemic will be the new operating norm. Increased cleaning and sanitation protocols will certainly stay in place and will be an expectation by our residents and families. Resident engagement and programming will be an important selling tactic to give prospects reasons to risk leaving their homes to come live with us. Again, ensuring their safety will be imperative. It will continue to be tough and competitive as the industry fights to regain occupancy that was lost and begins to build back up cash flow. We will likely see lots of management changes and transactions as people begin to restructure their debt and address performance issues.
Technology will play a huge factor in our new norm to include the way we communicate and even provide care through the trends of telehealth visits and virtual tours of our communities. Digital marketing is and will continue to be imperative to drive inquiries and traffic to the communities. Differentiating yourself as compared to competitors in this arena will be important to help grow the census faster than the average.
Additionally, family engagement through technology via portals like Facebook and others will be expected from our population and necessary to stay connected and drive accountability for care results. This will be extremely important for the adult child and the resident alike as we see our population shift through the coming years.