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252: Colleen Blumenthal

The 2023 NIC Spring Conference is quickly approaching! Tune in to hear from Chair of the Program Committee, COO of HealthTrust Colleen Blumenthal, as she shares what executives can expect in San Diego, March 1 – 3, 2023. 

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You’re listening to Bridge the Gap, season five. A podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Powered by sponsors Accushield, Connected Living, Hamilton CapTel, Enquire, OneDay, LTC REIT, It’s Never Too Late, Meridian Capital Group, Solinity, The Bridge Group Construction and produced by Solinity Marketing.


Welcome to Bridge The Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. A great episode today. We have a great guest, Colleen Blumenthal, you’re the COO at Health Trust and also the Chair of the Program Committee for the NIC Spring Conference. Welcome to the show.


Thank you so much. Glad to be here.


We’re so glad to see you again, Colleen, I know you have been very active in your volunteer leadership with the NIC Conference and the NIC Organization. And today our topic is gonna be all about what to expect at the NIC Spring Conference, which is gonna be March 1-3, and it’s in San Diego, which is a great time of year to visit San Diego. We’ve been many, many times to the spring conferences and love visiting San Diego in the spring. Colleen, as a chair on the program committee, what can attendees that are looking or maybe trying to make a decision on whether to attend, what can they expect?

Collen 1:34

Well, look, I think they can expect the same great programming and participation that you come to expect with NIC events. We’re expecting almost 1,800 people. It’s a great mix, mostly self-identified as C-suite individuals. Pretty good mix of both lenders and operators, they represent close to 75% of the attendees. And then you get folks like me, appraisers, attorneys, I’m just going in alphabetical order here. Attorneys, brokers, developers, equity insurance folks and really everyone else that falls into that other category. And, and so it’s pretty much the event where everyone comes and for that reason alone, you know, you can expect to network with the rest of the industry. I think one of the things that we learned coming out of the pandemic and having been in the industry for a rather long time, is that it really requires a village. It’s a network of lenders, of operators, of all sorts of folks. And that’s really been NIC’s mission is to bring everyone together. And so I think you can expect a lot of that as well.

Josh 2:47

Well, Colleen, Lucas and I Bridge The Gap team have been longtime attenders as have probably most of our listeners. I would say most of our listeners probably are on the edge of their seats, like we are, waiting for that early bird registration link to come out just so we can make sure we get as close to that conference center as possible and not miss anything. We all know that there’s nothing like the networking that happens at NIC, but there’s so much more and there’s actually formal networking outside of the organic networking, and then you guys have so much wealth of keynote speakers, programs and things like that. Can you give us any insight potentially for that listener that is on the fence, maybe they’re new to senior living or thinking about getting into senior living and they’re hearing about the NIC Conference. Can you give at a snapshot what a new participant might plan to experience as far as panels, main stage, networking type events? What is the rough agenda sketch looking like coming up?

Colleen 3:58

Absolutely. For first time attendee, there will be a networking reception that very first day on the first. I really recommend that you download the app and use that as kind of a guide to see what scheduling is available, what sessions there are. One of the things I love about the spring NIC in particular is it tends to be a little more focused on not only where is the industry today, but where does it need to be in order to continue to thrive and grow. And, and so you’ll see some main stage events that will cover, really topics that you don’t see necessarily at the fall NIC. Things like, you know, how to find equity with more of an ESG type focus, how to really recognize that the value proposition that seniors housing provides as far as keeping folks out of the hospital, which is really a driver for Medicare reimbursement these days.

Colleen 4:59

And so I think today, even if you’re purely private pacing your housing, you need to understand how Medicare is driving the decisions that your residents are making and understand that just by keeping residents out of the hospital there you are providing a value that perhaps you’re not realizing and you’re operating performance. And operating performance is an issue these days. There’s been a lot of headwinds. We’re still seeing some folks, you know, struggle with filling their buildings, filling their buildings at rates that, you know, enable them to pay their staff what they need to be paid. And so there’s a lot of margin compression. So some of the main stage sessions will deal with, you know, what do operations look like? You know, do we get back to the margins that we’re accustomed to? Of course they’ll always be, you know, the valuation session because right now that’s really challenging.

Colleen 5:52

There’s not a lot of transactions happening. So this is the type of topics that will be covered at the main stage. We’ve also done different things as far as how do we provide content. So we’re doing what, last year was really more of a kind of a breakout session and think of it more as a workshop with people trying to work together to solve some of the problems that we have. You know, how do we look at active adult, how do we look at, you know, getting involved with value-based care? Really kind of more of the, you know, skilled type aspects, you know, what does a capital source? How do capital sources identify what a strong operator looks like? We also have the reverse on the main stage. We’ll have, you know, operators speaking to their lenders right now, what do we need from you?

Colleen 6:39

And so I think, you know, there’ll be an opportunity to really kind of learn some of the ABCs even for folks who aren’t new, some of the trends that we’re seeing in the industry as well as some more nitty gritty type stuff. So lots of sessions. There will be networking receptions at the end of the conclusion of each day. There’s also a lot of networking that happens offsite. So even if you don’t get into the main marquee hotel there’s plenty of opportunities and the gas lamp district as well. The benefit to that as you have a little time to decompress between meetings and when you’re jumping on that cardio machine, the last one available in the room, you don’t necessarily have to give it up when a client walks in the door. So it gives you a little bit more downtime than you might have otherwise.

Lucas 7:29

Well, the NIC conference is cardio enough for me. I’m definitely not adding to that with extra exercise. But you know, Colleen, I think that over the years, gosh, I’ve attended, Josh has attended, for at least 10 years to the NIC conferences. I think it’s been important to make that commitment for the spring and the fall, even though both spring and fall offer different things. And as you said, you’re expecting potentially around 1,800 people. I have found that some of those, some of the networking that takes place in the spring, even though there may not be the thousands upon thousands upon thousands that you may see in the fall is it could potentially even be a little bit more quality. The fall is obviously quality as well, but making that commitment to be in front of people for both the spring and the fall, I have seen a lot of value out of even though spring and fall offer different things. Have you seen the same thing?

Colleen 8:31

The short answer is yes. Not to get into how many years cause I don’t wanna hear what you two were doing. My first NIC had 300 people in attendance. So yes, it has changed and when it’s smaller it’s definitely more intimate. You can have more group conversations if you will. But I think what’s really great with the spring and NIC being a little smaller, it’s not so overwhelming. And I think you have more of the C-suite learning cuz we’re really at an interesting time in the industry because because labor is a challenge. Reimbursement has been good, but I think the pandemic has changed. One, you know, no matter how focused we are on housing or how people live, you know, we’re also recognizing that, you know, we’ve got behavioral health issues that we need to address.

Colleen 9:25

We need to maximize, you know, reimbursement or, and pay, whether it’s from private pay folks, from the federal government, from the state government. And so I think there’s a lot of opportunities when it comes to this networking to one learn because I think more of the C-Suite folks will actually be in the sessions in spring than you might see in the fall session. Plus all of the casual, I mean, some of the best conversations I have had, it’s just been in the hallways totally impromptu, not choreographed whatsoever. Having said that, there’ll be plenty of opportunities, meeting spaces, networking lounges to provide those opportunities. And so yes, you know, I do go with the dance card that has some slots filled, but I personally try and keep a lot of slots open so that I can have those more off the cuff conversations, which are where I think you really learn what’s happening in the industry and kind of read the room and the mood. So that can almost tell you more about where we are and perhaps where we’re heading than, you know, just doing the speed dating dance that I think a lot of people associate with NIC.

Josh 10:35

Well, I’ll tell you NIC does a phenomenal job at setting up wonderful places for whether it’s structured networking or the organic networking, the lounges, making it comfortable. I’m personally a coffee junkie, so I tend to gravitate towards the wonderful lounge you guys do in providing beverages, but I am with you, Colleen, getting the app early on and really mapping out, there is so much content, there’s so much education, there’s so much opportunity to be part of these breakouts, these workshops. I think as you described them, I think back to, Lucas, back to Washington is where we were last with NIC in the fall. And some of those outbreak sessions were standing room only, so you gotta map out because they’re gonna be very popular. Especially some of the really hot topics and some of these great panelists and thought leaders that NIC attracts and everybody wants to hear that. So you definitely want to put those on your dance card, but leave organic time. I think one of the mistakes I made as a rookie attendee years and years ago is I filled up my day so full that I missed a lot of the great things that are happening. And you gained so much information from being part of those different events. Lucas, I can’t wait. We are gonna be right outside of the main stage, I believe is, isn’t that correct?

Lucas 12:09

Yes. Bridge The Gap has been a proud media sponsor of the NIC conference for a number of years. Josh, we have recorded at NIC, I wanna say four or five of the past years or so and get a lot of this great content capitalizing on some of these amazing conversations. And you’re right, the BTG studio will be right outside the main stage. We encourage our listeners and attendees to come and check us out, come say hi. Reach out to us if you have something to say, come get on the show and bring that thought leadership to the BTG audience, which is the senior living industry. Colleen, any final thoughts?

Colleen 12:49

I would encourage everyone experienced or not to bring really comfortable shoes. Cause no matter how lush the couches are in the lounge areas, you will be on your feet for a very long time each day. It’s packed with materials and you really wanna be there. Everyone else will be.

Lucas 13:08

Well said, well said. Well, I know that we are gonna share all of the important links to all of our listeners in the show notes. People can go to, check out our email newsletter. We’re gonna have more information about the NIC conference and links for you to go and get registered cuz you’re gonna want to attend. This is a not to miss spring conference from the NIC, Colleen, thank you so much for your time today.

Colleen 13:34

Thank you, guys.

Lucas 13:35

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

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252: Colleen Blumenthal