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Operator Sunset Senior Communities Targets Senior Living Growth After Pivot Away from Skilled Nursing

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Sunset Senior Communities is poised to continue growing beyond its current four-community count in 2024 following the addition of a new property and the sale of its skilled nursing portfolio. 

“It’s been a really busy and exciting time for us,” Sunset CEO Christina Matzke told Senior Housing News. Matzke was named president and CEO of Sunset Senior Communities in 2021 and previously worked as the company’s COO and Chief Healthcare Officer.

Sunset Senior Communities operates four, full-continuum communities along with two additional smaller sites. Recently, the company completed a $30 million renovation to its Waterford Place campus that was first built in 2009.

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With the renovation plan, Sunset Senior Communities added 62 apartments for independent living and a chapel, along with an additional dining venue for the property.

The company also sold off its skilled nursing portfolio in 2023. In transitioning out its skilled nursing footprint, the company is focusing on adding additional independent living units, along with expanding assisted living services for higher acuity residents.

“We’re positioning ourselves to take care of people through the end of life without having to go to a skilled nursing facility,” Matzke said.

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That’s possible through partnerships with hospice and other health services, Matzke added.

“That’s been a transition that has been happening for 10 years to get all that training and the right equipment so we don’t have to say goodbye to residents and they don’t have to move out to seek additional care,” Matzke said.

Matzke envisions 2024 as a year in which the Jenson, Michigan-based provider will regain pre-pandemic census, with a goal in the mid-90th percentile by mid-year. To achieve that, the company is honing marketing efforts and revamping its physical spaces to bring new residents into communities.

“Reaching people sooner and getting people in the building, while keeping up with what incoming residents want is what we see as an opportunity ahead,” Matzke added.

In 2023, Matzke said the company reported further improved its staffing outlook, something she called the company’s “most stabilizing factor” in its ongoing recovery. Occupancy has improved to near-pre-pandemic levels with less than 3% to regain on occupancy with 89% occupancy by the end of November.

“Our engagement has improved a ton,” Matzke said. “We’ve maintained our staffing through the pandemic and we changed with the times to adapt and people are really drawn to us.”

Sunset revamped its human resources department to include leadership development and higher education tuition reimbursement in part to attract workers with a focus on the company’s mission. To incentivize retention, Sunset offered bonuses to staff who reached one-year of employment and existing staff are also compensated annually for their service.

“That was huge for us,” Matzke said. “It’s kept people engaged with us a lot longer.”

She added that Sunset is able to maximize its leverage as a nonprofit senior living provider through innovation and collaboration with regional organizations to improve services, with Matzke calling the nonprofit senior living space “more collaborative” than its private-pay counterparts.

Also new in the last 12 months has been a revamped levels of care platform for residents to more accurately charge for care, with greater distinction between levels of care provided to residents. With changes in care billing and increased emphasis on solving staffing woes, Matzke sees opportunity ahead for Sunset.

“If we take advantage of the time right now to get ready for younger residents coming in, while investing in our staff, I am optimistic for what lies ahead,” Matzke said.

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