Fully integrating Brookdale Senior Living and Emeritus Senior Living, with which Brookdale merged in 2014, and addressing the “administrative burden” facing community leaders have been keys to the reducing staff departures at the company, Brookdale Senior Living President and CEO Andy Smith said Thursday at the Wells Fargo Healthcare Conference in Boston.

“2015 was a year of integration, and we suffered some challenges from that, one of the most glaring of which was we saw increased turnover for the three key leadership positions of our communities — that’s the executive director; the head clinician, which we call the health and wellness director; and the sales manager,” he said.

Brentwood, TN-based Brookdale has returned to pre-merger levels of retention in the three positions, Smith added, thanks in part to the completion of the integration process.

“We think as people are now on a common system, which is what we have — a common set of procedures, protocols, programming, systems and tools — these three critical positions can focus on what attracted them to seniors housing in the first place, which is to take care of seniors and their families,” he said. “That’s what they’re passionate about, and if they’re learning something new that is an administrative burden that is on top of their day-to-day work, that becomes frustrating and challenging. So simply by having that in the rearview mirror, where they’re not making wholesale changes to how they do their work but rather now at this point in time improving the efficiency and effectiveness of their use of those tools, that’s a big deal.”

In the latter part of 2015, Smith said, 61 former executive directors at Brookdale returned to the company, “saying, ‘We get what you guys are trying to accomplish and how you’re trying to make our lives better so that we can spend more time on what’s most important, which is taking care of the seniors that we’re privileged to serve.’ ” The CEO said he expects more employees to return to the company.

Brookdale continues to seek ways to reduce the administrative burden for community leaders, Smith said. Additionally, he said, the company is striving to improve its hiring, onboarding and training processes as well as the tools it provides to administrators. Brookdale’s status as the country’s largest senior living provider — operating approximately 1,114 communities in 47 states with the ability to serve approximately 107,000 residents — enables it to invest in systems and spread costs in ways that other operators cannot, he said.

‘We’re really excited about our progress there,” Smith said, noting that turnover is a challenge facing the entire senior living industry. “There’s work to be done. We have work and opportunities to improve, but from where we’re sitting, we think we’ve made a lot of progress over the past 12 months.”

In the company’s second-quarter earnings call, Smith characterized 2016 as an “important rebuilding year” for Brookdale. He described a recently formalized program to mentor high-performing workers as well as plans to roll out a proprietary leadership development program.