June 5, 2019
FANWOOD, NJ–With a ribbon cutting on its 16th senior living community, Chelsea Senior Living opened its most opulent building to date on May 15, 2019.
Visitors to The Chelsea at Shrewsbury, in the borough of Shrewsbury, NJ, walk into an expansive lobby with an atrium and attached bistro, large windows all around and wide, senior-friendly hallways. The dining room is open and airy with more windows, outdoor seating and a granite-topped island for the chef to serve specialties directly to diners.
On the second floor, the memory care wing called the Country Cottage has its own dining room and recreation area. And on the third floor, residents find a beautiful tavern with a high, circular ceiling and a rustic feel, an art studio and gallery with a multi-purpose activity room connected to a movie theater.
“We’re redesigning the buildings much more senior-friendly,” said Roger Bernier, President and Chief Operating Officer of Chelsea Senior Living. “The decor is a little bit more modern to some extent, really looking at the baby boomers coming up.”
And there lies the key to the future of senior housing—the baby boomers, the current generation of seniors just turning 65 and beyond—who expect more than just a one-room apartment and three meals a day. The amenities found at The Chelsea at Shrewsbury are not unique to that community. They are becoming must-haves and points of comparison for families shopping around for the next place for mom, dad or even themselves to live in.
But what is unique to the Chelsea model is the growing diversity of care offerings, driven by the increasing needs of incoming residents who are coming to assisted living environments with more health issues.
“We’re looking for niches where our competition is not doing those things,” said Bernier, who cited Chelsea’s Parkinson’s Care Program which features Rock Steady Boxing, a therapy specifically designed for seniors with Parkinson’s disease that helps build strength, balance and coordination and is available to residents at several Chelsea communities.
Chelsea also offers a cardiac care program at one community and an early dementia program at another, distinct from its mainstream memory care program. And Chelsea’s mental health program Crossings, offered at its East Brunswickcommunity, is one of the only programs in the northeastern US that offers mental health treatment, recovery and medication management for seniors in an assisted living environment.
“So, where our new product is going into markets that are underserved, in some of our saturated markets we can establish these niche areas where we can really offer things to people who didn’t have these services before,” said Bernier.
Tapping underserved markets is at the heart of Chelsea’s current growth strategy as evidenced by four properties under construction in Sparta and Clifton, New Jersey, and Greenburgh and Yaphank, New York.
“They are higher-end markets where we don’t have a lot of competition,” observed Bernier. “Clifton has no other assisted livings in that area. Sparta has no assisted living within 15 miles. Brookhaven (Yaphank) is a completely untapped market.”
The Chelsea at Greenburgh, Westchester County, has attracted a lot of interest based on the turnout at several marketing events at their welcome center and at nearby community landmarks. It is owned by Capitol Senior Housing (CHS), Chelsea’s partner in the new Shrewsbury residence and a future partner in other projects as well.
“We’re good partners together,” Bernier said of CHS.
Chelsea got out of the business of owning buildings several years ago when it sold its buildings and real estate to Welltower, a real estate investment company, which leases the properties back to Chelsea. Chelsea now handles all day-to-day operations for the owners including staffing, marketing, quality control and compliance with state and local regulations.
In addition to Welltower and CHS, Chelsea is also about to enter into a partnership with Trammell Crow, a national development company, on a proposed assisted living community in Courtland Manor, NY.
Despite the clamoring competition in the assisted living industry, Chelsea and its partners are finding the right markets to open high-end communities and are having no trouble filling them. In 2019 there is an increased emphasis on aging in place which means a return to some of the elements assisted living was supposed to be an alternative for—hospital beds.
“We are getting closer and closer to what skilled nursing was years ago,” Bernier sais. “What’s happened—and I think it’s a good thing—is we’ve really embraced aging in place. People want to stay in their homes. And so, we have evolved. We’re still not over-regulated like skilled nursing, so we’re able to do some really creative things and allow people to stay in our places through third-party providers such as hospice and by adding a little more nursing staff. So, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The public’s kind of demanded it and we’ve met the need.”
By spring 2020, Chelsea Senior Living will be 21 properties strong, having grown from 11 just a decade ago.