Last year, Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) president Cindy Kent resigned from the company. Kevin Bowman quickly stepped in to fill the void as Executive Vice President of Community Operations.
Bowman – who joined Brookdale in 2016 as regional vice president of operations – is an expert in the field, with a career spanning nearly 30 years and including time at Sunrise Senior Living and a few other senior care institutions. Bowman came to Brookdale via Vista Cove Senior Living in Southern California, where he worked as Operations Manager between 2014 and 2016.
As Executive Vice President of Community Operations, Bowman’s job is to “partially focus” on the ins and outs of Brentwood’s, Tennessee-based, 680 communities across the United States. He takes over at a particularly critical time for both Brookdale and the larger living industry, as 2022 will be a year for occupancy recovery and rate growth.
Recruitment remains largely unknown, and as the nation’s largest subsistence operator, Brookdale will need to recruit and hire communities at scale, balancing the need to offer attractive jobs with the need to increase revenue and margin amid a higher cost of doing business. Overall, the company faces a crucial year in 2022.
However, in recent months Brookdale has made good progress on its recovery plan, with an improved portfolio, restructured leases, and a stronger liquidity profile than when the pandemic began. Bowman says he’s “never been more excited about the outlook” for the company in 2022, reflecting CEO Cindy Baer’s recent optimism.
“[We are focusing on] Continue to increase occupancy in the midst of a recovery, focus on sticking to rates and maintaining good rates, working through challenges with the workforce and continuing to reduce employee turnover,” Bowman told Senior Housing News.
As Executive Vice President, Bowman supports the company’s operations and works with company divisions and senior leaders to help its communities. Compared to his predecessor Kent — who came to Brookdale in 2019 via 3M — Bowman said his assignments will focus more on ground-level operations.
“With the focus and the need for us to recover and put so much effort into our communities, picking someone who ‘was there, and done that’ has been helpful,” Bowman said. “It was just the right time… to move this role to a role more focused on community operations.”
Bowman’s top priority is an area in which the company has made steady progress. Brookdale’s recovery efforts to date have culminated in 10 consecutive months of occupancy growth, ending December at 74.5% average occupancy. December also marked the first time since 2012 that Brookdale recorded sequential gains in occupancy between November and December.
Bowman credits much of this growth to the company’s ongoing “sales shift” that has been spearheaded by senior vice president of sales Rick Wigginton. Of particular note are the company’s efforts to enhance infection control and leverage digital marketing. The company has also worked to get more referrals from medical professionals for its communities, most of which provide living and memory care.
As long as occupancy continues to grow already into 2022, Brookdale management is optimistic that it will maintain and even increase rates across the company’s portfolio.
“We are very optimistic about what we can achieve in 2022 in terms of revenue growth and growth rates,” Bowman said. “Many of our communities where we’re seeing higher occupancy, we’re seeing greater rate growth, even amidst the headwinds they might face.”
Although the growing number of Covid-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant is putting pressure on operators at the start of 2022, Bowman feels that the company’s vaccines and boosters, as well as the company’s infection control practices, will help it navigate through this and any future variables. Plus, nearly all of Brookdale’s eligible workers and residents have been vaccinated, and the company is nearing completion of its booster clinics, he added.
“We have developed some very strong policies and practices, and our communities really live with them every single day,” he said.
Employment is one of Brookdale’s most important areas, as is the rest of the senior living industry. To that end, the company “is seeing some improvement,” Bowman said. Although he didn’t give specific numbers, he did say that partner turnover has been trending downward since October.
To bring more workers into the company, Bowman believes, the answer lies in giving them career paths and being more flexible about shift scheduling. The company also raised workers’ wages in some markets to remain competitive in hiring.
“Some people might call it an invitation, others might call it a purpose – where we’re really targeting a lot of our efforts right now, and attracting the right potential partners,” he added.
Bowman also recognizes that technology is now a staple in the community’s budget, and he sees a not-too-distant future where artificial intelligence and robotics will play a greater role within Brookdale communities.
“I think we’re going to start seeing that in our communities in 2022 more than ever,” he said.
Brookdale’s continuous evolution
In terms of size, Brookdale is pretty much where you want to be after years of community sales and rental restructuring, although there’s always potential for “onesie” deals, Bowman said.
As of last August, new construction beginning within 20 minutes of the Brookdale community was 44% less than a year earlier. Looking ahead, Bowman sees opportunities to grow the company’s portfolio, or even embark on new development.
“The way the markets are, there will be a lot of opportunities for us in the coming years,” he added. “But I’m very comfortable managing our field and structure, and it seems to fit the scale of the organization.”
Another ongoing development is Brookdale’s home health project with HCA Healthcare, and the company is looking at more ways to develop that relationship, according to Bowman. Bayer has also noted in the past the company’s long-term goal of partnering with healthcare providers.
“We are continuing to build those relationships, working further with the company HCA as well as managing local hospitals [of] “HCA is in certain markets,” Bowman said. “We strive to…continue to be a partner in our local markets with the HCA hospital base, certainly as it relates to home health and conditioning components.”