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247: Leigh Ann Barney

Recruiting for culture and training for skill. Leigh Ann Barney, President and CEO of Trilogy Health Services, discusses her organization’s approach to attracting culture-fit employees. Plus, learn how the Trilogy Foundation is making dreams come true for residents.

Live a Dream Program details.

Watch Michael’s video recap here.

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

Lucas 00:36

Welcome to Bridge to Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are in Washington, DC at the NIC Conference. We have a great lineup of content and a great guest. We’re very excited to welcome Leigh Ann Barney. She is the president and CEO of Trilogy Health Services. Welcome to the show. 

Leigh Ann Barney

Thank you. Good to be here. 


So it is great to finally meet you in person because we feel very connected to you through the Dream program. [Mmm Hmm] This is something that we were fortunate enough to connect with one of your team members and at our Dream Again event in Nashville. We were able to bring one of your residents in for their bucket list dreams. Josh, it was one of the most impactful parts of the three day event that we put on.

Josh 01:27

It was you and I felt it. We heard from so many of our attendees how actually emotional it was. And I remember looking over stay right as we were kind of explaining what this gentleman and his family were about to be able to do that was on their bucket list. And I saw the tears starting to come down and that did it for me. I was like, “Okay. You know. I need a moment.” But yeah, it was very impactful and it wouldn’t be possible, and we wouldn’t have even known this was an opportunity without the Live Dream program that your organization helped us start several years ago, Correct? 

Leigh Ann Barney 02:10

Correct. It actually was another program called, It’s Never Too Late, and it was run by gentleman named Bob Haverstick. It was a national program as, ‘s never too late for seniors to do something. And we participated in the program made some donations. And then in 2011 when Bob decided to retire and disband the Never Too Late Program, we loved it so much at Trilogy that we just started our own and called it Live A Dream. And so it’s been going strong ever since.

Josh 02:40

And explain a little bit. You were telling us about, there’s a couple of different categories of things. So you do things at the community level and then you have these big bucket items, like what we were able to participate in. Explain kind of the difference of what you do.

Leigh Ann Barney 02:54

So the initial idea was we would have more bucket lists, and that takes coordination. You maybe have to have connections and money. But then we found out that people were submitting ideas that didn’t require a whole lot. Maybe someone wanted to visit the town where he and his wife had gotten married. Or someone just wanted to go to play with their sister. The coordination of those can be done locally and we don’t have a ton of resources at the home office to handle all of that. So we decided to just give each of our campuses a budget for the year to perform their Live a Dream. We would never hold them back if they went above their budget, but we do challenge them to do at least four a year for their residents. Then the big buckets, the items that do require more money and coordination come to the home office and they get approval. We have a very small team that works to coordinate it. And then we have a foundation that you know, raises money for various things, but we also fund those big bucket, bucket list streams.

Josh 03:56

Well, it’s so impactful as we’ve learned, and I think our listeners could only imagine, but not only to the resident, but what we heard from, So this particular resident had two sisters, which actually he hadn’t gotten to see in a while. So they all made this journey to Nashville together, which was in and of itself special time for them. We were told, but after we had the chance to sit down and talk with him and his sisters, and they told us it was actually their most memorable, meaningful trip they had ever had together as a family group. And so, you know, what you’re doing there is not only blessing the life of the resident [Mmmm hmmm] but everything they touch and their families. And then also, gosh, the, the feeling that we got out of it and the attendees of our event to be able to do more together than you could by yourself.

Josh 04:51

[Mmm-Hmm] Because probably no single one of us there could have just said, “Hey, yeah, we’re gonna make this huge dream come true for you.” But it just goes to show the, the goodness of humanity when you kind of all rally around and in this case, to make someone’s dream come true was really, really special. Another thing, what a lot of people may not know if they’ve never heard of the Live a Dream program, what you guys are doing. You actually kind of teased to us. You have some ambition. So you started years ago with a a small program. It’s grown. Where do you want to see this go and how could our listeners be part?

Leigh Ann Barney 05:27

Right. Well, of course we want to continue to grow at Trilogy, we’re always challenging ourself in setting goals, but I told the team, I I’m sorry that when It’s Never Too Late disbanded that there was something lost for the other communities. And I would love us to be able to expand this so that it does spin off into its own organization that’s very similar to Make a Wish for children so that any senior across the country could be a part of it. I think there’s a lot of companies that would love to participate and even offer funding to that. It’s just the coordination of it. And so having that in one location, especially for these big bucket list dreams, you end up having to, as you can imagine, make connections with NASCAR drivers and Las Vegas concert promoters and skydiving companies, hot balloons, we do all of those things. So you know, I think people would be willing to help fund it if they knew there was a vehicle to make it happen. And residents, we’ve sent them all over the country and I think even maybe a couple out of the country we also partner with honor flight, so that’s another part of our live dream. We do a lot of honor flights through there and I know other organizations participate, but maybe there’d be more participation if they had one central location. So that’s a long term goal. 

Josh 06:40 

Well, and so me and Lucas witnessed firsthand by the professionalism of your team when we reached out just to learn more and how they helped us be able to facilitate all of this happening. Because you’re right, doing something with, depending on the dream and the big bucket, a lot of it’s logistics and timing and coordination and then even making it a surprise and how you do it. And I think that’s intimidating to a lot of people that maybe want to be able to help. So it was a very great process for us to be able to work with your team to do that. And what I think a lot of people don’t realize is even as we’re having this conversation, there’s so much that you guys do at Trilogy, but this is just scratching at the surface. We’re actually here at NIC with industry full of thought leaders here. You’re one of those thought leaders. You’re going to be on a panel this week. Talk to us a little bit about what you plan to talk about. What are you addressing as an operator?

Leigh Ann Barney 07:36

Yeah, the panel that I’m participating on is called Scaling Your Operations. So Trilogy’s, 25 years old, we have 130 facilities and I know there’s a lot of smaller operators that are here. And so I think what the message is that they want to hear is how do you get from early stage operation and build bigger every year? And how do you build your management team first before the revenue comes. Do you take on private equity to help build or other sources of financing? Do you decentralize, centralize? So those are gonna be sort of the topics that we talk about. And I, I’m sure the other panelists will all have different opinions on how to do it. It’s really about what works, I think for you and your organization. I always tell operators that the best thing is to get good partners, to have a good strategic plan and then to move within that strategic plan.

Josh 08:27

So you probably at a very high level just summarized a a awesome panel discussion that’s in store probably within the next 24 hours here at NIC. What’s the secret sauce? Give us behind the veil a little bit, what has made Trilogy so successful in your opinion? What is the outlook as the industry continues to change, as you’re seeing a new generation of older populations starting to make their way into your communities? What’s on your forecast? What’s on your hit list to talk about? 

Leigh Ann Barney 09:09

Well, I’m excited. I’m very positive about our industry. I know that we get a lot of negativity, but we have, there’s just a huge need for what we do. And at Trilogy we do the full continuum; skilled nursing senior housing, independent living. And I think that’s a lot of the future is having that full continuum and, and not being in just one area because you know, we call it our “secret sauce,” but residents can come to us and and be with us through various stages of their life. We also do a lot of families, husband and wives that stay with us because they need different levels of care. So I think we should see more of that. I hope we see more of that because there’s been a lot of investment in senior housing and not as much in the skilled segment.

Leigh Ann Barney 09:56

And so you have a lot of older assets that need to be repurposed, need to be rebuilt because there’s a need for our services. Not everybody can stay at home. Right. And then I think we had a very specific strategic plan 25 years ago and we’ve e’ve made adjustments to it over the years, but we’ve pretty much stuck to not doing anything wild and crazy as you would say. We call it a 20 mile march. We just go on our 20 mile march and we work the plan and keep our culture built. That’s critical to any business. And so if you grow, you know, in a methodical strategic way, I think it’s easier to grow the business, keep your culture and be successful.

Josh 10:42

Well, 20 mile March, that sounds exhausting. Lucas 

Lucas 10:46

Well, it, you know, and I think that’s where the culture piece comes into you know, so building culture, you know, ties into this issue with labor and getting workforce and getting quality people. Have you seen kind of back to the Dream program, have you seen a tie in between the Dream program’s success and that driving culture at your company?

Leigh Ann Barney 11:12

No, I think it’s actually the other way around. I think we have built a strong culture within the, the organization and it’s something that we invest heavily in. So for information, we don’t use any agency at Trilogy and we haven’t throughout you know, the staffing challenges. And I think that’s because of the strong culture that we built and we talk about purpose and, and make that connection for people that work for us. And you have to have, we say a servant’s heart to work in our industry, but really we say that at Trilogy. And so when you build that, then your resident, I mean your employees take that genuine interest in your residents and they want to make these dreams happen for ’em. They become, you know, family and they get excited to say, “Oh, I found out Mrs. Smith really wants to do a hot air balloon ride, can we make that happen as a surprise?” And so that’s where we get most of our ideas for the dreams is not from families, it’s from our employees talking to the residents. So again, I think, you know, we’ve built a culture around that of service and it’s helped us tremendously through the pandemic and in the labor challenges.

Lucas 12:16

Well, so it sounds like to use your phrase, it’s the other way around. For operators listening, the people you have in your organization really care. They need an outlet to actually execute on that extra passion, extra care. And that’s what sounds like the dream program is a outlet, as a catalys, to an extension of your culture that you’ve already built.

Leigh Ann Barney 12:39

And some of the employees, they end up going on these trips. [Yeah.] Because a lot of times the resident needs a caregiver and if that caregiver has been the person that they connected with, then they’re going to the baseball game. They got up in the hot air balloon ride with them and they do it together. [Yeah.] And so, yeah, it’s pretty special.

Josh Crisp 12:54

Well, I mean, so what you’ve built through all these years obviously didn’t happen overnight. This is something, you’ve been on this 20 mile march for a long time and you just keep going there with your strategic plan. Do you find that you’re attracting team members that kind of already are bought into what you guys stand for? Or is this something that you’re recruiting just like anyone else and then you have to really instill in them and train them to be like that? I mean, how does it, because I’m just thinking of all these new operators that are popping up and everybody’s just talking about labor crises, labor. And almost everybody is using agency, you guys are not. So for the the operator group that I is out there, regardless of what size, how do you attract a workforce that has this kind of heart and passion? Do you have any kind of just little secret ingredients or nuggets you can tell ’em about? 

Leigh Ann Barney 13:53

Well I will say that we’ve always talked about hiring for culture and training on skills. And we did some changes to our recruitment practices and incentives about a year ago. And it really increased the number of applicants that we had and everybody was desperate to hire. So we saw, I tell our operators, “you guys got hungry and you just hired, hired, hired.” And they realized that they weren’t following the process of hiring for culture. And we ended up having a lot of turnover within the first 90 days of employees. They went back and said, “we need to reset.” You know what works. We do one of the processes of our hiring is a job shadow so that they, if it’s a caregiver, they will job shadow with a caregiver. And we give that caregiver the ability to say “no.”

Leigh Ann Barney 13:53

We tell our people you have to be diligent to that because if that caregiver doesn’t think they can work with the person that came and shadow, then it’s not going to work out. And they’ll know better because that person will show themselves probably more genuinely. So we have been always have talked about this. But I think there was a time period we we didn’t do it and now we’ve realized we have to be hiring for the right person. And we have different mechanisms through our interview process, how we ask for things. We do a predictive index that sort of tells us a little bit about what, what if the person will fit in this environment. So so yeah, I think that’s, that’s critical to try to, and I know it’s hard, but I would rather take my time and hire the right people than to one bring in agency. Our people do not want that. Because we have built this culture for so long if we brought it up, they just absolutely, they’dsay “we’d rather work more.” Or we’ll manage our census to that. I just think it’s that important to the business.

Josh 15:36

Well, and I think that’s a really good lesson that we, we all need to take back to our workplaces because I think anytime during crisis when you’re feeling squeezed, like we have all felt at various levels, the natural thing is to to go wherever the path of least resistance is or whatever the easy button feels like it is. But the easy button isn’t always the button that may lead to way more turnover. It may start to unravel the culture that you’ve worked so long. So I love the job shadow of that thing. I know so many people I hear say that, but then you see the communities and because of crisis mode, they’re like, “Oh, we just gotta get this person on the floor working,” and next thing you know, the cookie’s just crumbling everywhere. [Mm-Hmm.] So commitment to your culture, the values, your core strategy. And it sounds like you guys quickly tested that and went right back to what had been working. And so congratulations on all that success. Lucas. What do you have to say about that, the 20 mile march, back to the basics?

Lucas 16:41

Well, I know our listeners are going to want to connect with you, Lean and your organization and the dream program. So in the show notes on your podcast player, we’re gonna put a couple of things, different links to connect also. We’ve produced extra film footage of Michael’s Dream come true and you’re gonna want to see that it’s really incredible interviews and time that we spent with him and his sisters. Something I will never forget. I know Josh, we will all never forget that. So those links are below. Make sure you go to and you can also connect with us, download the transcript and see all of our content. Connect with us on social and we’ll see on LinkedIn. Leigh Anne, thanks for your time today. 

Leigh Ann Barney

You all for having me and for featuring our love dream. Appreciate it.


Thanks for everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.


247: Leigh Ann Barney