Brookdale CEO Lucinda Baier on setting a vision and improving retention rates

Brookdale CEO Lucinda Baier is working to make her company a lasting player in the senior living space, not only for her employees but for the residents who count on them for care. Ladders spoke with Baier to hear about how to improve retention rates, setting a vision for a national company, and the role of CEO in a ‘business about people.’

What has been the most surprising part of being President and CEO of Brookdale since you began the role in 2018?

“One of the most wonderful things I’ve seen is the return of about 2,600 associates who had left Brookdale but came back during the first nine months of this year. That’s a sign of success. We’ve intentionally focused on the top three leadership positions in our communities. We’ve adjusted compensation, created more development opportunities and we’ve seen improvements in retention rates. We’re in the last year of a three-year program to make above-industry investments in our labor force and that’s made such an impact on attracting and retaining great people.

Brookdale is really a business about people. We enrich people’s lives and to do that we must have the most caring, compassionate and trustworthy people. I’m glad to see so many great people return to Brookdale.”

What do most people not know about your role as head of one of the nation’s largest home health and hospice providers?

“Most people don’t realize how much of a people business this is and so they don’t realize how much time and energy I devote to our people – our associates, our residents, and our patients. I routinely visit Brookdale communities and agencies to connect with our associates, residents, and families. Our culture is vital to our mission of enriching lives and, really, you could even say saving lives. So I am the “keeper of the culture,” so to speak. We are people taking care of people, and our associates do extraordinary things, even on ordinary days. My role is to make sure we maintain that focus on what matters most.”

What is the company’s vision? How do you make that vision a constant in such a large organization?

“I want to build a company that will last forever because what we do is so important. We’re not just taking care of seniors, we’re helping them live their best lives. Enriching lives means actualizing the vision of being whatever our residents and patients need us to be. Sometimes it’s the small things, like getting Mrs. Smith her newspaper in the morning or making sure Mr. Jones has creamer for his coffee and taking the time to let them know that we genuinely care about them. It could be offering a resident a role in the community’s short film project, or protecting our residents during a hurricane or wildfire.

I want Brookdale to become a talent magnet, where bright people join us to build fulfilling careers. I see a time where our associates prosper and grow in their careers with us and where Brookdale is the company that people turn to when they need help. I also believe that Brookdale will help solve the issue of how to deal with the cost of healthcare in a rapidly aging world. We can help increase the health spans of our residents and this will help reduce overall healthcare costs.”

What are you most excited about at Brookdale right now?

“It’s exciting to see how well-positioned Brookdale is as millions of baby boomers reach a time when they’ll need the services we provide, which include independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, hospice, and home health. We’re really going to be able to help a lot of seniors live the best life possible.

Another thing that excites me about Brookdale is the amount of innovation our team has accomplished and continues to explore. We’re looking at things like utilizing telemedicine, improving our falls management program, and looking at whether dialysis plays a critical role in some of our communities. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and state governments are really trying to reduce avoidable hospital stays and post-acute stays. They are focused on changing the healthcare system from one based on volume to a system that’s based on value. They want to improve health outcomes and are looking at patient and family satisfaction. Senior living has an important role to play in that.”

How would you describe your management style? Does your leadership style change with Millennials and Gen Z employees?

“I believe that leadership is a privilege. I also believe in servant leadership, which is good because Brookdale has always believed in servant leadership. I’m responsible to our residents and patients, our associates and our shareholders. They put their trust in me to make decisions that support our mission to enrich lives through compassion, respect, excellence and integrity.

Our mission transcends generational differences, and we are committed to treating our associates fairly.”

What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you?

“Connect with a mentor if you can. Find someone who can give feedback on how to be successful in a particular organization, and who can help you think through the choices you’ll need to make. No one should make tough decisions on their own. Having the advice of a group of people who have been where you are is invaluable. You win as a team. Throughout my career I’ve placed a great deal of focus on creating the best teams possible, and let me tell you, Brookdale has an awesome team. You won’t find more dedicated and experienced people in the senior living industry. Our team rocks.”

Does an organization the size of Brookdale have a distinct company culture?

“We certainly do. Just as we want to help our residents live their best lives, we also want our associates lives to be meaningful and rewarding. This is a place where people will support you and allow you to do what matters most, which is focus on our residents and patients. Our culture is based around servant leadership, and we value relationships. We succeed together as a team and stay focused on what matters most – enriching lives.”

What advice would you give to someone interviewing at Brookdale?

“Show us your passion for helping others. Passion, courage, partnership and trust are Brookdale’s cornerstones and drive everything we do. We look for people who share these traits. Show us what you’ve done to make an organization better and how you’ll help Brookdale enrich the lives of our residents and patients. We have a saying here, if you’re not directly serving a resident or patient, serve someone who is.”