Anthem CEO: We’re Playing Offense in 2024 After Sales Wins Last Year
After two years of stronger sales and occupancy growth, Anthem Memory Care’s “financial anxiety” has eased – and now, the company can again “go on the offensive,” according to CEO Isaac Scott.
For Scott, going on the offensive means investing in more forward-thinking technology, training, and resources to help the Lake Oswego, Oregon-based memory care operator maintain and improve the quality of its services. It also means growing the company’s owned community portfolio and taking a breather on management contracts, which were the operator’s “main engine” of expansion in 2022 and 2023.
In the year ahead, Anthem will continue to add to its footprint where it can have regional density, Scott said. The company’s most recent additions in the Southeast and in Tennessee and Arkansas set it up for additional opportunities in those regions. And looking ahead, he sees more opportunities to grow born out of the distress of the past few years.
“We anticipate growth happening throughout 2024, and are well on our way to putting that together,” Scott told Senior Housing News. “Our occupancy has continued to increase, month over month, and now we can really say that we’re in a stabilized environment.”
Scott, who describes himself as an optimist, has a philosophy similar to that of Duke women’s basketball coach Kara Lawson, who coined the phrase “handle hard better” in a now-famous pep talk. Like Lawson, Scott does not believe the future will get any easier – instead, it’s up to the players to up their game in response to the many challenges they will no doubt face.
“This upcoming year will not be easier than years past,” he said. “But we are preparing to ‘handle hard better’ and welcome the challenges that this year will bring.”
‘Sales engine’ making a difference
Propeling Anthem forward this year is a “sales engine” that is now firing on all cylinders, Scott said.
Thanks to efforts put into place in the preceding two years, Anthem has grown its occupancy rate back into the mid-80s. The company is currently seeing its highest-ever lead volume, Scott added. That is partly the result of the operator having established itself as “one of the leaders in the memory care space,” a fact that should aid Anthem in a fragmented market.
Over the years, the universe of standalone memory care operators has continued to shrink, according to Scott. That should give an advantage to companies like Anthem, especially as the need for memory care services increases with the arrival of the baby boomer generation. Another tailwind is the fact that new construction and development is still relatively low.
“Although we have one new development in Rancho Cucamonga, California, the fundamentals – land price, construction price, interest rate environment, et cetera – will restrict new supply in any meaningful way,” Scott said. “This will be a real benefit to the occupancy across our portfolio.”
He added: “Once construction pricing stabilizes and returns to more normal rates, we will be poised to participate in development opportunities, because there will have to be a new-supply answer to the pending market demand.”
As Anthem’s occupancy has climbed in recent months, so too have its average margins. Even so, Scott said he does not anticipate returning to pre-pandemic margins in 2024, which is why he is still laser-focused on growing resident rates and trimming expenses.
Scott said his other big initiatives for the year ahead are to continue occupancy growth, evolve and improve staff engagement efforts and satisfaction scores and improve clinical practices and mitigate legal risk.
New opportunities for investment, growth
Thanks to the improvements made in 2022 and 2023, Anthem is on firmer footing on which to expand and evolve.
Technology is a big current focus for Scott and Anthem, having just come off a year that was “our most significant year in terms of technology and systems integrations,” he said.
The company recently appointed Michael Zywicki as vice president of programs and engagement, and it is now evaluating existing engagement systems and new options on the tech market with which to better support its Pathways of Purpose engagement programming.
The company also initiated efforts in 2023 to adopt a business intelligence dashboard that will become the company’s “operational language” for home-office support and community leadership.
The dashboard will enable Anthem to monitor certain metrics in real-time as opposed to 30 to 45 days prior – a potential “game-changer,” Scott said.
“This will be released to our community leadership in Q1 and we will add modules – CRM and occupancy, financial, clinical, staffing, et cetera – throughout the year to increase the effectiveness of the tool,” Scott said. “I predict this effort will have the biggest impact on our operational performance as it provides real-time feedback to our teams and where their focus needs to be.”
He added that the company has made an investment to provide all of its caregivers with a work iPhone on which to keep track of care plans, communication tools and alerts. Anthem also is working to add fall-detection technology to its portfolio.
Anthem’s recent operational progress also gives it more fuel with which to grow.
“It’s our anticipation that most, if not all, growth opportunities will be in the form of communities or portfolios that have underperformed or are in a financial bind due to refinancing or debt service issues,” Scott said.
In the preceding years, the company has had an informal motto of “25 by ‘25,” referencing a goal to hit 25 communities by the year 2025. But given the opportunities Scott sees ahead, the company may very well surpass that number next year.
This article is sponsored by Accushield. In this interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Jayne Sallerson, President &…