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Brookdale CEO: We’re Staying the Course in 2024 With ‘Ultimate Potential’ in Sight

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Executives with Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) say the company has laid a foundation for growth – now, in 2024, the company’s challenge is building on those preparations.

Looking to the year ahead, Brookdale President and CEO Cindy Baier said the company has an expectation to “stay the course.”

“We made remarkable progress last year, but driving meaningful change through an organization and reaping the full benefit of that change takes time,” she said during Brookdale’s fourth-quarter 2024 call with investors and analysts Wednesday. “We take pride in our accomplishments, and we also see them as stepping stones towards our full recovery and achieving our ultimate potential.”

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Brentwood, Tennessee-based Brookdale is the nation’s largest operator of senior living communities, with 652 communities in 41 states.

As it has been in previous quarters and years, Brookdale is focused in 2024 on maintaining and growing resident rates, attracting and retaining community staff and maximizing quality of care.

“Through consistent execution of these, I believe we will grow occupancy and RevPAR, deliver meaningful 2024 adjusted EBITDA growth and adjusted free cash flow improvement and support further shareholder value creation, all while continuing to grow resident satisfaction,” Baier said.

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Brookdale’s operating income was $92.1 million in the red in the fourth quarter of 2023, compared to the $25.7 million net loss the company logged in the same period in 2022. That difference was driven by a sale of certain communities in 4Q22 and an increase in asset impairment expense and income tax provisions, company management noted.

Brookdale’s stock price is currently priced at $5.50 per share, down 10.7% from the previous close on Feb. 20.

Building on HealthPlus, staffing momentum

Brookdale is attempting to “stay the course” in the year ahead by building on initiatives it has readied in the past.

Among those initiatives is an expansion of its Brookdale HealthPlus program to 130 communities throughout 2024.

The program has led to 78% fewer urgent care visits and 36% fewer hospitalizations for residents and has helped lead to a faster rate of “profitability” than communities not offering it, according to Baier.

Since starting to roll out the program several years ago, Brookdale’s thesis has been that the program would translate into a higher length of stay and a more attractive value proposition for residents. Looking ahead, that continues to be the case.

“We think there’s going to be a strong return by supporting the health and wellbeing of our residents even more than we previously did,” Baier said.

Brookdale initially formed a joint venture for its HealthPlus program in 2021 after selling an 80% stake in its health care services segment to Nashville-based health care provider HCA Healthcare in a $400 million transaction.

Brookdale sold its remaining 20% stake in the home health and hospice joint-venture to HCA at the end of 2023 for an additional $27 million, but Baier noted at the time the company will continue to “lean in” to the program.

In addition to that transaction in December, 2023, the operator also refinanced its remaining 2024 debt maturities and pushed them farther down the road.

The company also spent 2023 substantially eliminating its use of workers of staffing agencies. Though Brookdale CFO Dawn Kussow noted that would mean lower “premium labor savings” in 2023, but also that “the productivity of our labor will naturally get better as we increase our occupancy.”

And Baier added that although there have been challenges hiring nurses, caregivers and CNAs, “there is definitely a stabilization in the labor market which has resulted in less labor market churn.”

“When you think about that, there will be more muted inflation in labor costs on a per-employee, per-hour basis than we saw in prior years,” she said.

Maximizing growth in 2024

As the company’s leaders have noted in the past, Brookdale is focused on recovering occupancy and revenue lost during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to its 4Q23 investor presentation, the company currently has a same-community operating margin of 26.3%. But returning to the company’s pre-pandemic operating margins – 37.4% to 43.4% for independent living; 28.6% to 36.2% for assisted living and memory care – in tandem with occupancy growth would drive hundreds of millions of dollars of added revenue.

On those fronts, Brookdale is making progress.

Brookdale’s weighted average occupancy registered at 78.4% in the fourth quarter of 2024, representing a 130 basis point gain over the same period in 2023.

The company also has regained 92% of its same-community adjusted operating income since before the pandemic, which Kussow said reflects a strong recovery “given the significant runway still available to grow occupancy.”

Occupancy and rate increases led to higher revenue per occupied room and per available room during the fourth quarter of last year. RevPOR reached $5,889 in the quarter, representing an increase of 8.1% versus the same period one year ago. RevPAR hit $4,619 in the quarter, a 10% increase compared with 4Q22.

Revenue from resident fees fell slightly between the third and fourth quarter of 2023, but that is due to the disposition of 19 communities in that time, the company noted.

Rate increases going into January were lower than in 2023, Kussow said, but they still remained higher than historic norms.

“We remain focused on ensuring appropriate pricing to match the services we deliver in our communities, and believe our annual pricing increase appropriately addresses our expected labor costs, which is the most significant portion of community operating expenses, as well as normal inflationary increases on food supplies and utilities,” she said.

Looking ahead, Baier said Brookdale’s goal is to reach pre-pandemic levels of recovery “as quickly as possible,” a process aided by strong demand,“muted” supply and capital restraints.

“I would say that the Brookfield differentiation is continuing to grow. We’re very excited about Brookdale HealthPlus, we’re excited about the quality of care that we’re providing,” Baier said. “So our goal is to serve as many seniors as we can as quickly as we can.”

Baier added that Brookdale has built a “very solid foundation” for sustained growth in 2024.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming new residents into our communities, extending the length of service for our associates and focusing on providing quality services, which will help us achieve our long term objectives,” Baier said.

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