Southern California Presbyterian Homes: John H. Cochrane, III, President & CEO

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Senior citizens today face a number of health-related issues. Diabetes, heart disease and stroke are just some of the potential hurdles to healthy living. However, seniors and their families today are looking for a more overall solution to what those in the industry call “successful aging.” According to Southern California Presbyterian Homes (SCPH) president and CEO, John H. Cochrane III, the biggest health threats to seniors today are not healthcare-driven, but involve social isolation and depression.

Senior housing operators have a duty to address all the needs of their residents, both mental and physical, Cochrane said. Consumer expectations in the senior living industry are changing and facilities need to understand those changes and adapt their business models accordingly.

“When we talk about successful aging, what we’re really talking about is human connectivity,” he said. “This used to be an entirely healthcare-driven market. However, consumers’ expectations and understanding of aging are changing. This industry needs to recognize that and adapt its service, pricing and program models to meet those changes.”

What it means to grow old in America is different today than what it was 10 to 20 years ago, Cochrane continued. People are looking for new models of senior housing. Retirees are looking for more meaningful ways for life at age 75 and older than they did in the past.

“You’re seeing communities beginning to respond to that with their programming, with the development of their program sites, the services they offer and how pricing is handled,” he said. “This is an industry in transition, but in a positive way, as we respond to the changing economics and as we respond to the changing consumer expectation and demand.”


Addressing change is something that comes easy to those at SCPH, a 55-year-old organization headquartered in Glendale, Calif., that has grown from one residential community serving less than 50 residents on the beach at La Jolla, Calif., into one of the country’s leading providers of senior housing, health and support services, meeting the needs of more than 5,200 older adults annually. The organization consists of six continuing care retirement communities, two residential care facilities for the elderly, two assisted living communities, two home care programs and 25 affordable housing communities.

Cochrane is only the sixth person to hold the titles of president and CEO at SCPH. He came to the organization from Life Care Retirement Communities (LCRC), the country’s fifth-largest non-profit operator of senior living communities. He began his career in senior living at Erickson Living in 1993, where he oversaw development and served as the first executive director of a $150-million retirement community.

When addressing changes, Cochrane speaks from experience. While practicing law in Chicago, Cochrane traveled to Baltimore to meet with John Erickson, the country’s largest developer of senior housing. The attorney was so impressed by the quality of life afforded seniors living in Erickson’s communities that it was an eye-opening experience for him.

“I realized for the first time how dynamic, interesting and engaging these communities could be when they were well run and structured the right way, with the right mission and core values,” he said. “I made a spur of the moment decision to switch careers.”

Cochrane’s move to SCPH was equally unexpected. However, he became intrigued by what he was hearing consistently from the business community, that this was a “great organization with a long, strong and rich history.” His own research on the company corroborated that message.

“I got a strong sense of understanding where the future was going, excitement about the future and a real sense of opportunity that I think only comes from an organization that is both well positioned and has a strong reputation,” he said.

Industry Outlook

Like every industry today, senior living organizations are facing economic pressures, particularly where it involves the declining real estate market. Because of that, organizations have retrenched somewhat, development has slowed, and everyone’s reassessing their current status, their strengths, and how they can move forward. That doesn’t mean, Cochrane added, that the underlying drivers and demands of the business have changed. With that, there is still clearly a need for affordable senior living that supports the ideals of successful aging.

“The senior market is the fastest growing segment of the demographic as a whole, so our market has not gone away,” he said. “They still want what a retirement community can give them today. So, I think what we’re all beginning to experience is that demand has picked up again.”

Staffing Challenges

Attracting, training, motivating and retaining the best people are always important factors when the business at hand is customer service oriented. That’s where an organization like SCPH, with 55-years of history has a significant advantage, Cochrane said. The challenge of empowering the right employees so that they can deliver care and service, as well as live out the organization’s mission, has been with SCPH since its beginning.

“It’s an ongoing challenge, but it’s one that organizations with long track records of success have great history in handling, particularly during economic times of uncertainty,” he said. “I think that’s one of the principal advantages that SCPH enjoys. We have are reputation not just with the residents that we serve but also with the employees that we hire.”

Another tool that Cochrane has found successful is to hire people who are really good at what they do and let them work on their own.

“My management model has always been to find really good people and let them run their own show, to a very large degree,” he said. “My job is to simply make sure that it’s all coordinated and that we’re working for a common purpose and a common end.”

Capital Investments

With the current economic situation, Cochrane doesn’t see any intensive capital outlays or new project development for the foreseeable future. Capital availability is prohibitive, he said.

“I think you’re going to see many organizations pull back from a high capital growth strategy,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not allocating significant capital, we’re just looking at infrastructure improvements that meet the needs of changing consumers and changing expectations.”

For SCPH, that means projects like enhancements to existing facilities and providing opportunities for new IT initiatives. The CEO also expects to see significant capital in improving things like dementia care and skilled nursing in general. He also anticipates outlays in developing home and community-based services, taking the services already provided within their facilities out to the community at large.

Keeping Promises

With its reputation in the senior housing industry, SCPH remains a constant, despite economic challenges. People seeking successful aging environments are looking for organizations that have the reputation for delivering on their promises.

“In the last five or 10 years we’ve seen a lot or organizations building new product and making a lot of promises, but I think consumers today are responding to those organizations like SCPH that have been keeping those promises for the past 50 years,” Cochrane said. “We’re not just making promises, we’re keeping them.”

-by Kathy Knaub-Hardy

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