Kent architecture

Following Kent’s release from Brookdale, Bowman brings ‘micro-focus’ to ground-level operations

Last year, Cindy Kent, president of Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), resigned from the company. Kevin Bowman quickly stepped in to fill the void as executive vice president of community operations.

Bowman – who joined Brookdale in 2016 as regional vice president of operations – is an industry veteran, with a career that spans around 30 years and includes time at Sunrise Senior Living and a handful of other aged care organizations. Bowman came to Brookdale through Vista Cove Senior Living in Southern California, where he worked as chief operating officer between 2014 and 2016.

As executive vice president of community operations, Bowman’s job is to focus on the ins and outs of the Brentwood, Tennessee-based operator’s 680 communities across the United States. He takes the reins at a particularly crucial time for Brookdale and for the entire seniors housing industry, as 2022 promises to be a year of occupancy recovery and rate growth.

Staffing remains a big unknown, and as the nation’s largest senior living operator, Brookdale will need to hire and staff communities at scale, balancing the need to provide attractive jobs with the need increase revenue and margin in an environment of higher cost of doing business. Overall, the company faces a defining year in 2022.

Still, Brookdale has made good progress in recent months on its recovery plan, with a refined portfolio, restructured leases and a stronger liquidity profile than at the start of the pandemic. And Bowman says he’s “never been more excited about the prospects for the future” of the company in 2022, mirroring CEO Cindy Baier’s recent optimism.

“[We are focusing on] continue to increase our occupancy in the midst of the recovery, focusing on meeting rates and maintaining good rates, and addressing challenges with the workforce and continuing to reduce turnover,” Bowman told Senior Housing News.

Priorities for 2022

As executive vice president, Bowman supports company operations and works with the company’s division heads and senior leaders to help its communities. Compared to his predecessor Kent – who came to Brookdale in 2019 via 3M – Bowman said his duties will focus more on ground-level operations.

“With the focus and the need for our recovery and so much effort going into our communities, choosing someone who has ‘been there, done that’ has been helpful,” Bowman said. “It was just the right time to…turn that role into a more community operations-focused role.”

Occupancy is a priority for Bowman, which is an area where the company has made steady progress. Brookdale’s recovery efforts have so far resulted in 10 consecutive months of occupancy growth, ending December at 74.5% average occupancy. December also marked the first time since 2012 that Brookdale posted sequential occupancy gains between November and December.

Bowman attributes much of this growth to the company’s ongoing “sales transformation,” led by senior vice president of sales, Rick Wigginton. Of particular note are the company’s efforts to promote infection control and leverage digital marketing. The company has also worked to get more referrals from medical professionals for its communities, most of which offer assisted living and memory care services.

As long as occupancy does indeed continue to increase in 2022, Brookdale management is optimistic that rates will be maintained and even grow across the company’s portfolio.

“We are very optimistic about what we can achieve in 2022 in terms of revenue and rate growth,” Bowman said. “A lot of our communities where we’re seeing higher occupancy, we’re seeing higher rate growth, even amid the headwinds they may be facing.”

Although the growing number of Covid-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant is putting pressure on operators in early 2022, Bowman believes that vaccines and recalls, as well as the company’s infection control practices, l will help navigate through this variant and all future variants. Additionally, nearly all eligible Brookdale workers and residents have been vaccinated, and the company is nearly done with its booster clinics, he added.

“We have developed some very strong policies and practices, and our communities really live them every day,” he said.

A big area of ​​concern for Brookdale is staffing, as is the rest of the senior living industry. To that end, the company “sees some improvement,” Bowman said. While he didn’t share specific numbers, he said associates’ revenue has been trending down since October.

To attract more workers to the company, Bowman thinks the solution is to provide them with career paths and be more flexible with work hours. The company has also raised wages for workers in certain markets to stay competitive in hiring.

“Some people may call it a calling, others may call it a goal – that’s really where we’re focusing a lot of our efforts right now, attracting the right potential associates,” he added.

Bowman is also acutely aware that technology is now a staple of the community budget, and he sees a not-too-distant future where artificial intelligence and robotics will play a bigger role within Brookdale communities.

“I think we’ll start to see that in our communities more in 2022 than ever before,” he said.

The Continuing Evolution of Brookdale

In terms of size, Brookdale is largely where it wants to be after years of restructuring sales and community leases, although there is always the possibility of “onesie-twosie” deals, Bowman said.

Last August, new construction starts within 20 minutes of a Brookdale community were about 44% lower than a year earlier. And looking ahead, Bowman sees opportunities to expand the company’s portfolio, or even embark on new developments.

“With the state of the markets, there will be a lot of opportunities for us in the years to come,” he added. “But I’m very comfortable with our management on the pitch and our structure, and it seems to fit the size of the organization.”

Another ongoing development is Brookdale’s home health joint venture with HCA Healthcare, and the company is looking at other ways to grow that relationship, according to Bowman. Baier has also noted in the past a long-term corporate goal of forging partnerships with healthcare providers.

“We continue to build these relationships, working more with the company’s HCA as well as local hospital management [of] HCA in particular markets,” Bowman said. “We strive to…continue to be a partner in our local markets with the HCA Hospital Base, and certainly with respect to home health and palliative care components.”