On August 13, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted an online member discussion with Lucinda (“Cindy”) Baier, president and CEO of the country’s largest senior living company, Brookdale Senior Living Inc. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior living industry has been in the spotlight as it manages serving residents and preventing disease spread among its vulnerable populations as much as possible. Baier spoke about her company’s strategy to manage the pandemic, prevalent misconceptions of the senior living industry, the importance of diversity in leadership and her outlook for the future.
In her earnings call earlier in the week, Baier had shared the good news that at the end of July, less than 1 % of Brookdale residents had COVID-19 positive results, , a significant accomplishment as the company has the ability to care for up to 65,000 community residents and serves 17,000 consumers in home care and hospice across 44 states. She explained that her strategy from the beginning of the pandemic was to learn as much as they could about the virus and move quickly against the possibility of outbreaks.
“We essentially had to change our business model overnight. In addition to widespread testing of our staff and residents, we had to eliminate large group dining and outings and close to visitors. This meant changing the use of the interior of our buildings to allow proper quarantining as needed and implementing new technologies,” Baier said. “I’m proud of our ability to be a learning organization, that we were able to digest information and translate it into operations swiftly.”
Since the pandemic began, the entire health care industry, including senior living, made a dramatic shift to telehealth in order to limit exposure while still providing essential care. Baier pointed out that new protocols were needed due to the pandemic. For example, Brookdale facilities needed to manage more health care conditions in-house rather than having patients receive care in hospitals.
Baier also spoke to another timely topic – diversity in health care leadership. She has led the charge in her own company, and now has a board made up of 44% women and has welcomed its first African American member. She has also reached gender parity on her management team.
“Diverse companies perform better. I don’t believe in diversity for diversity’s sake, but when you have a diverse slate of job candidates for example, you are getting the best pool,” she said. “What’s easier in the short term is not the easiest in the long term. So, I would advise leaders to demand a diverse slate when hiring for a leadership role. It may take longer to find those candidates, but it is worth it.”