Steve Moran sat down recently with Kristin Kutac Ward, from Solvere Senior Living, to talk shop about the industry and discuss the company’s operating philosophy.

By Meg LaPorte

Senior Housing Forum Publisher Steve Moran sat down recently at the NIC 2017 conference in Chicago, where he interviewed Kristin Kutac Ward, president and chief executive officer of Princeton, N.J.-based Solvere Senior Living, to talk shop about the industry and discuss the company’s operating philosophy.

A Consultant Mindset

What makes Solvere stand out from other senior living management companies? Kutac Ward’s response to this question is not what you might expect from a management company: “Our consulting mindset, and what I mean by that is we have processes, procedures and best practices that we implement and we brand.”

This mentality is grounded in the fact that many of Solvere’s employees have been consultants in the field. “We will work with different owners in different ways. We will brand it or we won’t brand it if they want their name to be in the forefront versus ours,” says Kutac Ward. What’s more, she says, is that Solvere doesn’t have the need to “plaster our name over everything.”

Solvere works with owners to either transition them to self-manage one day or take it to the long term. “So, honestly, it is that consulting mindset [and] we don’t have a box that we have to fit in.”

About Those Occupancy Rates

As the end all and be all of senior housing benchmarks, having an occupancy of 100 percent is of course what all operators strive for but is not particularly realistic to achieve at any consistent level. So what does Solvere consider to be an optimal—and achievable—occupancy level, as well as a reasonable goal from a budget standpoint?

According to Kutac Ward, 96 percent is the standard goal. “With different owners and different banks, it may vary, but 92 percent is what we pro forma,” she says. “Every community breaks even at a different point, based on the market and the fill rate.”

Short-term Versus Long-term

Senior housing management contracts are different from traditional real estate investments in that their cancellation periods are shorter term and therefore pose more difficulties with regard to staff development and training. While Kutac Ward acknowledges that the five- to seven-year holds are shorter than other entities, she and her team have found “really good results with good team recognition orientation and training programs, within 90 days.” She notes that Solvere has its training programs “down” so well that they can implement them quickly “and see results very quickly.”

In fact, Solvere is building out a training and development program as a platform for the company to utilize with all of its clients, “so whether we have a contract for a year or we have it for 10 years, we will implement it consistently across all the communities.”

Referring again to the consulting mindset, Kutac Ward explained that “we create programs for other organizations all the time and we want to make it so they can take it and do it on their own.”

Does Form Follow Function?

Just because a senior living community is beautifully designed and luxuriously appointed doesn’t mean that it’s a good option for your loved one from a programmatic standpoint, Moran contends. Indeed, Kutac Ward concurred on this point. However, she maintains that it’s still possible to create the right atmosphere “if the training program is solid and you’ve spent that time on it,” she says, noting that Margaret Wylde, Ph.D., president and CEO of ProMatura, and her research around resident satisfaction, engagement, and camaraderie in communities resonates with the Solvere philosophy.

“It needs to be focused on building that sense of camaraderie with residents and also about being really intentional about your programming and what it looks like and then training for every single staff member and involvement with every single staff member,” she says.