'A lot of heavy lifting left' for Brookdale

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Lucinda "Cindy" Baier
Lucinda "Cindy" Baier

Lucinda “Cindy” Baier was promoted from chief financial officer to president and CEO of Brookdale Senior Living effective Feb. 28, succeeding Andy Smith. She talked about the company's plans for the future in an interview with McKnight's Senior Living Senior Editor Lois A. Bowers.

Q: What are the most important components of Brookdale's turnaround plan?

A: There are three pillars. The first is focused on our associates. We want to attract, engage, develop and retain the very best associates in the industry. That is the most important thing, because our services are delivered locally, and when we have the right people in the role, everything works. We are increasing our total compensation costs 5.5% to 6% in 2018. That's well above the cost of inflation, and it includes not only increases in salaries and wages but also better benefits for our people. The second pillar is focused on our residents. We're trying to deliver differentiated services to our residents so that we create lasting relationships that provide referrals. And by focusing on both mission and margin and taking actions that will deliver improved results, our shareholders will benefit. There's a lot of our strategy that relates to simplifying and streamlining our business. We're moving from a national focus to a local focus, which leverages our scale. For real estate, we're looking at taking the opportunity to create value by monetizing certain assets that are performing at a very high level.

Q: Could you elaborate on the reasoning behind putting more control at the community level?

A: We are delivering services person-to-person, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. So making as many decisions as we can as close to the community and as close to the customer as possible is a key priority for us. Now that's not to say that we're backing away from taking advantage of our scale, but it's really thinking about which decisions are best made at the local level and which decisions are best made at the corporate level.

Q: What are some other ways that Brookdale is simplifying and streamlining the business?

A: We have already cut some pilot projects, and we have more work to do. We have initiated our general and administrative reductions. And on capital expenditures, we have made initial decisions for the year, including investing more in Program Max, which is our program that we use to redevelop a community, to make sure that our configuration matches the local community and its needs most effectively. It's fair to say that there's a lot of heavy lifting left. We're also trying to use technology to replace repetitive tasks. Wherever possible, we're trying to streamline the work that is done by using automation and better technology to get a higher quality at a more attractive cost. Over the years, we have put in electronic medical records. We're looking at scheduling tools now. And accounts receivable management.

Q: What attracted you to senior living in the first place, and what continues to appeal to you about the industry?

A: My interest in caregiving dates back to my teenage years, when I first started taking care of my grandfather, who was blind. As his needs increased, I eventually moved in with him during my college years to help. That early experience is what drew me to Brookdale. In the past year, my mom's health declined, and she moved into a skilled nursing facility, where she was dependent on the community's staff. My mom was eventually moved into hospice and passed, but witnessing it all was truly both the best of times and the worst of times. Seeing how the staff took care of my mom as well as my family during this difficult time gave me a newfound appreciation for everyone who works in senior living.

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