Boomer Living Senior Living Broadcast

William Pettit - The Merrill Gardens Experience of Senior Living, 5 Must-haves of Senior Living, Middle Income Affordable Housing, Technology Usability for Seniors

June 03, 2021 Hanh Brown / William Pettit Season 2 Episode 119
Boomer Living Senior Living Broadcast
William Pettit - The Merrill Gardens Experience of Senior Living, 5 Must-haves of Senior Living, Middle Income Affordable Housing, Technology Usability for Seniors
Show Notes Transcript

Middle-income seniors have too many financial assets to qualify for Medicaid and not always enough to cover housing and support needs as their health and functional abilities change. If you’re a middle-income senior who wants or needs more help, but can’t afford it, where do you turn?

Merrill Gardens offers senior living communities for the middle class with an option for those in need of some extra assistance while maintaining independence.  Whether they need some extra assistance with daily activities or want to enjoy all the perks of an active lifestyle, the residents have the freedom and flexibility to pursue their interests while staying in one place. The community offers five pillars of support—healthcare services, wellness programs, dining options, social events, and resident services—to ensure your loved ones will always have what they need when they need it. 
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Timestamps:

[00:00]
Pre-Intro dialogue from William Pettit

[01:35]
Introductions

[02:59]
You had 18 years in banking before joining RD Merrill Company. What prompted you to make this career switch?

[05:36]
The company believes that the ability to help seniors live their own lives and make their own decisions is the key to happier and fuller lives. Can you explain what you mean by that?

[07:11]
How do you think the senior housing industry will change post-pandemic?

[09:35]
Do you think these changes will help evolve to the next generation of senior living?

[10:36]
From an operational side, you're talking about wellness, longevity, just activities offering some vibrancy and perhaps lends itself for them to have a purpose?

[21:00]
The next generation of seniors will have more options for middle-income seniors available to them, than generations in the past have. What do you think these middle-income options will look like and what services may be available?

[29:58]
Do you think someday these senior living alternatives may become the norm?

[30:26]
Do you think it's a better alternative to aging in place? Why or why not?

[39:01]
You rolled out Google Nest Hub, Max Devices, to many of your buildings. The residents now have plug-and-play experience when it comes to contacting their friends and loved ones. Can you give us a brief explanation of what this product is and what were you trying to solve?

[44:42]
During 2020 in the thick of the pandemic PGIM Real Estate provided a loan of 460 million as part of Merrill Gardens' portfolio acquisition. This speaks volumes about the strength of the relationship and the collaboration required by all parties to navigate this, turbulent, pandemic market climate. What lessons can you share about your successful closing? In terms of quality of the portfolio, location, and mostly the people?

[47:16]
Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share?
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Bio:

William (Bill) Pettit is the president and chief operating officer of the R. D. Merrill Company with responsibility for Merrill Gardens and sister company Pillar Properties. Merrill Gardens is one of the most respected assisted living operators in the country with 70 communities in 20 states. Pillar Properties is an award-winning developer, owner, and operator of multi-family housing with 1,700 units in operation and the developer for all Merrill Gardens new communities.

Pettit joined the R.D. Merrill Company in 1992 after 18 years in the banking industry and he was instrumental in the formation of the companies. He directed the rapid growth and timely execution of acquisitions and developed the policies that speak to the Merrill Gardens and Pillar Properties' commitment to quality.

Learn more about William Pettit here: https

Bill:

Our vision from the start has always been that that a senior is just changing one home for another home as they age. And when they come to live in Merrill Gardens, we try and look at our business that affects their life, through their eyes. And and consequently we look at setting up their experience in Merrill Gardens to replicate or to meet their expectations for what they would experience if they were living in their own home. And so, when they come to Merrill Gardens, they just find a different atmosphere, same home, their same ability to make choices. Their same ability to make decisions. It's just easier. Merrill Gardens is really just a new home for them when they come to live with us.

Hanh:

I thank you so much for your time to join me in the conversation.

Bill:

I look forward to it. I'm always, I'm always happy to talk about the industry and the residents that, uh, and seniors that we serve. So.

Hanh:

Thank you. Thank you so much. I want to make sure I pronounce your name right

Bill:

It's actually Pettit like you do it.

Hanh:

Oh, Pettit.

Bill:

Yeah.

Hanh:

Thank you.

Bill:

Yeah.

Hanh:

I certainly don't want to say that wrong.

Bill:

That's what I was going to ask you is your first name pronounced Hanh?

Hanh:

Yes. Yes, Hanh. It's like Han Solo, but you drop the Solo.

Bill:

Great.

Hanh:

All right. Great. Well, Bill Pettit joins me today on Boomer Living. Bill is the president and COO of RD Merill Company with responsibilities at subsidiaries Merrill Gardens and Pillar Properties. He helps and develop some of the most respected assisted living communities in the country. Bill was instrumental in founding of RD Merrill Company. He directed rapid growth and timely execution of acquisitions and developed the policies that speak to Merrill Gardens and Pillar Property's commitments to quality care. Bill, thank you so much for joining me, today on the podcast.

Bill:

Thank you Hanh. I'm very pleased to be here. Always love talking about the industry.

Hanh:

Great. Great. So, I understand that you had 18 years in banking prior to joining RD Merrill Company. So, what prompted you to make this a career switch?

Bill:

As a young person graduating from college on my and my master's degree. I had aspirations to to get out to the Northwest and find a career that that I could really be passionate about. I spent 18 years in commercial banking and and I loved it. It came at a time when the industry was deregulating, where there was lots of opportunity for young people. And yet I woke up 18 years later, I was president of the regional bank and I was losing my passion for the business. And, at that time the Merrill family, which owns RD Merrill Company was just in the process of a generational change, changing from a third generation leadership to fourth generation leadership. And Charlie Wright, who is a family chairman from the fourth generation, was looking for a partner to come in and build essentially new operating businesses. And Merrill's family's wealth has been in Timber since the 18 hundreds and and Charlie Wright had a vision for broadening beyond the limits of Timber defined a strong industry that grow in. And the first industry we selected was was the senior housing industry. There were a lot of reasons to make that decision, but it was too much of a draw to have an opportunity to come in and build a business from scratch as opposed to inheriting a business, which I did in the banking and my banking career. And, and so, 29 years ago Charlie and I started then and I had a chance to build Merrill Gardens from from the first proper day up. And and I have to say that having Had two interesting and challenging careers that I've never really looked back. The senior housing industry is is a constantly changing, constantly challenging. And, and it's a great business, but it's even a better mission in terms of helping seniors achieve achieve all of their goals as they age.

Hanh:

we're very blessed to have you in the industry. And thank you. A family of over 70 communities Merrill Gardens believes that life should be all about the choices that you can make and the things that you can do. So, the company believes that the ability to help seniors live their own lives and make their own decisions is the key to happier and fuller lives. So, can you explain what you mean by that?

Bill:

I think the best way to describe it as there are no rules. Our vision from the start has always been that that a senior is just changing one home for another home as they age. And when they come to live in Merrill Gardens, we try and look at our business that affects their life through their eyes. And and consequently we look at setting up their experience in Merrill Gardens to replicate or to meet their expectations for what they would experience if they were living in their own home. And so, when they come to Merrill Gardens, they just find a different atmosphere, same home, their same ability to make choices. Their same ability to make decisions. It's just easier. Merrill Gardens is really just a new home for them when they come to live with us.

Hanh:

So, the transition is as seamless as possible?

Bill:

That's our goal. They should be able to do everything living at Merrill Gardens that they were accustomed to doing during their day when they were at home, only better.

Hanh:

Great. Now, this is something that I've been talking about with a lot of my guests recently, and I always want to hear different perspectives. So, how do you think the senior housing industry will change post pandemic?

Bill:

You know, that's a question which I realize a lot of a lot of people are wrestling with at this time. I think internally as we look at the business and as we look to the future I don't see I really don't see much in the way of significant change really beyond continuing to ensure that the environment is safe. We'll, we will certainly work on air conditioning and the quality of the of the systems that we have to, to avoid the risk of facilitating a spread of a virus that's airborne in that context. But when we look at the buildings we live today we built today and offer to seniors. I don't really expect a lot of change. Take the typical Merrill Gardens today, when a senior comes to live with us, they have the choice of a studio apartment, a one bedroom apartment, a two bedroom apartment. And when the sites that we develop on create the opportunity, we even built cottages, freestanding colleges as part of our Merrill Gardens community units, whether it's a studio unit or a college they all have a kitchen. They, they all have in unit washer dryers. So, these really are residents that we're building a very similar to a condominium of of similar size. So, from a physical plant perspective, I don't expect much change from the standpoint of how they live within our communities or choose to live within, our communities. And they still have all the same choices, even though they have kitchens, they will always have available to a dining room and a Veestro and the opportunity to take meals with others or to to fix mails by themselves in their apartment. So, that's part of our objective is to make the transition that we were talking about as seamless as possible. So, I don't see the pandemic affecting that aspect of it, other than, of course when I mentioned in terms of the physical plant systems of heating and air conditioning, to continue to provide a safe environment.

Hanh:

And it sounds like many will stay the same, few changes. And do you think these changes will help evolve to the next generation of senior living?

Bill:

That's a great question. So, I think the boomer generation, I'm a baby boomer by age, and I think we, as a generation are very different from our parents' generation. Our parents were, as they move through senior housing were very accepting of of what they were presented with. And I see our generation having higher expectations of our ability to control and influence how we live. And that doesn't change the physical plant so much as it changes the programming and the services within the building that an operator like Merrill Gardens will use to enable a senior in terms of achieving their, their maximum abilities from that standpoint?

Hanh:

So, from an operational side, you're talking about wellness, longevity, just activities offering some vibrancy and perhaps lends itself for them to have a purpose?

Bill:

You know, I've always felt that our role in a senior's life is to enable their, it's to enable them to live independently and to, and to have access to choices. There's, there, there are five principle things, that the senior housing operator or community can do to facilitate a seniors independence. The first is simply the dietary side to give them choices. To eat when they want to eat. To eat what they want to eat. To have a healthy balance but all at their choice. But how they eat and how they get their nutrition is a key to strength and, and activity from that standpoint. And so, that's an important piece of what we enable. Another area that we enable is physical fitness. We constantly have programs available to the seniors that live with us to to frankly build their strength and to maintain their fitness. And the difference for an 80 year old between walking with a walker or walking independently, oftentimes is as simple as whether they have access to programs that can allow them to exercise during the course of a day. So, between dietary and fitness, those sort of two important elements. A third which is also important is how easy he is in a community to find a diverse area of intellectual stimulation and growth. And so, that's why for a lot of operators like Merrill Gardens, we play so much emphasis on the quality and diversity of activities that, that we we set out in the building to, to deliver where residents have a choice of selecting not only the type of activity, but if they want to engage or not. A fourth, which everyone tends to think about is the quality of the assistance or the care that occurs in the community. And that's very important for those seniors, whether it's something they're planning for and and want to make sure it's there and accessible to them, or whether it's something that they use periodically or whether they have a need for a longer term access to some care programs that are important to them. But I think the most important element that we enable that truly affects a senior's life is as basic as socialization, the ability to make connections, the ease with what you've done, make connections. The degree to which those connections oftentimes turn into new friends. And, and the reality is that if I take those five things, dietary physical fitness, intellectual stimulation, care and socialization. Those are the five pillars of determining the quality of a senior's life or their sense of comfort that they are living their later years the way they want to live them with energy and stimulation and friends. And I look back on the pandemic and I think as a country, all of us for a period of months experienced, experienced to some degree, the isolation that can occur without stimulation without socialization. And and it's tough. I think that's a little bit of looking at life and aging for seniors, as they begin to experience challenges, loss of a spouse, loss of friends, some difficulty driving potentially. And most seniors when they choose to live in their home are making a decision to live with what's familiar rather than necessarily making a choice to live an engaging active life that when they come to a senior housing community is basically there for them to choose from. It's there. It's a commitment that we make. And the difference is when you choose to live at home by yourself, even though you're living in a familiar and environment, they get to those five pillars that matter make your life and your independence stronger, you as your senior living, sometimes alone, sometimes as a couple, have to enable fuller generate all of those activities, which when you come to a senior housing community, you mainly, you merely have to select from because they're there and ready for you to choose from without having to, to plan for it on your own. Not right for everybody, but certainly for for a majority of seniors who, who find that there are challenges that you get older.

Hanh:

You're providing them options and you're right. It may not, all of the activities are for everybody, but you have options and it lends itself the environment for them to thrive and to grow and, live with a purpose. And I think you mentioned one component, which is making friends. You know what? I sometimes think at any age it can be difficult as let's say, a parent of mom who has been raising their kids and that's, their lives for the longest time could be 30, 40 plus years. And then you realize at this point, maybe you don't have your spouse anymore. So, some may feel that they don't have the skills to make friends. So, I think it's wonderful that you have an environment that lends itself for them to do that.

Bill:

Absolutely. And you know, years ago when we first started we found that a trigger for seniors coming to senior housing was an event. It was either that, that they lost a spouse. They lost friends. They had a fall or they had a medical condition that, that I think became unsettling in that context. And it's changing as, as senior housing, as improved as senior housing has evolved to having an event drive you to make a decision to now seeking out a more active and interesting and social way to live. It's easy to think that living in a senior housing community, you can come down to lunch or come down to breakfast and or dinner and, have someone to sit with meal with, to exchange ideas with. You can have 50 or a hundred different people that you can do that with. But what's nice is every community works hard at making sure that you, as a senior, moving into a new community can become a part of that community and meet people with like interests and ideas, and like a big party sometimes.

Hanh:

That's great. I was just thinking, as you were speaking. Although, the spectrum of life is that in the later years, let's say it call it the later third of life, but we don't want to view, we don't want to live as if we are in the later third of life. I'd rather look at it as this is a continuation and the best of your life, right? If you're still healthy, independent, you should live that way and not go into a community and feel confined, let's say. But that's the old paradigm. But I'm just excited with the upcoming changes and all the innovations and just everything that you described. So that's really good. Thank you.

Bill:

Well it's something that those of us that are in the industry are, are focused on and committed to. It is amazing. Being in this industry, as long as I have that, that 20 years ago, the comments are still the same as they are today. When we have a senior move in who's been living alone or with a spouse at home and trying to manage all of those elements, how often they will come up and and say to us, "I, I really should have made this decision a long time ago." And or to have an adult child come up, and, and look and say, "Thank you for giving my relationship with my parents back to me." Because instead of having a couple or a single parent looking to the child to help organize their life and, and to help them navigate problems, now, the relationship has changed because our team is there to help a senior navigate some of those elements. So, a lot of the conversation moves from between a parent and a child moves back to what's happening with family, with grandchildren, with events in a way from thinking about organizing care or whether whether the senior has enough food or enough activity to keep them busy during the day and to be stimulating in that context.

Hanh:

So, the conversation is about living and not so much around "How we're going to care for mom. How are we going to adjust our lives to be the caretaker?" But now it's all the fun activities that surrounding them.

Bill:

Yeah. Absolutely. One, the other comment that speaks to that is I've often had an adult child make the comment to me that "Since mom or dad, or since they both moved into Merrill Gardens I'm having a hard time getting them on the phone. I find out that they're either down a bridge or they're off on an adventure or frankly, they're just too busy to talk to me. And it's the first time in a long time that's happened, and I think that's good." It certainly is good for the senior, so.

Hanh:

Yeah, that is awesome. That speaks volumes for your staff and your operation, just everything that your company signifies. That's great. So, the next generation of seniors will have more options for middle income seniors available to them, than generations in the past have. So, what do you think these middle income options will look like and what services may be available?

Bill:

That is a goal, and yet also a challenge that we in the industry are focused on. More affluent seniors, have a rich array of choices to choose from. And middle income seniors of this coming generation of which there are a lot as one of the first generations, typically without pensions, for example. The challenge is to get access to a community that they can fit within their budget, or that addresses a need, a desire they may have to to be more careful about their, about how they spend money as a age. And the reality is that the cost of building new buildings today has gone up significantly. The costs of our staff teams, a typical Merrill Gardens between, dining staff and activity staff, we care staff and building and maintenance staff. It can we can have a staff team in a building of up to 50 people, and wage growth, minimum wage, which is a good thing, but with a lot of hours adds to the cost of operations. All of that has increased the cost of senior housing in the last decade at a rapid pace. And so, finding that solution for middle income seniors is one thing that we're really looking at in the industry to, to ensure that we can bring the benefits of senior housing to people of moderate income, not just people who have gained some affluence in their life. So, I think there are a couple of really good ways that we have to make sure that those five pillars that I talked about are there and accessible and at a price that the senior field's comfortable paying, and that's going to differ from an affluent senior or middle income senior. And so, a couple of those ways of we've just formed a, a new brand within Merrill where Merrill Gardens has over time with the cost of building and staff has increasingly found itself dealing with more affluent seniors. But we've formed a new brand under Tanner Gall, who's our new president of Merrill Gardens to, to serve on a targeted basis that middle income senior, that senior that has $35,000 of annual income up to maybe $40,000 or $50,000 as opposed to $50,000 or more in the more affluent segments. And one way to do that is, is frankly to allow the Sr to to self perform some of the activities that they will have to perform if they're in their own home. And and focus on elements that can still support their independence, but also give them those key elements of socialization. And so, there is a new form of housing in the multifamily industry for those seniors over the age of 55. And the beauty of that is that while those apartments are true apartment homes with a kitchen and washer dryer from that standpoint, the seniors can still cook for themselves when they want to cook and the community and he doesn't necessarily offer a meal program but the senior would be providing their, their dietary needs on their own if they were at home; however, what it does do and in that environment for those operators that, that are really focused on that and want to make a difference, is, it can have a very rich activity program as part of the daily experience in a 55 plus multifamily community or a 55 plus condominium community, from that standpoint, and facilitate making sure and having a rich activity to choose from and the way of stimulation then fitness. And so, going back to it, those first three of the five pillars that I talked about along with socialization, the one thing it doesn't do is it doesn't provide a daily three meal a day food service program. It can. Partner Care, for example, and working with a family with a senior and with home health care, it can provide a, a varying budget of care services that can still make sure the senior has access to care. And they get to program how that's carried, how much of the care of the family or of the senior or the senior provides on their own as they would at living at home. And so, the standard shifts from the Merrill Gardens model, where when you come to our Merrill Gardens, it's full service. You have meal programs, you have activities, you have care options that are all there that are included in your rent when you come to Merrill Gardens. To a, to reinvisioning, a step up from living at home was support with activities, with stimulation, with socialization, just you take care of your own food and beverage needs and with the family. And when it comes to care, you work with our team, with home health care or with, with the family to partner a care program that will meet your needs at a budget that that you feel you can afford or want to pay in that context. .Another way that we are serving middle income seniors or plan to serve middle-income seniors is through our new brand, which is True Word by Merrill. And in that environment, we actually have, have acquired a network of older buildings, refurbish them because they are older, we've been able to lower the cost. It's significantly less than, than new development, but we're able to pack them with the same services that Merrill Gardens has and pass that, that lower cost of housing on through to the senior, from that standpoint Those are two very common ways that we do you see evolving for middle income seniors to get the same benefits of senior housing at a lower cost point or a lower point of access cost point of access in that context. And the seniors will always have their opportunity to stay at home and bring in services, if they choose. It's just, you don't get the same access to stimulation and socialization, when you do that, that you do in one of these communities, whether it's 55 multi-family or whether it's a True Word by Merrill, which is a service light program for seniors versus a full service program such as Merrill Gardens.

Hanh:

So, it sounds like there's optionality, right? Customized care, pay as you need and what you need. And you're providing them consultation to bring in resources to meet those needs as opposed to a full traditional for full service Merrill Garden.

Bill:

That's correct. And the secret to that in terms of being able to access middle income seniors or give them access to these houses, is that, that when you look at the cost of the programs from full service Merrill Gardens to service light True Word by Merrill to 55 plus multifamily housing set up to serve seniors is that we're able to deliver services more cost-effectively and pass those savings on to seniors.

Hanh:

So, everything that you described, I'm assuming that these are alternative forms of senior housing,

Bill:

Correct.

Hanh:

right? These new options will improve the quality for seniors.

Bill:

Well, it certainly will improve and substantially increase the number of seniors who can fit senior living within their budgets from that standpoint.

Hanh:

Now, do you think someday these alternatives may become the norm?

Bill:

I think they will with this generation from the baby boom. I don't think there's any question about it. It's something that we think is vital to to ensure that seniors here in the U.S. are able to have access to the beneficial elements of senior housing, regardless of their income.

Hanh:

So now, do these alternative forms that we just discussed. Do you think it's a better alternative to aging in place? I guess why or why not?

Bill:

That's a great question because the first, first answer you will get from a senior as they age is that "Well, I'm going to stay in my home." And, and I can understand that. That was my grandmother's preference. That was my father and mother's preference in that context. And it's natural to say "This is comfortable. This is where I've lived my adult life, and I want to be here." And in fact most seniors in the U.S. start out with that vision and commitment. But then the reality is that, that as we age whether it's ambulation, it just gets tougher to plan daily activity outside the home or at the end of the day, you're getting tired and making dinner. Doesn't seem as easy as it did before, or from that weekly bridge game to, to going out, to see grandchildren, who's getting to be a bit more of a challenge as you drive as you age. All of those elements will have one of two impacts. It will either have a senior look for and searching for a way to achieve, get their needs met, going back to those five pillars to get their needs met where it doesn't have to always be the senior planning how they access those, those services and and experiences from that standpoint. And then they start to, to do one or two. They either grow and find a way to do that or alternatively, they begin to turn inside and they rationalize what is a pattern of increasing isolation that isn't by desire or by, by a conscious focus. But it's the reality of age impacts on walking, on driving, on seeing, on hearing, and being in you're isolated at home, much like we all were with COVID in that context. It's those that begin to struggle with eating healthy, exercising daily, having a stimulating environment beyond the TV set or beyond the call to family. And may have challenges or momentary lapses in managing their medications from that standpoint. Most U.S. seniors are taking a number of prescription drugs on a daily basis. And then also seeing friends from, from going from shopping or playing bridge to a phone call as opposed to an actual physical experience. And, and those are the ones that, that will either grow and step outside to find something that can facilitate or enable that so that they can just enjoy it rather than have to do it and plan that and execute that in that context. Or again adult children will get involved and help to try and pull them out of that pattern. And that's why with the progress the industry's made in terms of breadth and, and types of of activities facilitating socialization to providing good access to care. All of those are elements that, that will benefit a larger number of members of the, of my generation, the baby boom generation than any generation that came before us, because we'll have choices to make, and we can make those choices in an environment which is willing to listen, which is willing to adapt and to serve our needs in that context. I think it's real. I think the options are there. I think my generation will have the choice between options. And one of those options is still stay at home. It's just, as you begin to live the challenge of independence at home as a senior, it becomes much more real both for your children and friends as well as for you as a senior.

Hanh:

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean my mid fifties. So, I am the daughter that had to seek out senior housing for my mom. She lived at home as long as she possibly could, but when dementia is progressing, when safety is at risk, so we knew that was time. Yeah for her to be in an environment that had 24 seven care or monitoring. That was our journey.

Bill:

Most of us in the industry and executive leadership found a similar path where we actually were able to marry up our experience and what we wanted for our parents and how we designed and programmed our companies in that context. And that's what keeps senior housing constantly evolving.

Hanh:

And I think it's really important to that seniors who want to age at home, but as they explore the senior options at the different communities, those communities best offer something that seniors can't get at home. And if they don't, there's no reason for them to move outside of their home. You know what I mean? And I hope that all communities will be looking to offer to the seniors things that they can not get at home, something that's beyond care, everything that you described, those five pillars. So, I think that's great. I mean, that is certainly something that is very determinant factors as the children help their parents navigate that journey.

Bill:

That's very true. And, um, I think each senior will find something as we age that, that becomes more difficult to develop or get, get at home. I am, in the last year, I have become far more proficient in Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Google Meet in that context. And I never would have expected that, but I will tell you for all of that and how pleasant this conversation has been, I will never replace that with the actual ability to be with somebody, to have that natural interaction, not through a screen, but one-on-one to be able, to be able to touch. To be able to laugh together on a very personal level. And that's one thing that you will always find facilitated when living in a senior housing community. Sometimes that outweighs just the comfort of the surrounding say you've had for 10, 15, 30, 40 years in some cases. It's that search for that connection that as we age becomes very important. Some seniors can manage it at home. I think all of us have aspirations to be like Betty White in that context. And the reality that we have found in senior housing is not everybody ages the same way. Not all memories work the way Betty White's memories have worked. And not everybody makes friends as easily as Betty White. So, there will always be an opportunity. There were, seniors will always be served by the option of staying at home or the option of finding an easier, more enriching life experience in a, in a community of, of seniors, so.

Hanh:

I echo that. I think what we're doing as far as using technology to stay connected, it's been a blessing and what a great alternative. However we're human and humanities need that one-on-one, that handshake that hug. And especially, if your loved one has dementia, it's very hard to use Zoom, okay. Because of the flashing in and out, it can be very scary. And for folks with dementia often, it's not about words, it's about just being present and sharing a meal, listening to music or just present. So, it's not verbal communication. So, I love technology. It allows you and I to talk, but I'm with you 200%. We're humans we're meant to be one-on-one, yeah. So, let's talk now that we're on the subject of technology. So, let's talk about Senior Tech. I understand that you rolled out Google Nest Hub, Max Devices, to many of your buildings. Now, the residents now have plug and play experience when it comes to contacting their friends and loved ones. So, can you give us a brief explanation of what this product is and what were you trying to solve?

Bill:

I can't remember whether it proceeded the pandemic or was fueled by the pandemic. But the ability when seniors were living with us during the pandemic of keeping them safe, and yet that very safety coming at the cost of separation was so readily balanced by Google Nest. And, and there are others out there as well. With laptops, you have access to Zoom. You have access to FaceTime with Apple devices, but they're all there, in that context. Our goal was to make it as easy to navigate the, the experience of connection when you couldn't be physically connected. Tanner Gall, our president and her team made the commitment to to get those and get all the Google Nests installed, and in Merrill Gardens, they will always be there. When we had directives to isolate seniors in the early time of the pandemic we found how really adaptive and creative and energetic our seniors could be. Tanner would have her team do happy hour carts down the hallways and in our buildings where seniors could sit at their front door and, and share a drink and, and, and talk to their neighbors. And then all of a sudden we found on Nest, seniors setting up their own groups within our building in addition to outside or buildings and playing everything from trivia to just talking and exchanging thoughts about family or talking and exchanging thoughts with family. And it's one area that you mentioned on the technology front that, that I think holds out great hope for seniors, whether they're living at home or whether they're living in a community, to enhance and facilitate connections intellectual stimulation or just flat out, reaching out to a friend when you really have something that you need. And, and there are other areas of technology, that also hold promise. But you know, going back to what we were talking about before and with Google Nest, I'll always value the ability to, to connect and exchange thoughts through a screen. I'm not so sure about technology of robots and, and what they can do for friends. I think that's real. We have, we have very real and furry friends that, that a lot of our residents have living with them. But the Google Nest or the technology of FaceTime or the technology of Zoom is a step up from sitting and talking to a robot for your connections. And so, technology is uneven. There certainly is technology coming in that, that we'll be able to keep residents safe in the background. There is technology coming in that will make process more efficient and lower the cost, or they control the cost of a foreign operator that is trying to keep their buildings as accessible as possible on an income basis. But I think the most forward facing technology that seniors will find whether at home or in a community, a senior housing community really has to do with maintenance of socialization, enhancement of socialization, as well as enhancement of intellectual stimulation. Whether it's as basic as going back to reading your hometown newspaper if you're no longer in that hometown, and doing things that are very familiar, even though you may be a long ways away.

Hanh:

Now, I share a lot of your philosophy. I think the word technology is loosely used. I'm in favor, I would say 80% plus of the technology that's out there for seniors, let's say. But there are certain things I believe, is meant to be more heartfelt, one-on-one caring type of relationship. And I think what you said earlier, a senior talking to a robot as companion. I have to think about that. I'm not sure, honestly if my mom, if I, right. If my, if I see my mom doing that, to be honest with you I'm not sure if the 10 of us, she's got 10 kids would be embracing that. Okay. So, there's a time and place for technology, everything that you described, but I still have some reservation as far as there are certain things in human life and as humanity that you can never put a robot in front of, so.

Bill:

The one confidence I have is that our generation will age and come to the opportunities of senior housing with more technological capability and know-how than any generation before. And that'll be a good thing. It'll keep senior housing operators on their toes and it provides a wealth of stimulation for seniors in any kind of setting.

Hanh:

That's great. So, 2020 in the thick of the pandemic PGIM Real Estate provided a loan of 460 million as part of Merrill Gardens' portfolio acquisition. Now, this speaks volumes about the strength of the relationship and the collaboration required by all parties to navigate this, turbulent, pandemic market climate. So, what lessons can you share about your successful closing? In terms of quality of the portfolio, location, and mostly the people?

Bill:

You know Hanh I think the, I think the takeaway from that, for any, it doesn't make any difference what industry it is. We happen to be in the senior housing industry. But if what you do as a company is concentrate on quality, building the trust with, with your clients, your residents, and our case where they not only enjoy living with you, but they are encouraging their friends to consider it as well. All of that builds both a reputation for excellence. It builds a client base which is loyal to you in and out of cycles. It translates into, into investor confidence and and financial health for the, for the company and what that transaction really says in the, in the height of the pandemic was if you manage your finances well, if you manage your customers well and give them what they want and what they need, that you can have a successful enterprise that will cause people that are investing in your professional success to look beyond the challenges of a pandemic and look to the future and, and believe that, that your company is is a company they can count on to, to steward their financial resources. We've been doing that for, for almost 30 years now. And we've built it on our vision that we believe in. We have tens of thousands of seniors who have lived with us over the years. And, uh, and we are off weight passionate about what we do, and that usually leads others to be passionate about wanting to work with you.

Hanh:

Thank you. Gosh, we're very blessed to have you in the industry, so that's wonderful. Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share?

Bill:

I think so, that I have been working for almost 30 years now, too, with a singular focus trying to anticipate how to make seniors lives better. And what has fueled my desire all that time has been that if I am fortunate enough to get to my eighties, that I can find a Merrill Gardens to live in. And, and I'm probably gonna be the general manager of that Merrill Gardens worst nightmare, because I'm gonna be very demanding about what I want and expect just like everybody else in my generation. And it's in many ways, senior housing is great business, but senior housing is an even better career commitment in terms of changing lives, because we really do change senior's lives. All for the better.

Hanh:

Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time to have this conversation. What an honor.