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199: Traci Taylor-Roberts

Traci Taylor, President of Sodalis Senior Living, discusses the design elements that impact residents living with dementia and how “The Bridges Program” is a socialization answer for those living in seniors housing. Traci also discusses the importance of attracting a younger workforce to help stay innovative and fresh.

Lucas

Welcome to Bridge to Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We’re in Houston talking to some thought leaders here, and we have a great guest on our program today. Traci Taylor, you are the president of Sodalis and welcome to the show. 

 

Traci

Well thank you for having me. 

 

Lucas

I know it. I’m really glad to connect with you, and we’ve had a great pre conversation. I actually didn’t know much about you, and come to find out, you’re not a rookie at this. You’ve been at this awhile.

 

Traci

I think I’ve been, yeah, over 30, yeah, it’s been 30 years.

 

Lucas

You started when you were like 12 or 13, clearly.

 

Traci

I actually started in the industry at 16. 

 

Lucas

I believe it. 

 

Traci

Yeah, working as an activity assistant in an assisted living they had placed my grandmother in, and I was there every day, so they actually just put me on payroll. And then when I went to college I went into something completely different, I thought I wanted to go to law school, but I liked to be with the older people. So when I graduated, I just kind of stayed in the assisted living realm. Never left.

 

Lucas

Well, I was going to ask you what has kept you, but clearly you love older adults.

 

Traci

Yeah, I grew up with them. We went to a church where everybody was super old and my parents were the only young people. So after church, my dad was one who would take things to all the shut-ins, and so I’d go with him. There were no kids in the church. I was the only kid. And then you know, taking care of my grandmother as well, so older people have always been my comfort zone. Those are just kind of my people.

(1:50)

Lucas

I love that. I love that. So talk to us about Sodalis and y’all’s market footprint and some things that you’re working on.

 

Traci

So, Sodalis has actually been around since 1997, it’s a privately owned company, and when it first started, it was just freestanding memory cares. And in the last five years they started building assisted living and memory cares. And so we’re focused in Texas, Florida, Georgia, but our corporate office, I mean, we’re a Texas based company in San Marcos, Texas. One thing that we’ve worked on that’s kind of a different niche for us is, in our buildings or even anything we’ve acquired we’ve built out what we call The Bridges Program. And so for us, The Bridges was just kind of meeting a need that we saw in the industry where we saw assisted living people and we saw high acuity memory care people, but it seemed like the high functioning dementia residents were just kind of lost in the gap. So what we did is we created the bridges, which serves early dementia people, and it’s usually a wing in your community, where they are with the regular assisted living residents during the day and they eat or whatever the case might be, but at eight o’clock at night, we have doors that become secure. So if it’s a husband or wife and the husband’s independent, but the wife has some sundowners, they can still be together. Or, you know, if the one little resident has some sundowners, you don’t have to worry about anybody eloping. And then for us, it’s really not an acuity based program, it’s really more of a socialization. So instead of adding a nurse or a caregiver, we add an activity assistant that can help with redirection and kind of calm that stress down about, you know, do I have a doctor’s appointment at the time for bingo? Redirecting all the questions that come with that. And so for us, I think that’s been a really popular niche. And people kind of gravitate towards that, because I just think we’re filling something, you know, in the marketplace that hasn’t been there. So that’s kind of something we’re doing that’s a little different.

 

Lucas

Clearly dementia is a spectrum and it sounds like you are, the phrase that we love is bridging the gap, right, and filling that need. And so, you know, the whole entire industry has been shaken over the past couple of years. Memory care has been one of the bigger challenges. And as you guys are coming out of this fog, so to speak, occupancy remains a big topic, staffing remains a big topic. How are you guys tackling these issues?

 

Traci

So the staffing issue has been a major issue, because what we found is, you know, from burnout and things like that, you know, we’re just having a challenge, but also you kind of get into this, a hamster in a wheel, then where your ED’s and health and wellness directors, nurses, everybody starts working the floor to try to fill in. So the problem is when you run an ad to try to get people, who’s actually sourcing the candidates? Nobody has time. So what we did is we brought a recruiter in house, and that has made all the difference in the world, because it wasn’t a lack of people applying for a job, it was a lack of us getting back with them timely. So that was one. The second piece in that was making the applicant process much much more streamlined and easy. So instead of, hey, we want you to fill out 42 pieces of paper to be hired as a caregiver, we took the application process down to initially two pages and a background check. And so it’s, we want to get you to work, you know, within one day. And so we’re doing all of that in house for them. And then that caregiver shows up and they can do the drug screening there, and the rest of that, you know, their I-9, all that kind of stuff can be done online, but it’s really the speed of getting them to. So we’re hiring right now, we’re hiring anywhere from 5 to 10 caregivers a day. So we plan to add more recruiters in house, and it’s solved a lot of problems and overtime for our communities.

 

Lucas

Well, and I think that’s a really important point that you bring up, because I think it’s fair to say that you’re more of a regional player, right? And you’ve worked for big entities, the former Meritus, you know what it’s like to work at these, kind of, larger national companies. And, a lot of our listeners, some of them work for the bigger national companies, and then a lot of our listeners are at these more regional players. And so I think you’re illustrating something that has become a challenge for everybody, but for a regional player to take this sort of a situation and be innovative around like, look, guys, we need to streamline this and look at the impact that it’s had so far. 

 

Traci

Well, there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve looked at that, you know, working for bigger companies in the past I learned a lot of wonderful fundamentals, but it doesn’t matter whether you’re a big player right now, or a regional player. Everything that we did 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, is pretty much out the window. So I think for all of us that are leading companies, it’s how can we be innovative? What do we need to do differently today, in a COVID world, or even with younger generations, to speak to them? You know, for occupancy, one thing we did, we had call center people, because again, you know, most of our salespeople are fantastic at touring and working the hot leads or the really warm leads, but you have a huge lead bank, usually cold leads. And then who has the time to work them? So the call center people we put on, do nothing but work cold leads, and then tee those tours up for people who can close them. And so, you know, it’s a numbers game. It’s about, you know, the more people you get out there, the more people you drive to your community. So I think it’s just thinking completely different today than we’ve ever thought before. We’re very heavy on social media. You know, we really don’t do direct mailers anymore, print ad. We are, I mean, you know, Tik Tok, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, we’re on all those platforms.

(8:13)

Lucas

Well, so just keeping this aligned with staffing and modernizing and innovative thinking, you got in the industry very young, you mentioned something to us earlier, before we hit record, that you’re not seeing a lot of young people. Do you think that’s more of just a regional thing? Like you’re not seeing it in Texas or Florida, or do you think that’s on a broader basis? Why is the senior living industry not being able to attract young people into the myriad of positions that the senior living industry actually needs? Not just frontline caregivers?

 

Traci

I think we’ve not done a really good job with that. So I’ve seen younger people go in and get a healthcare administration degree, but then somehow they think that applies to a nursing home or hospital. I think a lot of younger people don’t really understand assisted living or memory care. They just really don’t know what we are. So for me, the way I’m trying to get to them is, I’m trying to take these caregivers, or young people that are working with us currently, that are just excellent at what they do, and then sit with them and show them how to fill out these applications for college, to get them into school and show them a career path, actually in this industry where they really can grow and be an executive director or health and wellness director or regional. And so there’s a lot of them that I think really want to do that. They just don’t know how, or they don’t know about us. So I just think we have to do better at our outreach on getting the young people. Probably even at the high school level, before they even get to college, letting them know, you know, hey, this is a, this is a great career opportunity for you. There’s a lot of young people who have the heart for it. They just, I think they just don’t know about us.

 

Lucas

Well, I think there’s a major opportunity there. Bridge the Gap has talked about it so many different times. We’ve talked about that, you know, this is not handing chicken sandwiches outside of a window or lattes outside of the drive-through. But we’re also competing against that culture, of trying to drive young people to this industry. But I think that senior living has so much more to offer if we can tackle that narrative and really be more on the offense and not on the defense. Any thoughts on that? 

(10:25)

Traci

I agree with you. And I think the social media platforms are super helpful. I think the one thing that the older people in my life taught me when I was young is, my grandmother at 90 looked in the mirror, and she said, you know when you look in the mirror, you don’t see an old person, you still see a 40 year old. And whatever you liked to do at 40 is what you like to do at 90. So part of that is stopping print advertising and stuff where we always show people doing old people type things like bingo. I mean, that’s not going to be attractive to a young person, but when they actually connect with the human and they realize, hey, this person, this is who they used to be. They were an engineer. This person worked for NASA. You know, you connect with that person, and you start doing activities and things to engage them on who they worked 40, not the older person. I mean, we’ve had beer-making clubs that became wildly popular, and extremely competitive, with people who didn’t even drink, but they thought it was so much fun to create this. That’s not something you would normally think, hey, a 90 year old wants to make beer, but guess what? They did. The whole community got involved with that. So I think those are things that would be attractive to a younger generation, and it helps bridge the gap, when you realize you don’t have that much, you have a lot more in common, actually, with a 90 year old than you think you do. And so I really think those are the things we need to educate everyone on is, you know, seek to understand who this person was and that’s who they still think they are. And if you start creating activities based on that, that’s a win-win for everybody. The younger person helping them and the older person on the receiving end of that. So, again, I think it all comes to education and helping people understand where the other one’s coming from.

 

Lucas

I love that. I love that. I think you nailed that so well, the essence of really what senior care and senior housing, the potential for it to be is wrapped up in that statement. So as we wrap up our conversation, where is the future for Sodalis

 

Traci

I think the future, I mean, you know, we’re going to continue to build, and we’re going to be thoughtful about trying to build in those bridges programs. I think, you know, we’re happy helping manage new acquisitions and things like that, too. I want to be thoughtful about how I grow, because it’s important for me, for me personally, to know the name of every executive director, housekeeper, you know, maintenance director because I’m not one of those leaders that believes that, you know, well these people just work for you, and you keep things separate. I just don’t lead like that. I like to be personally involved with people, and emotionally invested in who they are as people. So if you get too big, I’m always afraid you’re going to lose the essence of that, but we want to grow. I just want to be super thoughtful that we keep that closeness and that team connection together as we do that.

 

Lucas

It’s a balance between, as I’ve heard other people say it, kind of the mission and the margin, right? Are you guys in your portfolio, are you owner operating or are you managing for either private equity or REITs?

 

Traci

We have both; we do both. And so we have a little bit of a mixed bag, which I like. I’ve come from the world of both, so I like both. But I don’t look at any of those type of communities differently, nor do any of our people understand that they’re in any one type versus another. We’re a team. If somebody needs help, you know, you’ll see one community and go to another community and help them. And that’s what we did through COVID, and that’s what we will continue to do, because that’s just super important.

 

Lucas

Traci Taylor, Sodalis Senior Living, thanks for spending time with us today. It’s been fascinating meeting you. 

 

Traci

Thanks for having me.

Lucas

And thanks to all of our listeners for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

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199: Traci Taylor-Roberts