Earlier this month, as Enlivant President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Guill prepared to become CEO on April 1, he spoke with McKnight’s Senior Living about the present and future of the company and the senior living industry as a whole.

Q: You’ve been president and COO of Enlivant since 2013. What excites you the most now about becoming CEO?

A: We have a definitive culture that we’ve put into place. Our mission, our vision, our values are why I’m here, and what excites me, frankly, is just the fact that I know they’re going to be safe. There’s a vote of confidence from our board of directors, from [outgoing CEO] Jack [Callison] and from our employees that I, too, have been able to live the values and can be the person who is entrusted with them. I’m here because of the team and the purpose.

Q: Enlivant undertook succession planning for just this kind of situation. Could talk a little bit more about the importance of succession planning in senior living in general? 

A: The most important asset, I believe, in senior living and healthcare businesses in general is your employees. It’s not only the “what” of having the technical abilities; it’s the “how.” How do you connect with the customer, how do you connect with employees, how do you build relationships with residents, patients and families?

If people are your most important asset, then the selection, development, growth and maximization of those assets are the most important thing you can do as a business. Are you able to identify those individuals who have an outsized effect, especially when it comes to leadership? Can you give them the right opportunities to grow in their perspective and improve themselves? And as you create those channels and niches, they’re going to grow within the company.

It’s incredibly important to the senior living industry. It’s the lifeblood of Enlivant. It’s something that we see as driving stability. It protects our culture, and it protects our most important asset, the employees. 

Q: Outgoing Enlivant CEO Jack Callison, who will be CEO of Sunrise Senior Living, is going to chair Enlivant’s board. How do you envision working with him in the future?

A: We have always had a great relationship. Now we have set up a set of structures internally so that if something comes up that we think may be a conflict of interest, that’s an easy conversation for us to have.

Otherwise, I think it’ll be a fantastic situation. He’s probably one of the most tenured CEOs in this space, and he has an incredible amount of historical knowledge around Enlivant in particular. And he has a passion for our employees, the business and the direction.

While he’s going to be more removed from the operations, we’ll be able to tap into that perspective and talk about things from the broader perspective of, ‘What do you see in the industry?’ and ‘How do we continue to define Enlivant as a great place to work within the industry?’ I see it as a better, more evolved version of what’s already been happening for the last couple of years. 

Q: What will your top priorities be as CEO? 

A: Immediately, COVID-19. Given our mission of making sure we’re taking care of seniors, keeping them safe, there’s nothing that’s higher on my agenda today.

A subset of that is vaccinations and infection control. We’re hoping to be through our third vaccination clinics by the end of March or the first week in April. We’ve set an internal benchmark of getting 95% of all residents and employees vaccinated.

Q: Will the company mandate vaccination for employees at some point?

A: We set an internal benchmark of June 1 as the date employees need to be vaccinated by. There obviously are nuances to work through, but we are going to work with everybody who can and should be vaccinated. We realize it’s a deeply personal experience, but we believe that vaccination is probably the best thing that we can do to ensure safety, especially after seeing what happened in the last year.

Q: What will your longer-term goals be?

A: We’ve really focused on diversity over the past year. We call it DIB at Enlivant, for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.

Last year really opened my eyes as to how much more we could and should be doing to fight not only systemic racism but to be a more representative workforce of what you see in the broader economy. And so we have started what I would call a long journey. Across the United States, not only at Enlivant, it’s something that we need to spend time working on.

We’ve put together a diversity council. We’ve brought in some help from the outside, knowing that the executives within Enlivant were not as specialized or as aware as we should be. And we’ve begun a number of different activities and tactics to be able to create the right strategy to move forward.

I’m really proud of the group that’s come together. It’s representative from the staff levels on through people at the most senior levels of our firm, to make sure that we’re getting a wide swath of insights. We’re going to be working on strategies around recruiting, developing and identifying people so that we have a more diverse and inclusive workforce at Enlivant.

I say this not only because it’s the right thing to do, but I believe that for essential business reasons, it becomes a competitive advantage, and it becomes something that aligns really well with the culture and the focus on people and enriching lives that we have. It’s a natural extension of the foundation we’ve put together, and it’s something that really has invigorated our people.

Q: What do you think have been the biggest changes in senior living during your career, and where you see the industry headed?

A: We’ve seen a rise in the sophistication of senior living. The needs of individuals and the expectations of families are changing. That requires changes in customer service, changes in sophistication of processes and systems, and changes in the physical product and how it looks and appears.

COVID-19 is going to change employee, resident and family preferences after they’ve experienced a pandemic for 12, 15, 18 months by the time this is done. One obvious area is technology, whether it’s for telemedicine or for interaction between residents and their families. It’s going to be incumbent on senior living to be able to help facilitate those things.

But there could be other things that come out of this that we don’t have a clue about today. People realize that there is an opportunity for innovation. And that’s one of the things that excites me about the next couple of years. While I don’t have an agenda and a point of view, necessarily, on those changes, I do believe we’ve got the team and the fabric of the culture that’s excited about change, and we’ll be able to tackle it as it comes along.

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