Chris Belford, CEO of Sinceri Senior Living, with 37 communities and approximately 2,500 employees across 15 states, recently spoke with McKnight’s Senior Living about the company’s rebranding and name change from JEA Senior Living, the firm’s future plans, and how the senior living industry could change in the future.
Q: What was the impetus for the name change?
A: JEA is an acronym for the former ownership group, Jerry Erwin Associates. It had wide appeal throughout the industry, having been around for 35 years, but with Jerry Erwin and his associates no longer being with the company, we wanted to refresh the brand. JEA was founded on really great principles, and we wanted to rebrand the company to reflect more what we do and those founding principles rather than the ownership’s acronym.
Q: How did the company arrive at the name Sinceri?
A: Ultimately, we felt that the name fit the tone and tenor of what we do and how people feel about JEA.
We hired an agency, Big Buzz, in Denver. They pulled together a number of stakeholders and asked them, “What does JEA mean to you?” and “How do you feel about JEA?” We got an underlying theme about what JEA meant to all of our residents, our family members, our caregivers and our team members.
I do town hall meetings as I visit our communities, and I ask team members many questions, but one specific to this is, “Why do you get up every single day and come to work for JEA?” And in almost every case, team members will respond, “These residents are like family to me, and I feel a sense of duty to come to work every day and take care of our family members.” That supported what Big Buzz had uncovered as well.
Q: Has the company made any changes based on what you’ve heard in your town hall meetings?
A: After I came here in November 2020, in conversations with our team members, I learned that they wanted more of a career path. So we instituted things like mentorship programs and apprenticeship programs where caregivers and team members can advance their careers while working for Sinceri Senior Living.
So maybe a caregiver wants to be a nurse someday. We’ll provide an opportunity for her to learn what the director of nursing services does in our communities and help her to be able to go to school and get licensed. For food servers who want to be cooks, we’ve developed an apprenticeship program.
Some team members have told us that they don’t like their uniforms, so we’re giving our caregivers choices.
Many of the changes that we make at Sinceri Senior Living are based on commentary that I get from the team members.
Q. How has Sinceri’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate been received?
It’s been received really well. The messaging to our team members, family members and residents is that we have a responsibility to our residents. The last thing that we need is to be the ones who carry that virus into our communities.
There are exemptions to our policy, but the message about all of us working together to stamp out the coronavirus is well-received. We haven’t really received any really bad feedback or employees leaving the company because of the mandatory vaccination. All our team members recognize the need to get vaccinated and protect our residents. It doesn’t seem to be a barrier to hiring employees, either.
Q: Sinceri plans to expand its offerings. Could you talk more about that?
A: When JEA first started, it was a stand-alone memory care company. Stand-alone memory care is foundational to what we do, because it has generated a lot of great care practices. We’ve introduced a lot of technology to care for our residents as well. Those practices and technology will now be expanded into the other product lines, like independent and assisted living, where we believe that our programming will be valuable to residents.
You’ll see Sinceri growing its current footprint and size to other product lines in other communities and other states. We’re very excited about this growth opportunity we have available to us.
Q: And there are plans to offer ancillary services as well?
A: We’re considering it. We’re looking at opportunities to go into an ancillary service like pharmacy or rehab. We’re not dedicated to one ancillary service or another; we’re trying to be opportunistic about what improves our existing platform and what ancillary product would best fit within our footprint. We haven’t decided to go one way or another. Where we see an opportunity, we may go for it if it improves our ability to serve our residents.
Q. You’ve worked in senior living for a long time. What are the biggest changes that have occurred during that time?
The recent pandemic we went through is probably the biggest change. At the end of the day, we will be a better industry coming out of the pandemic than we were at the start of it. That was a tremendous learning opportunity for us, and we’ve improved a lot of systems based on it — infection control processes, services for our residents, the social nature of our communities.
I think the other piece of it is how we treat our staff members who want to come to work for us. We have a fairly low unemployment rate, but a lot of positions are available throughout the country. How do we as an industry attract those people who are on the sidelines looking for opportunities to grow within themselves and with the industry?
Q: What do you think the future holds for the industry?
A: We’ve all learned more about infection control due to the pandemic, and that will continue, but the marrying of technology and direct hands-on care is going to be an evolution in senior housing, in my view. The challenge for many industry leaders is to use technology in a way that doesn’t take away from direct hands-on care.