A Unique Approach to Caring for the Elderly

Greenfield Senior Living

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Greenfield Senior Living is an up-and-coming company with a new approach to caring for the elderly. Based in Falls Church, Virginia, Greenfield operates under a simple philosophy: treat residents like family while providing premium care at affordable prices.
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“We always say, ‘If we would do this for our mom or our dad, we would do it for you,’” says Jonathan Barbieri, vice-president of marketing and a board member at Greenfield.

“We have a unique privilege – being able to touch people’s lives in a very impactful way,” adds Mathew Peponis, Greenfield chief executive officer and founder. “We’re here to change the lives of seniors. We’re here to change the lives of the people directly related to seniors.”

Greenfield was launched fifteen years ago this June and currently operates nineteen facilities in six states (New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas). There are two other facilities under development. In addition to assisted living communities, Greenfield offers senior citizens independent living options in furnished, private apartments, as well as short-term stays and hospice support.

Peponis worked as an executive at Sunrise Senior Living, a major provider of services for the elderly. He had some ideas of his own, centered on providing great care at reasonable prices and started Greenfield to put these ideas into practice. One of his signature moves was to acquire buildings in disrepair and fix them to launch thriving new seniors’ facilities.

“Do we create a beautiful building? Absolutely. Do we take an asset that was built [several] years ago, that’s tired and bring it into the twenty-first century? Absolutely. It’s about finding those diamonds in the rough,” says Peponis.

“If you look at senior living, roughly ten percent of seniors choose to live in assisted living, maybe as high as fifteen percent. That leaves the remaining eighty-five percent of folks choosing other options or staying at home. We believe one of those reasons was that the value proposition wasn’t great enough. People did not perceive that the cost justified the services or it was something they could afford. By going into failed properties, we can really put our model in place and pass the savings along to the consumer. They receive the highest quality of care, the nicest possible environment at a rate unmatched in the industry,” says Barbieri.

“How do we expand the model today to allow more people to choose senior living? Affordability is going to be a key factor going forward. Not everyone can afford $5 – 6 – 7,000 a month,” echoes Peponis.

Good senior support “really boils down to care, food, and activities. If you do those three things very well if you do them in a very creative way, it creates outcomes for folks that they didn’t see for themselves,” he continues.

Greenfield Senior Living facilities offer a slate of services and amenities, from twenty-four-hour access and personal care to restaurant-style meals, laundry service, art programs, community excursions, health, wellness and exercise opportunities, volunteer opportunities, holiday events, and book clubs.

Peponis is particularly interested in the power of music to inspire, entertain, and generate camaraderie among residents. As a result, all Greenfield communities are well-stocked with musical instruments that everyone is encouraged to play.

“Seniors are going to find every amenity [at a Greenfield facility] that they would at communities that are often twice the price. They’re going to find limitless possibilities in terms of amenities, resources, events, activities, and food options. We try to give every senior what we call the cruise ship experience. If you’ve been on a cruise, it has staff catering to you and events going on 24/7. We want people to feel that invigorated. We want people to walk about our communities to feel full of life and full of possibility,” says Barbieri.

Greenfield tries to develop customized solutions for its residents. “Seniors don’t want to be put in a box. They want this to be the next chapter of their life where there still is possibility. You can’t just shove everybody into one ABC solution,” says Barbieri. This focus on customized solutions “makes us unique and different,” he adds.

Greenfield’s family approach also makes the company unique, and it applies to staff as well as residents. New employees immediately become part of an organization that—like a family—offers stability, support, and opportunity. The company has about 1,500 full-time employees at present. Barbieri says that last year at this time Greenfield had roughly 1,300 personnel.

The increase in staff stems in large part from the recent addition of a new facility in Lansdale, Pennsylvania that can accommodate up to 160 residents. With a residence of this size, “quite a few team members are needed to provide care,” notes Barbieri.

While growing rapidly, Greenfield is not a giant corporation, which is to the company’s advantage.

“We are nimble; we can change on a dime. We are truly visionary on how we approach things. When companies get too big, it becomes that much more difficult to be able to do that,” says Peponis.

Greenfield takes pride in its intensive and extensive employee training program. “We created what we call immersion training. It’s less of a training session and more of an experience where our frontline team members, our department heads and everyone up and down through the company experiences the same training—the same experience. Titles are removed. We want to break down the walls that exist in some organizations—some of the silos that exist. ‘I’m in finance.’ ‘I’m in marketing.’ ‘I’m in operations.’ You’re all part of one organization.”

“Immersion training takes several days. We all go to a remote location offsite, and from morning until night, it is an intense experience. People leave there inspired, touched, and moved in ways that are pretty powerful. People say they’ve never experienced anything like it,” says Barbieri.

“Giving back is a big piece of who we are. The training and development piece of how we approach things is unique. All of those details impact on a variety of things from turnover to employee engagement, employee satisfaction. That directly leads to resident satisfaction. If we’re really not focusing on engagement for employees, you will not see it translate to residents,” adds Peponis.

The company looks for new hires with “heart and passion. Education is important, and obviously, experience plays a hand in somebody’s ability to take on a complex role. However, some of our most successful executive directors started off as caregivers, having never done care before in their life. We supported them to go to nursing school. They then did nursing. They went on to management school and [became] management,” says Barbieri.

The company has earned several awards for its work. In May of last year, for example, Vickie Conner, executive director at a Greenfield Senior Living facility in Woodstock, Virginia, won the Argentum Senior Living Community Leadership Award for 2016. Argentum is a national trade association representing companies in the senior living community sector.

“Vickie Connor was a front-line caregiver not that long ago. What she had was heart and passion and a belief she could make a difference,” says Barbieri.

Winning the Argentum honor was a particularly proud moment for Greenfield, “given the fact while we do have quite a few campuses, there are folks out there who have a few thousand. For a little guy like us [to be] recognized at a national level, when we only operate in six states, is impressive,” he adds.

The Virginia Assisted Living Association (VALA) chose Greenfield for its 2016 Diamond Award for Best Practices, in recognition of the company’s Check-In Angels Program. Greenfield’s involvement with the latter exemplifies the firm’s commitment to charity work. Check-In Angels is run by Causely, an organization that utilizes social media for philanthropic purposes. Causely makes charitable donations every time a guest ‘checks-in’ on a participating company’s Facebook page (a Facebook check-in is an update which states the location of the person making the post).

Through the Check-In Angels program, Greenfield has helped support 156,182 breast and ovarian cancer risk assessments, 267,525 meals for at-risk Burmese children, 29,785 pairs of shoes for needy recipients, 27.5 million gallons of purified drinking water, and more. In total, over $2 million has been donated to non-profit partners thanks to the Check-In Angels relationship, says Barbieri.

To promote itself, Greenfield relies on an engaging website, social media, advertisements, and attendance at trade shows. Promotion is not geared towards getting the company name out, but rather “getting our story out. We want people to understand there is a better option, that there is no reason to spend dollars and resources you don’t have to get the best possible care. We get that message out not only through those avenues but through our [employees and residents]. They’re some of our best advocates. They go out to their churches and foundations and organizations and clubs and schools and talk to friends and family and neighbours about what we do,” says Barbieri.

As for the future, he says, “five years down the road, I see Greenfield doubling in size, bringing on incredible people, and developing future leaders of our industry.”

September 23, 2017, 5:51 PM EDT

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