Health Care, Human Resources, and Real Estate

Retirement communities make effort to diversify

Longer life spans and uncertain health care landscape strain retirement savings, forcing providers to adapt and partner.

June 23, 2017
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Sunset Retirement Communities
Approximately 1,100 people make use of Sunset Retirement Communities’ services every day. Courtesy Sunset Retirement Communities

According to Steve Zuiderveen, two-thirds of all the people who have lived to age 65 are alive today — and many of them have not saved enough for retirement.

Zuiderveen is president and CEO of Sunset Retirement Communities and Services, a Jenison-based nonprofit that provides assisted and independent living, memory care, nursing, home health services, meals at home and rehab care to seniors in West Michigan.

“The people (we serve) have been anything from farmers to pastors to individuals who have been successful in government,” he said. “Socioeconomically, they are probably what we would call middle income. Some are upper income but certainly not visibly wealthy.”

Sunset has four campuses: Brookcrest, 3400 Wilson Ave. SW in Grandville; Rose Garden, 3391 Prairie St. SW in Grandville; Waterford Place, 1725 Port Sheldon St. in Jenison; and the main campus, Sunset Manor & Villages, 725 Baldwin St. in Jenison.

It also has an agency called Home Services, which operates from the main campus and helps homebound seniors with anything from laundry and housework to nursing and physical therapy.

Last year, the organization added an $18-million rehab facility, Waterford Rehab Center at the Waterford Place campus, and hired more than 120 staff members.

Companywide, Sunset now has 760 employees, 442 of which are medical personnel.

Sunset is part owner of a health organization for seniors called Tandem365, along with Clark Retirement Communities, Holland Home, Life EMS and Porter Hills. Sunset also collaborates with Porter Hills, Clark and St. Ann’s to run Emmanuel Hospice.

“When you put all that together, we touch 1,100 people’s lives every day in partnerships or through what we own ourselves,” he said. “We probably have 800 residents who live in our facilities.”

Dan Gowdy, vice president of development at Sunset, said the organization has seen an uptick in the number of residents who need financial assistance in the past few years, partly because they did not realize how many years they would live after retirement.

“It’s amazing that a 93-year-old now would have needed to start saving for retirement at the end of World War II,” he said. “Who knew at the time they would live to be 93? They were just concerned with surviving and putting their lives back together.”

Zuiderveen said he expects the trend will continue.

“The baby boomers have not prepared,” he said. “It used to be you retired at 65 and you were dead at 66. In our communities, they’re living longer. We have 11 individuals over 100. It’s mind-boggling because many of them moved in 15 years ago, never expecting to live 15 years.”

When seniors apply to move into one of the facilities at Sunset, Zuiderveen said the organization does a financial assessment to make sure they will be able to sustain the cost of living. Still, sometimes residents end up needing help, so Sunset set up a benevolent fund.

“If they have used up their resources after a certain amount of years, we provide benevolent care, like a church,” he said. “That comes from donations from the community, even some residents here.

“No one here knows who’s on benevolence except the finance office. … The neighbors don’t know and the caregivers don’t know, so it doesn’t affect the services we provide.”

Zuiderveen said the changing landscape and uncertainty over what will happen to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act mean that he always is in planning mode.

“I can’t just be content, because the products we have won’t meet a need 10 years from now.”

While he doesn’t lie awake at night over that, he does have concerns over other issues.

“One thing that does keep me awake sometimes is staffing — the lack of people able and willing to do this work. And the financial resources to do this, whether it’s governmental or private pay,” he said. “There’s an intense pressure with resources going down and costs going up. You add onto that the layer of regulations and requirements, and it can get very discouraging.”

He said the pressures affect all providers in the retirement care industry.

“There are a number of large, for-profit players moving toward getting out of the business. It’s on both extremes, the large ones and the small ones are finding it’s hard to stay in this business because of those pressures. Fortunately, Sunset is of a size and structure to stay in. But the Affordable Care Act and other changes create a lot of pressures on providers.

“You see more discussions going on on some fronts, like mergers, that you wouldn’t have seen 10 years ago. People are getting more creative with ways to stay in business.”

He said Sunset, because it diversified to offer rehab care and signed partnerships like Tandem365 and Emmanuel Hospice, saw significant revenue growth from 2015 to 2016, from $30.4 million in 2015 to $35.2 million in 2016.

“On the Waterford Rehab front, we have shown to be a very effective provider of post-acute care,” he said. “We are very efficient at shortening the number of days they need rehab and the quality of the rehab so (the patients) don’t go back to the hospital.

“We have been extremely successful at attracting people to a wonderful, large, brand-new campus. Waterford Rehab, in its first year, has a five-star rating.”

Zuiderveen said a key component of the retirement services industry is that collaboration is more important than competition.

“We have a culture here where someone could come here and ask about us, and if we’re not the right fit, location or community, we will gladly refer them to other places,” he said. “We’ve always called it co-opetition (cooperation and competition).”

“If we’re all doing a tremendous job in the community, there’s not a need to compete just for the sake of competing. If there’s an opportunity for partnerships, why not? You wouldn’t have seen cooperation like we have now 20 years ago.”

Gowdy added that Sunset strives to keep its mission in focus as it collaborates with others: helping seniors “in the spirit of Christian love.”

“That’s the ministry mindset, as a nonprofit,” he said. “We’re ministry-minded and local.”

Zuiderveen said he is “blessed” to be able to serve the community in this way.

“The residents we serve are of such amazing value,” he said. “They’re wonderful people who have a lot to contribute. They’re too easily pushed aside.”

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