Kelly Cook Andress, of Sage Senior Living, is proud that back in the 1980s and 1990s she was part of the team that helped to revolutionize the assisted living industry in the U.S. “We were significant in taking grandma out of the nursing home,” says the co-Founder and Owner.
“We recognized that growing numbers of seniors needed support, but the vast majority did not need the high level of medical care found in traditional nursing homes.” In response, there were a few pioneering companies that pushed through and helped pioneer the concept of assisted living – a residential environment that provides necessary support without confining residents to a hospital-like atmosphere.
This support – covering everything from dressing and grooming to food service and medical care – became increasingly necessary due to societal shifts in the late twentieth century. “As the Greatest Generation reached later retirement age – when they needed that personal support – their daughters and daughters-in-law had gone to work,” Ms. Andress explains. “It was the creation of the dual income family that propelled the need behind the industry. There was simply no one left to take care of mom.”
The Greatest Generation also lived longer than previous generations. “The nursing home industry wasn’t prepared for somebody who was going to live for 30 or 40 years in retirement. We needed a residential alternative that offered people support. So assisted living came about, and it is a wonderful option because it is a residential setting instead of a medical setting.”
Sage Senior Living continues to evolve to meet market demands. Today, that means tailoring its approach to fit the needs of the Silent Generation. The team is committed to providing an environment that makes each resident feel at home; this means that a cookie cutter approach to all generations and all people simply doesn’t work. Unlike their predecessors, this generation wants to experience life on their own terms, rather than bowing to the schedules of an institution. “They want to eat when they want to eat,” for example. “They don’t want to come to meals at seven in the morning, noon and five.”
Accommodating this level of customization can be complicated, but Sage Senior Living is determined to give them the lifestyle that they want. For instance, the team now offers meals on demand, rather than requiring that residents eat at the scheduled dining times. “You can get your breakfast, lunch, and dinner any time of day at Sage communities. You can get food any time you want it and a daily happy hour is included in the rent!” The company’s willingness to take on new technologies and techniques has made this kind of flexibility possible.
To solve this particular problem, the team adopted Cuisine Solutions’ sous-vide cooking technique, an innovative slow-cooking method that enables Sage Senior Living communities to provide hot foods around the clock. “Sous-vide is amazing,” Ms. Andress remarks. “Sous-vide has allowed us to go to dining on demand because we can have delicious food in a short turnaround.”
The Silent Generation also expects larger, more luxurious living quarters than previous generations. “They want more real estate just like the rest of us,” shares Ms. Andress. When catering to the Greatest Generation, Sage Senior Living built more modest apartments, usually with room for a single bed and just one bathroom. “Now, people want a queen sized bed. All of our two bedroom apartments that we build today have two bathrooms instead of one.” These assisted living apartments also include kitchens, “which is unusual.” The end result is significantly larger than industry standard. “Our apartments are probably one and a half times the size of others.”
The Silent Generation also wants to have fun – and Sage Senior Living makes it a point to provide plenty of programs, activities and events. “We believe in having a really good time. Because isn’t that what life is about?” The concept behind each community is “a resort with a small hospital in it,” Ms. Andress explains. Residents can choose from a wide variety of classes, programs, and entertainment options, from Ted Talks and bridge clubs to a game of pentaque or a trip to the onsite spa or movie theatre. “We have everything.” Outings are a regular occasion, from dining out with the Lunch Club to spending a day at the horse races.
Active living is emphasized. An exercise therapist is on hand, and encourages residents to take on bite-sized workouts whenever they can. “We have a custom-designed cart that he pushes around. We can encourage small groups or individual residents to jump in on an impromptu mini session without having to plan to attend a scheduled class. A little bit goes a long way.” Residents can also take advantage of fitness classes in the onsite gym. Sage Senior Living communities even have a 5K walk, which takes place over a two-week period so everyone can complete a little bit each day until they reach their goal.
Independence is always stressed; no matter what the activity, residents have the freedom to choose what they want to do and when they want to do it. “When you want to go, to see a play you are going to see a play. When you want to go to an exercise program you are going to an exercise program.” Furthermore, Sage Senior Living communities make it a point to tailor programs and activities to residents’ desires. “We ask the residents what they want to do, so many of the programs we offer grew from resident input. Retaining control over your own life is what we are all about. People want that control and it is our job to give them the options that they want and the support they need to keep that control.”
Sage Senior Living communities even have onsite pubs with complimentary happy hours to give residents a place to kick back. “We all want to have fun,” Ms. Andress point out. “Needing a little help with daily activities doesn’t mean you stop enjoying a cocktail.” These pubs – and other onsite amenities – also provide an ideal place for residents to spend time with visiting family members. “We want it to be an oasis for the whole family.” The team wants Sage Senior Living communities to be places that people actually want to visit, so that extended family members will drop by on a regular basis. “That makes it a better, fuller life.” Visiting areas boast extra touches such as a giant aquarium and an ice cream machine to keep grandchildren engaged and entertained. “They can go to grandma’s, get a milkshake, and watch the fish, and mom and grandma can sit down and have a nice conversation at a place that is inviting to everybody.”
Sage Senior Living communities are strategically located to make them convenient for families to drop in anytime, so visits can be frequent and easy. “It can be a very relaxing part of the day,” Ms. Andress explains. “We want the son or daughter to leave work, stop in and see mom and have a beer with her, and then go about their evening.”
The Maples of Towson is located right in the heart of the Baltimore suburb of Towson, Maryland, across the street from Towson University, in the middle of everything. With 124 independent living apartments and 34 personalized care suites, Plush Mills offers boutique living conveniently located in Wallingford, one of Philadelphia’s upscale western suburbs. Sage Senior Living’s newest community, Daylesford Crossing, just opened this month in Paoli, another western suburb on Philadelphia’s Main Line. Daylesford Crossing includes 64 customized personal care apartments and 14 specialized memory care apartments, as well as all of the special amenities and activities that set Sage Senior Living communities apart.
Many families find that relationships with elderly family members improve once they move into one of these communities. “Our family members tell us, ‘you gave me my relationship with my parent back.’” Once a resident is getting the support they need, everyone can relax and enjoy each other’s company, rather than focus on the day-to-day difficulties of caring for an aging parent. From medications and doctor’s appointments to healthy meals, “the son and daughter don’t have to worry about the logistics anymore. They can get back to being a parent and a child. We can give back that relationship to the families. That is a beautiful thing to watch.”
As a relatively small, privately owned company with large-scale capabilities, Sage Senior Living has the flexibility it needs to give residents and families what they want. “We are big enough to count on, but small enough to care,” Ms. Andress explains. Sage benefits from institutional strength and stability through their partnership with AEW while having the agility and responsiveness of a family company. At Sage, Andress, her husband and key leaders lend their decades of experience to both development and operations. While the company has the sophistication of a large corporation, Sage communities are run with a personal touch that is virtually unheard of in corporate America. “As the owner, I am in [our] buildings all the time. Everybody has my cellphone number, and getting a hold of me is right there on our website. When our residents, or their families, or our team members want to get a hold of me, they do.” This means that there are no excuses and no passing the buck on to others. “There is no ‘them’ to blame. There is no corporate. It is our strong team of leaders. If something needs to happen, we can make it happen.”
Sage Senior Living has used this hands-on approach to pioneer a carefully tailored, leading edge approach to assisted living. The team continues to reinvent its approach for each new generation – and plans to keep providing an environment that fits each generation and individual as residents’ preferences continue to change with the times. As the company motto states, Sage communities are “Senior Living, Custom Designed.”