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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

245: Tiffany Cobern

Tiffany Cobern, Director of Senior Living Operations at MedCore Partners shares how a young start in the senior living industry has led to 25+ years of experience of success in a number of market segments.

Tiffany discusses upcoming projects, use of agencies, and what makes senior living fun.

Recorded at the NIC Fall Conference where BTG is a proud Media Sponsor.

Contact BTG to learn about sponsoring the Network.

Lucas

Welcome to Bridge Gap podcast, this senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. Continuing our great thought leadership discussions here in DC at the NIC conference. We wanna welcome Tiffany Cobern. You’re with Medcore Partners and you’re the director of Senior Living Operations. Welcome to the show.

Tiffany Cobern

Thank you for having me. Great to be here with you.

Lucas

Yes. And out of our shared hometown in DFW, Dallas, Texas. There’s a lot of energy that’s taking place here. So many different conversations all over the floors of this building. And we wanted to get your story, the reasons why behind your journey into seniors housing. Then we want to dive into the strategy at Medcore. Let’s first start with your story. How did you get involved with seniors housing?

Tiffany Cobern: 01:17

I needed a job in 1993. And I had just gotten married and relocated to a city where my husband was going to grad school. And someone that we knew, a mutual contact that both of us knew through our families, connected me with a group that hired me into the rehab space. And I worked for a nursing home rehab provider for a few years. And that got me started in the industry. I didn’t even know anything about it. I was super young, obviously, and I fell in love with it because there was so much opportunity and I really loved the people in the space. And I was afforded the opportunity at the age of 25 to become an executive director for an independent living and assisted living community. They extended me a lot of grace to, to learn as I went and I’ve never left it since then.

Lucas 02:13

That’s incredible. So I want to, I wanna pivot on that right there. To me, the role of executive director. I don’t know if there’s enough money that you could pay me to take on that role, right? Somebody is, somebody is always upset with you. It, it never ends, right? You have such such a responsibility and a weight on your shoulders to manage all of that. How crucial is that role in the success of the two big concerns, labor and occupancy?

Tiffany Cobern 02:46

I always tell people that the role of an executive director is 90 to 95% of the success rate of any senior living asset. And the other 5% is everything else.

Lucas

There you have it. 

Josh 03:01

Yeah. And I totally agree with you. I’ve never heard it broken down in percentages like that, but that totally makes sense to me. And it’s something I,one of the things that makes it so challenging is, I mean I was just literally talking before we sit down here with the University of Boston, who’s at doing an excellent job at educating students about senior living. But no matter what you learn in the classroom until you are in the community, it’s just a world of difference, isn’t it? And so those administrators are so valuable and your story’s not uncommon. We sit down with so many people, even myself. And it was almost an accident. There was no intention which I would love to see that change. We’ve talked about that. But I’m excited to learn more about your platform. Now that you’re in the industry, you’ve been in the industry for a lot onger. Tell us about what you guys are up to as far as developing, acquiring, operating. What all are you doing?

Tiffany Cobern 04:02

We’re doing both. We’re developing and acquiring. And then we typically will find good partners, operating partners across the country that match what our product needs in the markets that we need it done in. One of the things that I do with Medcore is based on my, 25 plus years of operating experience directly is I make it my business to stay up to speed on different operators across the country and what they’re doing, and do we have any shared appetites for certain markets or certain types of offerings that would make them a good candidate to be our partner on a deal or a group of communities both on the development side and the acquisition side. And so that’s a lot of fun because it keeps me learning all the time and I can’t do anything unless I’m continually learning.

Tiffany Cobern 04:52

And so that’s what makes it so fun to be in this space is cuz we’re a relatively young industry. You know, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but it really is true compared to any other healthcare vertical. And if we really wanna feel like we are making an impact on the, the senior housing industry, part of what that means is we need to look, be intentional about looking for ways to help redefine it and keep up with everything from changing customer needs and wants to technology to what makes a provider work for a certain asset.

Josh 05:26

Well, speaking of all of those things, is there a specific sector market type that you all are product type that you’re specifically trying to deliver? Or does every single market you just evaluate that market and do something unique for that market, where you headed in strategy?

Tiffany Cobern 05:45

Yeah, great question. Well, generally speaking, we prefer to deliver an anchored independent living project that has about 65% to 70% of the total unit mix in independent living with a balance in assisted living and memory care. That’s, that’s our favorite thing to design. It’s our favorite thing to promote. It’s the most efficient way to help usher a senior citizen who wants to move in and become a resident through their aging cycle. And we like to do rental products. We don’t do buy-ins or anything like tha. And we look for markets where that works. But with that said, we’re not going to pass on a project if it’s a definite need in a market for maybe just AAL and memory care only. But independent living is really the genesis in our opinion, of the education that it takes to get a family and their loved one acclimated to all of the emotions and stress that go into leaving your home and, and starting that journey. So we find that our pre-open leasing efforts and our lease up strategies work best if you offer that mix.

Josh 06:57

So with that mix, that’s not necessarily a new mix probably not new for you, not new for the industry, but with the changing needs preferences, what people are looking for, how is that redefining that? You mentioned that term redefining senior living. So for those communities where you’re putting that product type, how is the approach changing as you see it being redefined?

Tiffany Cobern 07:45

I think we’re just listening more to what the customer wants today more than ever before. We’re not doing anything unique in that regard. I think we’re just really intentional about it. So some examples might look like, we recently delivered a product in Norman, Oklahoma called Sooner Station at University North Park. And we literally spent five years bringing that product to market because the first two years we spent developing relationships with the University of Oklahoma so that we could find out if they were interested in collaborating with us on programming, alumni association benefits, joint marketing strategies, et cetera. And they were phenomenal to work with. And as a result we’ve been open for 90 days now and we already have 90 residents in the building. [Wow]. And part of that, I mean that’s obviously an unusual lease up trajectory in the first 90 days. It’s not going to stay that heavy, but part of the reason that we were able to prelease so successfully there was because we had 200,000 alumni aware of this product and it’s in a capture market. 

Tiffany Cobern 08:55

Those are the fun things. We, we take a need where all of the supply has aged and people have grown tired of what their options are in that market. And then we not only bring a newer product to market because you could just stop there, right? You could just bring a new product to market and then just be like, “Hey, this is our new product.” But we spent the time to add on this extra layer of interest and relevance to keep seniors feeling like they’re not losing their connections to the outside community when they move in. They’re in fact gonna enhance them. And they’re gonna have fun doing it. And if we can’t go into markets and develop something that sort of fits that narrative or offers those kinds of opportunities on the value add perspective for seniors, we’re not going to go in that market.

Tiffany Cobern 09:44

So I have a tremendous amount of fun with this because I get to do the development side of what Medcore does. And so I’m involved from those relationship building efforts very early on in a market all the way through product disposition. So I never stop messing around with the product and learning what technology works there and, and what are people gonna pay for what they want. And you know, all of those things to me represent new uncharted territory in certain ways because our ability to meet them at their point of need is where our creativity should be coming in.

Josh 10:18

That’s a great summary of the model specifically for the consumer meeting the changing preferences. I’m interested to know on the labor side, is there, are you seeing a big impact in effective of like your strategy towards development because of the labor things that are going on? Are you having to change your model any, or are you just taking other things into consideration? We’ve talked to a lot of developers that they’re not having necessarily occupancy challenges, they’re having labor challenges that prevent them from occupancy. And I’m wondering from a developer’s perspective, is that causing you any sense of heartache or slowing down on the development train or where you’re going, where you’re not going?

Tiffany Cobern 11:11

No, actually it’s not. And as you all know already it, it takes a good three to four years to fully deliver a new development to market. So our projections for something that might be in design today aren’t going to be generating a need for hiring labor until 30 months from now or so, 30 to 36 months from now. And so we are confident that what we’re dealing with our current operating assets is not gonna be the same in 36 months as it is today. So we’re not really, we are being cautious on developments, but  it really has more to do with construction pricing than it does our workforce at the community level. And that has really been resilient. I mean, I don’t know what you’re hearing with other groups, but what, what we are seeing in ours is that we’re completely done with agency. There’s no more temporary labor in our communities. The primary challenge now is overtime hours just based on the exodus of some of our line staff workers that have not returned to the industry yet. So that that’s where we’re still managing the additional cost.

Josh 12:22

Well I think that is a great success story because you know, the conversations we’ve had at NIC, it’s kind of all over the board. I think everybody agrees minimizing mitigating agency is the goal. There’s still a lot of communities I’ve heard are still using a lot of agency and then there’s communities that, “hey, we’re, we’re kind of done with that beyond that.” So it’s encouraging because I would say six months ago everybody was still dealing with agency. We weren’t hearing that much. And to our agency friends out there, don’t send me hate mail. But  it’s really interesting. So new development and are you guys doing any repositions at all?

Tiffany Cobern 12:58

We are, yes we are. We in fact that’s really where the majority of our efforts are in the short term. And we’re looking at a portfolio of three communities right now that we expect to close on at the end of the year. And we’re also looking at a project in the Dallas Fort Worth metro area that we’re excited about being able to take at a relatively low basis, reposition it, remarket it, rebrand it, bring in our own in-house management for the first time we’re doing that on this one community. So pretty excited about that. And then we’ll see how that one goes as well. But those are all, kind of kind of go back to what we were talking about earlier with, there’s so much current supply that if you are waiting on development or you’re trying to qualify construction pricing, and this is causing some short term delays in starting on projects, new starts, then these acquisitions that present incredible opportunities because they’re in great markets, they have good bones. We see incredible upside on value add that we are running those down because we really believe in enhancing the current supply and letting some of those lower occupancy assets absorb occupancy during, this next six to 12 months.

Josh 14:22

Well I think you have perked the ears of a lot of our listeners on a lot of different topics. I know Lucas when I saw the antennas go up when renovation, you’re the king, the king over there and right in your backyard. So very interesting conversation this morning.

Lucas 14:38

Yeah, great thought leadership here. Tiffany, we appreciate you taking time outta NIC to come and sit down with us. You know, it’s, it’s a busy day and kind of last day for big meetings before everybody hits the airways to get back home. So thank you for sharing your story with us today. 

Tiffany Cobern

You bet. It was a pleasure. Thanks guys. 

Lucas

And to all of our listeners, you can go to btg voice.com, we’ll connect with Tiffany and Medcore and the show notes. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

245: Tiffany Cobern