Brookdale Senior Living: Scott Ranson, VP & CIO

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Data taken from the 2000 US Census suggests that the senior population—those over age 65—will outnumber the under-18 population by the year 2030. Senior living organizations are making long-range plans now to accommodate the growth. Leading the way is Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. The organization began in 1978 and, in its current form, involves the recent merger of four primary sources; Alterra Healthcare, Brookdale Living Communities out of Chicago, and American Retirement Corporation of Nashville Tennessee, along with a number of smaller senior living facilities that were incorporated in recent years. The result is that Brookdale has become one of the largest owners and operators of senior living communities in the United States, currently operating more than 550 senior living and retirement communities. The company has approximately 32,000 staff members and 52,000 residents.

“This is a business where we really need to build the foundation now to accommodate the baby boomers that are coming,” says Scott Ranson, Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Brookdale. “This industry is going to more than double in size as we move forward with the number of individuals in the United States that are going to be 70 years old or greater.”

The Continuum of Senior Needs

What sets Brookdale apart from many senior living organizations is that they cover the entire continuum of needs for those age 65 and older. There are Brookdale facilities devoted to independent living, assisted living, Alzheimer’s and dementia care, and skilled nursing care. Some Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) offer this broad range of services within one campus. By combining these services, Brookdale allows residents to age in one location, adding or taking advantage of assistance, as they need it. It is not necessary to uproot a life or move away from family or friends because a resident has reached a stage of life where they are able to do less for themselves.

Another element of Brookdale care that sets the organization apart is its extensive range of therapists. “We have in the neighborhood of 2,500 therapists across the country providing all of the occupational, speech, and physical therapy that our residents need,” says Ranson. The organization also has a home health care business where, prior to relocating, a resident can enjoy the benefits of extra assistance while living in their own homes.

“There are a wide range of abilities and needs for people in this age group,” says Ranson. “The challenge of most providers in the United States today is, ‘How do we scale our organization to make sure we have the capacity to take care of all the customers that are coming?’”

Common and Unique Challenges

“If there is one frustration I have with senior housing [organizations], it is that they are woefully behind other industries in their investment in technology,” says Ranson. “If you think of the banking industry, the financial markets, manufacturing, etc., other industries are well beyond the senior living and senior healthcare industries in utilization of information technology.”

As a large organization, Brookdale is in position to take a leading role in making that aspect of senior living organizations change. At the same time, the sheer size of Brookdale brings additional problems. Ranson explains that a lot of information technology being developed for these types of organizations is targeted to markets that are a third of the size of Brookdale or less. “If you look at the senior housing industry, the top two or three players control a very small portion of the entire market. This means that there are a lot of small senior housing operators out there with 5, 10, 15, or even 20 properties. Very little technology today specifically for senior housing is scalable to an organization the size of Brookdale.”

The company has taken the initiative to create some of its own applications. “We’re in a unique situation where we are trying to be a leader in technology in the industry, but we’re having to home grow a significant portion of that,” says Ranson. However, “I’m happy to report from a systems standpoint; all of the major infrastructure applications— human capital  financial and purchasing  are one application for the entire company.”

Given the three-year time span since these major mergers and acquisitions began, Ranson says, “We’re about 75% – 80% combined from a systems standpoint. That’s pretty phenomenal given that most mergers and acquisitions are years and years and years into the merger and they still run multiple systems for the same function.” Some of the infrastructure is still being developed to incorporate the final outlying operational systems that have not yet been integrated.

In order to meet the approaching wave of growth as the oldest baby boomers enter their senior years, Ranson warns fellow healthcare organizations against complacency, particularly in areas of technology investment. “We need to be at the table helping to set the standards for senior healthcare,” he says. “Our needs will be a little bit different than what they need in acute care and we need to make sure we are not letting them set the standards that we will ultimately have to comply with.”

Enriching Lives

Brookdale is constantly looking for new and better methods of enriching the day-to-day lives of their residents. They operate, for instance, their own Culinary Arts Institute for training their chefs and dining staff. Combined, Brookdale communities serve in excess of 100,000 meals per day, more than many large-scale chain restaurants.

Community calendars are kept full of programs that inspire and encourage residents to pursue vibrant and active lifestyles. Themed gatherings, special events, and group activities that celebrate different cultures and cuisines are all part of the Brookdale experience.

“We ground ourselves against our cornerstones and our mission statement,” says Ranson.

“Enriching the lives of those we serve with compassion, respect, excellence, and integrity. Taking ownership and pride in everything we do; recognizing that good people make the difference; working together as a team; respecting others through honesty; understanding, and trust; putting residents first; and encouraging them to have fun and celebrate life every day.”

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