What’s on Your Missing Person’s List?

Hey, Wellness Warriors! There’s so much going on with the Coronavirus pandemic, and I wanted to check in to see how you’re doing. Not physically, but emotionally. Your mental well-being is important too and is frequently a key component to our physical well-being and having a strong immune system.

If you’re like many people, at some point in the past few months, you’ve experienced fear, and that’s ok. We’re all going through a time of fear and confusion. But during times like these, when something negative like this happens, it’s important to ask yourself, “What is the value of this in my life? What lessons have I learned and how am I going to grow from this?”

Today, I’d like to examine two things we might be “missing.”

Extra Clothes in Your Closet?

The first thing to do in times like these is to pause. Examine your life (or even take just a peek). What’s super important to you? What do you miss? You know I love great suits, but now I’m just as comfortable now in a great, white t-shirt. But then I think about what I really miss. I really miss hugging my grandchildren, kissing my kids on their on their face and giving them big hugs. I really miss going out to dinner with friends. I really miss that interaction of community with people I love.

Those are the things that I really, really miss in my life. And it’s good to acknowledge these, because I know I will appreciate them more when I am able to do these things again.

But there’s a huge opportunity here, which, if we’re not careful, we’re going to miss. I think we get so caught up in this all-consuming hunger of life and this hunger for an American lifestyle that we don’t stop to take a taste of what we have in the now. Sometimes it takes something like a crisis to cause us to stop and refocus.

So yes, there’s a pandemic, and yes there’s uncertainty and fear. But in the midst of all of this, you also have an amazing opportunity to reflect. Ask yourself, what do I really value in life? What do I really want in life? What’s really important to me? What do I miss? And what’s just “extra clothes in the closet?” For me, this pandemic will be known as “the great closet cleaning,” because I can look and see what has created noise and weight in my life that I don’t need. I hope you can as well. This pandemic has really made me appreciate what I have now: my health, my family, my community, a phenomenal company, incredible friends.

Eckhart Tolle makes a powerful statement in his book, A New Earth, that I think is so appropriate for this time and where we are in our history. He says, “Once you see and accept the transience of all things and the inevitability of change, you can enjoy the pleasures of the world while they last without fear of loss or anxiety about the future.”

In other words, once you give up the fear of things, the fear of loss, the fear of owning things, you’ll be really able to experience the now, and experience the great things you have in your life.

So stop for a moment and think: What things have I been taking for granted? What have I not fully appreciated before [the pandemic] that I more appreciate now? What good things have come from this time? Find some positive in the negative.

Don’t Get Stuck at Skipper’s on Tuesdays

So the 2nd thing I’d like you to ponder is this: What are you missing?

I remember when I played football in high school, a group of us guys used to go to a place called Skipper’s every Tuesday night because it was all you can eat fish for 99-cents. When the owners saw the six or eight of us come in the door, they would just moan because we would have a competition to see who could eat the most fish & fries. (I think the record was 33 baskets, and no, it wasn’t me that did that!)

The point of my story is this: we weren’t stopping to taste the food; we were just on this goal of consuming the next basket of fish & fries. At times in life, that’s what we do. We’re just trying to get to the next basket without stopping to taste the flavor of what we have right now.

So I’ll ask you again: What are you missing? What has this pandemic done to slow you down and made you see things that you have missed because you were too busy in life, because your work consumed you, because too many things were going on in your life that you just didn’t stop and see this?

I’ll give you an example. I have an outdoor shower at my house that I have probably used twice in the last six to seven years. I used it recently, and it brought me so much joy. I know that’s a simplistic example but think about it for a moment. What have you overlooked because you were moving too fast to notice it? What are you now able to see because the pandemic has slowed you down? Maybe, you’re getting to know your kids better. Maybe one of them has a special talent or special skill that you hadn’t seen because you’ve not been spending enough time with them. Have you overlooked the fact that maybe you’re a great cook or your spouse is a great cook?

So what have you missed because you’ve been too busy doing life and getting on with the American dream? Take the time to discover it, and you’ll find it’s a priceless jewel. And the feelings of appreciation and gratitude will fill you up, and you’ll find a bit of peace in this storm.

Did this resonate with you? Have you found some good coming from this trying time? If so, I’d love it if you’d share it below.

Until next time, Wellness Warriors, Live Well, Live Long!


The Good That Comes from Trying Times

I know that 2020 has not been what any of us expected it would be! Yet, it’s during these trying times that I believe the best in human spirit, creativity, and innovation come out. I am honored to have the most amazing team of 2500 staff members at Aegis Living, all of whom are dedicated to our residents and our mission. I have also been blessed to be a part of a few outreaches, touching local seniors as well as others in our Aegis Community.

So, I want to share some news that I feel is positive for our local communities as well as for the future of senior living care.

Local Outreaches

When the Coronavirus landed here in Seattle, just eight miles from our corporate offices, my mission became laser-focused on two things: How do we keep our residents and staff protected from the virus, and how can we help those in our community get through this time?

Looking at the seniors in my local community of Seattle, I became concerned for how seniors who were homebound or homeless were going to fare through this time. So, with the help of local corporate partners, Seattle Senior Strong was launched to meet the needs of these groups of seniors.

I am happy to say that, in only two months, a total of over $322,000 was raised and distributed to seniors through two local charities—Sound Generations and Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank. It was an amazing effort and I am immensely proud to have been a part of serving the generation that raised us.

The other group I was passionate about supporting and protecting during this time was our Aegis employees. I can remember my mother, during a particularly difficult time in my youth, telling me, “Dwayne, no matter what you do, don’t ever forget where you came from and that you had to eat potato soup every day for a week. When you have employees, be there for them, and they will always be there for you.” I’ll never forget those sage words. Our staff has been working around the clock to implement all of the new standards and practices and to be there for our residents, so I knew we had to be there for them. Among other things, we’re providing meals to our staff and their families, working with employees on creative childcare solutions, and offering telehealth services for free to all staff. We’re also encouraging those who are experiencing financial hardships to use our Potato Soup Foundation, created to support staff during times of need.

I am truly humbled to be able to support the people I’m passionate about. I am also very proud of how our Aegis Living communities have stepped up, been innovative, and have safely navigated the stormy waters to get us to where we are today. I’d like to share a few of those special updates with you now.

The Transition from Sheltering-in-Place to Socializing Safely

A few months ago, I was quoted in a national publication that we would take reopening our Aegis facilities slowly. And we’ve stuck to that approach. During this time, while maintaining safe environments for our residents, we’ve also been planning for how we could safely reunite our residents with their loved ones and bring our community services back to a new and improved “normal.”

With that in mind, Aegis communities are safely beginning to reopen social spaces within a comprehensive, five-phase plan to carefully phase in services, activities, and dining.  To be sure, our plan aligns company expertise with government guidelines and directives. Each phase listed below will be carried out for at least two weeks and we’ll host controlled pilots of key activities before programs are implemented across all 32 communities.

Phase 1: Limited Internal Opening with Physical Distancing

Phase 2: Limited Ancillary Services

Phase 3: Limited Visitors

Phase 4: Expanded Activities and Services

Phase 5: Expanded Dining and Visitation

Phase 1 will be initiated on a community-by-community basis and in accordance with state reopening orders and city/county directives. In order to embark on the next phase of activity, a community must not have active cases of COVID-19 among staff, residents, or essential visitors for a minimum of 14 days. Communities will return to Phase 0 if any symptoms of the virus are detected or a confirmed case of COVID-19 occurs in a community.

Outdoor Living Room Experiences

One of our customized outdoor living rooms. When it can’t be set up under a roofed porch, it is set up under a tent.

Reconnecting residents with loved ones is one of the most important challenges I knew we had to overcome. As part of our reopening plan, I am proud to share Aegis’s newest innovation: our exclusive Outdoor Living Room Experiences. Our brightest minds in design have partnered with epidemiologists and infectious disease experts to craft beautiful, protective, and cozy living room spaces in all 32 communities for families to gather and visit with residents in person without risk of virus exposure.

Each Outdoor Living Room will have clear, sealed dividing walls made of plexiglass, standing about 7-feet tall, to separate the seating areas and prevent potential virus exposure. While the dividing wall was created to prevent virus droplet transmission, both residents and visitors will be asked to wear masks during visits.  We just can’t be too careful. And, of course, all visitors will continue to follow screening protocols and infection-control best practices, including proper sanitization and handwashing.

All Outdoor Living Room Experiences allow for two visitors at a time and are scheduled with the community staff. We completely understand how difficult it has been for our residents and their families to be apart for so long, and I’m excited for this opportunity to begin bringing families back together again.

Coronavirus Advisory Council

The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the urgent need to provide leading-edge care for our residents. So I am also excited to announce the creation of the Aegis Living Coronavirus Advisory Council, a group comprised of renowned physicians and experts from some of the nation’s leading medical and research institutions whose expertise is critical to the health of our senior residents and our staff members.

For over 20 years, Aegis Living has used clinical experts to help develop our high standards, practices, and approaches to exceptional resident care. The new council will extend this expertise even further to prepare for today and well into the future.

The council is launching with seven members representing epidemiology, immunology, geriatrics, psychology, naturopathy, and more. You can learn more about each of the council members and plans for the council on the Aegis website.

As a company, we have stepped forward to help shape the future of the senior assisted living industry during this pandemic and beyond. Things will not go back to the way they used to be, so we must continue to use the latest science and medical research and our ingenuity to push new boundaries and create new ways of approaching resident care. Yes, these times have been tough, but we are learning new and great things that will allow our seniors to thrive!

Tell me, what positive changes have you seen in your community as a result of COVID-19?

Until next time, Live Long, Live Well.


Leadership Lessons – Stitching Together the Fabric of a Great Company

Close up view of young business people putting their hands together. Stack of hands. Unity and teamwork concept.

Recently, I was interviewed by one of my friends at Senior Housing News and had the opportunity to share a little about my entrepreneurial story, what I did early on when I started my company, Aegis Living, and why people and company culture are key to our success. I think there are nuggets that any entrepreneur can grab ahold of and hopefully learn from.

Here’s a bit of that interview. (A link to the full interview is at the bottom.)

Looking back on all the changes that you’ve driven in your career, are there one or two that you think have made the biggest difference?

I think Aegis has taken a very unconventional path. From the very beginning, we stood apart to be a very different kind of company, starting with the kind of people we hire. I think over 90% of our people come from outside the senior living industry.

The bridge to your customers is your staff, especially your line staff. You’ve got to make those people delighted in their job every day. That is the whole point, and this [distinction] has been incredibly important to us.

I think culture distinguishes us — I’m just really very proud of ours. No one has really stretched the value curve as we have, where people think, “I am going to pay this much because I believe in a great value.” I think that’s what we’ve done.

You mention the importance for Aegis in hiring a lot of hospitality people. How did you begin that trend?

I’ve been in the industry for 35 years. In my first seven years, I worked for Leisure Care, which I think is an extremely good, service-oriented organization. They hired from various service industries: hotels, restaurants, and so on. I grew up in that company learning about service and presentation and Four Seasons-level service. Then I went to Sunrise, and what Sunrise did really well was high-level care.

As I was building Aegis, I said, “What would be great is if we combine these two concepts: take people who are highly service-oriented and give them Four Seasons marching orders in terms of presentation and customer service.” Then we thought, if we could build a building that was exquisite and combine these three things, that would be quite a company.

I just think the quality of talent we have, and it’s not to sound like an egotist here, is extremely high.

How have you been able to attract that talent? What investments have you made to hire those people?

I think it starts with the way we think. When we first started this, we definitely had great ambitions and dreams about what we were going to do and who we were going to hire. It was hard, until we started seeing some victories. And that starts with how you treat people.

I think this COVID-19 crisis is very relevant to how we treat people, because one of the first things we did was to say, “Okay, we have to take care of our staff … They’re having troubles. We need to consider how people can get childcare, get their kids home from school. We need to look at providing free food, for not only employees but their families, so they can take food home for their families. We need to open up telemedicine to all staff and make sure that people have access to doctors from their home.”

EPIC is an annual event where Aegis employees come together for a few days and learn and grow as humans. It truly is an epic event with life-changing results!

The thing that I discovered early in my career is, I’m a guy with pretty average intelligence. If I want to be super successful, I’m going to have to hire people a lot smarter than me, who have a lot of different experiences than mine. As silly as that sounds, as fundamental as that sounds, that’s been the overarching success of why Aegis has come out as a really successful company.

All you have to do is go down the list of our senior executives. Our president, Kris Engskov, was the president of Starbucks, North America, that oversaw 30,000 employees and $20 billion in revenue. That’s not a normal senior living president. Our chief people officer, Sandra, was the head of Amazon Marketplace that oversaw 24,000 employees and gave the most critical human resource people development decisions to 24,000 people. That’s not your normal senior housing HR person. These are not people you typically find in senior housing, and it’s why I often use the phrase, “The making of the quilt.” The making of the quilt has to do with what each of these people bring — not only their resume but their company’s experience and knowledge and intelligence to our company. Each of these people bring a piece to the quilt. I think it sounds silly in a way, but that’s a huge point of distinction.

I read that in the early days of the company, you were in a position where your son wanted to go to a certain college, and you said, “We’re going to send you somewhere else because of where our finances are right now.” Is that right?

Yes. My son wanted to go to UCLA. We did the tour, he applied, we went through all that. He was set to go to UCLA and [the company] didn’t have enough money to pay payroll. My partner called me at the time. The only money we had was my son’s college fund. We had to use that to make payroll and we couldn’t recoup it fast enough for him to go to school four, five months later.

We said, “That in-state tuition at University of Washington looks really good.” That’s what happened, and he’s never looked back. He loves being a Husky.

Those are the kind of sacrifices that you make as a company, especially a family-owned company, that probably no one will ever know about. You do it and you suck it up, and you just move on.

When you start the first life cycle of a company, you’re making all kinds of sacrifices. I remember I didn’t go on vacation for three and a half years. In fact, my cousin called me a couple of weeks ago, and she said, “Remember year three of the company, I had to pay for you to sleep on the floor of my Mexico condo? You couldn’t afford a plane ticket,” and I’m like, “Yes. Why do you have to remind me of that?”

You just do what you have to do. I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.

Do you have to have a certain pain threshold if you’re going to be an entrepreneur?

Yes, it’s pain tolerance, and it’s endurance. I think that’s really what it’s about. I think a lot of entrepreneurs fall out because they think this is some kind of 100-yard dash, and it’s really not. I would say you better be prepared. You don’t want to go 10 years and not make a profit, but you better be prepared to go five to seven years and not really see any lucrative salary.

Keep in mind, I went from being executive vice president of Sunrise, which was a publicly-traded company, and getting bonuses and stock options and great salary increases, to my compensation in total probably dropping by 60%, 70% for the first three or four years. You just had to make it work. I was young enough that I could do that. I was in my late 30s and thought, “Hey, we’ll just do what we have to do … to make this happen.”

I think endurance is a big thing, and then you hopefully set goals and meet them, and you start to get some windfalls and it starts to work out.

As an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to make the sacrifices and endure the tough times. Putting our people first is one of my top rules for success. Do it, and you will reap the benefits.

Many thanks to Tim Mullany of Senior Housing News for the opportunity to chat and share my thoughts. You can find the full interview here.

Until next time, Live Well, Live Long!