Nicolette Merino, division president for Ovation, the newest Avamere Family of Companies brand, tells Provider the concept for the mini-CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) campuses currently under construction in St. George, Utah, and Omaha, Neb., has redefined how the 25-year-old company listens to consumers when taking on a new venture.

“We have of course learned over the years to listen to our consumers, to listen to residents and family members, and to track what the general population is looking for. We have the experience through the ups and downs of the business to know what works, and how to be innovative,” she says.

Nicolette MerinoBut, when it came time to build Ovation from scratch, the company dug deeper than it has ever done before to discover where the opportunities existed to launch luxury apartments covering the independent living, assisted living, and memory care market segments. And, within those housing designations also have available on campus the home care and rehabilitation services residents need at times.

“With Ovation, we said we wanted to be the most innovative we have ever been and break the mold,” Merino says. And, to do that the company prioritized focus groups to figure out exactly what the 55-and-older community in the two target markets of St. George and Omaha really wanted in living spaces geared to their early retirement years and beyond.

Common Space Dominates

The most vivid result of these hyper in-depth examinations of potential residents’ likes and dislikes is that the Ovation properties are 40 percent common space, which Merino says is “unheard of in our profession.” The physical layout evolved further to become the mini-CCRC design with the added home care and rehab services one would traditionally find in the skilled setting.
“So, if somebody went out and had a hip replacement then they could come home and still have the resources to recover,” Merino says. “We created this services-at-home concept so residents could stay in their own [Ovation] home.”

Another attribute of an Ovation living space is that the units are up to 1,250 square feet with amenities like
stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, wraparound decks, and hardwood floors.

The 40 percent common space allows for any number of offerings that focus groups also said they wanted in a seniors housing complex, such as family rooms and libraries. “We even have taken it a step further after consumers told us they wanted full business centers. So, we did that and have private conference rooms for residents only, no staff, as well as four computers, full-size copiers and scanners, and a stock market ticker tape read out across top of the room,” she says.

The business center is an example of knowing the market, with many potential Ovation clients still active as workers or if not actually employed they are active on boards, chambers of commerce, or any number of organizations, Merino says.

In another nod to the focus group findings, each of the Ovation campuses will have a barbershop as the males surveyed wanted nothing to do with day spas and instead wanted a barbershop. Day spas will exist, too, Merino says.

Two Buildings, One Community

On the nuts and bolts of the Ovation model, each development will have 300 apartments divided in half in a North and South building, separated by a boulevard down the middle, which also just so happens to be represented in the “O” in the Ovation logo, two halves with a line through it.

One of the 150-unit buildings will be independent living, and the other will have the first floor for memory care and the second and third floors for assisted living. All residents will be under a month-to-month contract, and all will be private pay.

Merino says there is a real mission with Ovation to get away from the norms of how facilities may have operated in the past, and as part of this goal is the intention to make sure the North and South buildings are integrated in how residents use the common spaces.

“We are not calling one an assisted living and the other independent living, it is North and South. If a South resident wants to go to the North to participate in classes or dining or some other function, they can, and vice versa,” Merino says.

Building is Underway

At publication time, the work on constructing the St. George and Omaha complexes had just begun, as has the marketing of the properties to the communities. The target is to break ground on three more Ovation model locations by the end of 2019 and eventually have 12 to 15 branded properties.

“Our biggest focus is on looking at markets that are underserved; we don’t want overbuilt markets,” Merino says. Avamere also sees promise in placing the Ovation communities in destination locations that already attract a sizable retirement population.

“But, there are no restrictions on where we look,” she says, noting that one major factor in choosing sites is whether there is a suitable employment base to draw workers. “We want a high-quality staff and to be able to engage the community at large,” Merino says.

The workers also do not need a background in health care. With the focus so much in the Ovation model on service, the former Nordstrom’s worker is welcome, for example. “We want people who understand the importance of customer service. Employees we are bringing in need to have professional attire and understand the expectations,” she says.

Making the Money Work

Merino does not expect too much of a difference in turnover than any other independent living or assisted living facility, and actually thinks the rate could be lower considering the rehab and home care services that will be available.

“It will be easier for a resident living in a community like ours versus if they lived in their own home community where they have to pay a two-hour minimum for home care,” she says. “There is no minimum with us because we have 150 people potentially in need of the same services; you can now pay in 15-minute increments, and all will be located and have offices on campus.”

The work to create a different type of model for seniors housing under the Avamere umbrella is fundamentally about providing the high-end market segment the expansive common space and robust services they want, Merino says.

“Nobody is doing 40 percent common space, and that is going to differentiate us. We have listened so much to the consumer that it may seem risky in some ways to promise so much, but we are building a staff that will make sure the programming matches the quality of the property,” she says.