Lois Bowers headshot

It is highly doubtful that anyone ever would accuse Lynne Katzmann, Juniper Communities’ founder and president, of not being bold.

In 2016, Katzmann implemented a program to increase hourly minimum wages at Juniper Communities to $15 in four years at a time when many other senior living providers were taking a stand against proposed minimum wage increases across the country.

Later that year, she took a group to the Burning Man festival to “write a new story of aging in America.”

And since then, she and Juniper also confronted the changing nature of assisted living and increasing resident care needs by developing the Connect4Life model, which integrates onsite primary care, pharmacy and lab services with social supports and residential care. And Juniper led the formation of a Medicare Advantage Plan called Perennial Advantage Plan, with Christian Living Communities, Ohio Living and AllyAlign. Coverage for the first enrollees was effective in 2021.

Her latest initiative is bold, too: to ensure that users of Juniper’s health plan can access all of their health benefits, including reproductive health services, should they wish to do so.

That’s another way of saying that associates and their dependents who are enrolled in the plan will be supported in their pursuit of abortions even if the procedure is banned in the state where they live. It’s a touchy subject, but Katzmann is willing to go there.

Wednesday, the CEO announced that Juniper will reimburse employees and their dependents who are covered by the company health plan up to $2,500 in travel expenses for medical treatments that they can’t receive within 100 miles of their homes. “We will provide this benefit if one of our associates, or their dependents, covered by our health plan, lives in a geographic area that restricts legal access to reproductive health services,” she said in the announcement.

As Katzmann sees it, the company’s new reimbursement policy fully aligns with Juniper’s culture and brand.

“We are a company that serves women. We are a company whose primary workforce is women, many of whom are still of childbearing years,” she told me. “But above all, we’re about helping people live their best life and making the choices they want to make to live their best life. That’s true of older adults, and it’s also true of the people who work with us. So this was a logical extension of our values.”

And Katzmann pointed out that polls show that a majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Large corporations outside the industry — Dick’s Sporting Goods, JP Morgan, Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks, to name a few — have been in the news for making similar moves. Katzmann, however, knows of no other long-term care operator who has made the same decision, although she said, “I know there are a lot of people considering it.”

Those people will be encouraged by the early reaction to Juniper’s news. A day into announcing the new reimbursement policy, the feedback had all been “phenomenally good” — from men and women, Katzmann told me Thursday.

“There wasn’t one negative comment,” she said. “Maybe those will come, but it was the speed of the response and the positive nature of the response that says that people are happy that we’re willing to protect people’s independence and freedoms.” Could the feelings of gratitude and pride that were evident in the responses Katzmann read to me bolster recruitment and retention efforts among certain workers?

Katzmann said that those at Juniper thought long and hard about how the company would react to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the constitutional right to an abortion established by Roe v. Wade. The Court’s decision officially was released June 24, but an earlier version of it was leaked in early May. Juniper’s subsequent choice followed “research and soul-searching,” she said.

“First, we looked at where our employees lived,” Katzmann said. Juniper has senior living and care communities in Colorado, New Jersey — where its headquarters is located, Pennsylvania and Texas, but some employees work remotely, elsewhere, she said.

The company talked with associates, reviewed various state laws, looked at how other companies were handling the issue, researched who would be eligible for the benefit, and thought about mileage, geographic limits and other factors.

“We were fairly methodical about this, as much as we could be, given that there were going to be open issues as this evolves around the country,” she said.

Texas “by far” will be the state where Juniper health plan users will be most affected by the Supreme Court ruling and state laws related to reproductive health, Katzmann said. “Another state where there are some issues is West Virginia. And Tennessee,” she added, noting that Colorado and New Jersey “have laws which protect those freedoms.”

Katzmann says she’ll happily share the company’s research with others. “The choice they make will be up to them,” she added.

She knows that, even given the positive response so far, the new reimbursement policy may turn off some potential residents and workers. But she noted that, on the other hand, Juniper’s culture is “pretty well-ingrained.”

“It’s an important part of what differentiates the company. It’s an important part of who we are, and we make it our business to walk our talk,” she said.

Now that the reimbursement policy is in place, the next challenge will be implementing it. It’s more complicated than simply filling out a reimbursement form, Katzmann said.

“Privacy is a big issue, obviously, and in order to take advantage of this new potential reimbursement, you need to say you need it,” she said. “And so, effectively, you’re saying you need it for this purpose, since it’s the only piece of our benefit program that this applies to. So how that’s going to work, we haven’t figured out, and we’re seeking some support to do that right now.”

But the company’s insurance isn’t changing, Katzmann emphasized.

“The policy provides this coverage,” she said. “The people who live in Texas, for example, can’t access the benefit in Texas, and they have to travel in order to access the benefit. So we’re providing reimbursement if they need to travel to access the benefit.”

Juniper’s reimbursement decision is “in sync with our values, and not every company has the same values. These are things we hold dear,” Katzmann noted.

“For me, throughout COVID and as we move into the hopefully endemic, rather than post-pandemic, phase, which has now included labor shortages and massive inflation, it’s really been important to us to understand our clear goals and what we do as a company,” she said. “And our goal has been throughout COVID, very simply, to prevent illness and promote the well-being of all of our stakeholders. And this definitely falls into the ‘promote well-being’ part of our goal.

“When we have to make decisions, we come back to what that means,” Katzmann continued. “And I realize that different people will interpret those things differently, but for us, it’s been pretty clear.”

That’s a benefit of having a strong corporate culture and a strong corporate brand. When the time comes to make a difficult decision, the framework already is there. You know who you are, and staying true to what has been built perhaps makes the decision and its implementation just a little bit easier than it would have been otherwise. You can have the courage of your convictions. You can be bold.

Lois A. Bowers is the editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Read her other columns here.

Related Articles