Tapping the Wisdom of Those You Serve: An Example from Senior Housing

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August 25, 2014; Philadelphia Inquirer


Mark Vanderbeck is the CEO of ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, which operates 23 continuing care facilities across eight states. These communities serve a total of 8,500 residents, and Vanderbeck says that their consultation has helped him enormously over the years.

Here, he recalls the first time he realized what a depth of wisdom he had at his fingertips:

“There was an early contract which was still in force that made life, especially in the 1980s, almost impossible. Any increases in a given year of the residents’ fees were limited to five percent of the original monthly fee. So it’s not just five percent of the current fee, but of the original fee. So here we are, sitting in the late ’80s, with inflation of 16 to 18 percent. Over time, this community was going to be in dire straits, even though anybody walking by would see this beautiful community and not see the financial problems.”

At that time, the head of the residents’ financial committee was the former chancellor of the New York State University system.

“I went to him and he understood very well what the problem was…. We had several conversations and you know, ultimately, he said, ‘Mark, you can’t keep this as something that’s a management problem. This is ultimately a resident problem.’

“At that time in my life, there was a tendency to keep certain things [quiet]—you wouldn’t necessarily fully communicate certain kinds of issues. He encouraged me very strongly to come up with a plan. It was called the Trustees Plan and it gave people the opportunity to pay at market levels and it was communicated that this was needed.”

Vanderbeck says that this formative experience led him to a deep commitment to transparency.—Ruth McCambridge