How Eskaton’s New CEO Is Preparing the Organization for ‘the Next 50 Years’

How Eskaton’s New CEO Is Preparing the Organization for ‘the Next 50 Years’

Sheri Peifer has been busy since becoming CEO of non-profit senior living operator Eskaton in September. 

Peifer and her executive team are embarking on making “very important changes and transformation” to set the company up to succeed for not just the next decade, but “the next 50 years,” she told Senior Housing News.

In her vision, Eskaton’s future lies not in skilled nursing ands health care, but in pivoting to private-pay senior living communities. The operator also has upside in new amenities and lifestyle services for residents.

“We not only need more independent living cottages or apartment-style rentals, but more restaurant options and more amenities,” Peifer said, adding the organization is seeking to now “turn the page” to a new chapter.

Pushing Eskaton to think differently about the future is the fact that more older adults are seeking out more robust lifestyle offerings and independence-driven senior living.

To grow and succeed in 2024 and beyond, Peifer is leading changes to the nonprofit’s portfolio makeup and health care exposure to fostering leadership and career development by improving staffing retention.

Alongside those goals, Ekstaon leadership have started a master planning process to help shape the coming years for the organization in building out amenities and services around identified larger communities.

Carmichael, California-based Eskaton operates 25 communities in California.

2024 ‘all about stabilization’

Eskaton’s year ahead is “all about stabilization,” Peifer said.

One way the company is looking to get on better footing is by improving recruitment and retention. Peifer, then as chief strategy officer, was previously involved in creating “listening circles” for employees to vent frustrations and share their wants and needs.

Now in 2024, the company is looking to boost staff engagement and compensation, while also touting operational successes at the community level. The company is aiming to do that by deepening leadership development and enhancing staff retention.

“It’s about leadership development and really cultivating that sense of career pathways throughout Eskaton,” Peifer said.

Another big part of stabilization is repositioning Eskaton’s portfolio to better meet the demands of future residents.

As it stands, Eskaton’s portfolio is roughly made up by a 70% health care and skilled exposure and 30% residential senior living, but Peifer envisions a future where that ratio is flipped to support continued growth and capital improvements reinvested back into the nonprofit.

The company is currently planning the best way to improve and upgrade some of its existing communities to bring modern amenities to residents. Ideas include achieving that through refinancing and increasing philanthropic engagement, Peifer said.

In the weeks and months ahead, Peifer said Eskaton leaders would field feedback from residents and staff regarding its path ahead, having built a strong reputation as a nonprofit senior living provider.

“We’re now looking at health care, residential hospitality and more partnerships with residents versus this paternalistic approach of knowing exactly what they want and what they don’t,” Peifer said. “That’s important to recognize and we need to understand the desires of the people wanting different engagement, choices and the unbundling of services.”

As older adults wait longer to enter communities, Peifer said Eskaton must consider how to reach residents through home-based services or lifestyle engagement. She envisions a “hub and spoke” model for Eskaton’s future in residential senior living with 30-to-50-acre campuses in different markets where the company could expand around its larger communities to grow.

“How do we build or acquire or affiliate more independent living satellite offerings and then how do we connect them? Peifer said. “It’s about how we leverage our large hubs and how we radiate our services and support from there.”

To build out those hubs will require more staff, and more staff means more time spent on ensuring the right people are in the right positions. Eight months ago, Eskaton received $3.2 million from the California Department of Aging for a grant that created the Eskaton Academy for career development.

To date, 1,000 of the company’s staff have been through the program and the effort has improved retention and that can make a major improvement in solving staffing problems, Peifer said.

‘Transition’ year ahead

As operators take smaller bites of the apple when it comes to growth, providers are still evolving and finding new ways of improving operations. Eskaton’s year ahead is all about “transition,” and strengthening the company’s operations.

Going forward, Peifer said she feels the “hub and spoke” model of relying on larger communities and building scale will evolve on another level: At home, outside of the traditional four-walls of a community. Eskaton’s home care entity Live Well at Home with Eskaton has been a steady thread connecting older adults to communities prior to making a move.

“We have learned just how critical our brand is,” Peifer said, reaching future prospects as opposed to losing out to competing senior living providers.

That could mean future membership models established for independent living customers or layering wellness offerings, she added.

“As we move forward, it’s truly going to take a focused, market study on each property to see which are best positioned for that hub and spoke approach,” Peifer said, as the company recently partnered with consultants to expedite and maximize planning.

She added: “There’s definitely positive energy and people feel very connected to why decisions are being made and that their voice is at the table and that’s critical.”

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