We have a new face at Arbor Company - Michelle Hamilton, our Senior VP of Operations! Watch our episode of Senior Living LIVE as we get to know Michelle, why her mother was a huge reason she works in senior living, and why she is going to miss the smell of chocolate. Watch below or read the transcript of our conversation.
Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments, and we will be sure to answer them.
And, if you'd like to watch past episodes of our live broadcast, you can find them here.
Chris: Everybody, welcome to "Senior Living LIVE." We are broadcasting to two places currently, which is why we're a little bit late starting our show. We are broadcasting to Facebook, as we always have. And now, also, to YouTube. And so, maybe you're not into the Facebook thing. Do you have a Facebook account?
Michelle: I actually do not.
Chris: You don't?
Michelle: I don't...
Chris: Ordinarily, you wouldn't have been able to see the show, and now you can, on YouTube. So, if you don't do the Facebook thing or you know somebody that doesn't do the Facebook thing, you can catch our show on YouTube. And we're going to actually set that up at seniorlivinglive.com. It's not there yet, but later we're going to set that up at seniorlivinglive.com where you can actually just watch the YouTube streams right there. So, we will come at you wherever we are. So, we're on our pre-show. We've got about a minute and 45 or so before we get started. And I'm here with Michelle today. Michelle, how are you doing?
Michelle: Hey. I'm good. I'm good. How are you, Chris?
Chris: Wonderful. I'm great. So, Michelle is new to The Arbor Company, our team, and hopefully will become a familiar face on the show. I've told her that she has to do this with us every single week now. So, Michelle joins us from Pennsylvania, right?
Chris: Is it cold there right now?
Michelle: It is. Actually, there was a freeze warning this morning, if you can believe it.
Michelle: Yes. Yes.
Chris: Oh my goodness. I saw there was a freeze warning in North Georgia this morning, too. In the mountains. Yeah. I was looking that up, too.
Michelle: It's like 30 degrees in Pennsylvania.
Chris: It's cold here. I did not have a jacket this morning. It's like up and down, up and down. I can't figure it out.
Michelle: I know. I keep thinking I'm bringing the cold down here. I'm not sure.
Chris: Oh, this winter. It's never going to let up, is it? Maybe by July 4th. You think we'll have snow on the 4th of July?
Michelle: No. No, I think we'll be good by then. Who knows what we might have? But we won't have snow.
Chris: Well, we will get started in just a moment. I guess I should pull up my comments here. If you are watching us live, let us know that you are watching us live. Michelle could really use your shout out. She would love to hear from you, and just to say hi and welcome to the team, welcome to the show. And let us know if you have any questions for Michelle. I'm going to be picking Michelle's brain a little bit on her career and what brought her here. And hopefully from that, you can learn a little bit about the senior living industry as a whole. And if you have any questions for her or just about the industry, or about anything, we are happy to answer those. They will pop right up in my little screen right here and I will show them to you. So, we'll be back in just a moment. And remember, you can watch this episode, and any past ones, at seniorlivinglive.com. I will see you right after the start of of the show.
Chris: There. I bet you can hear us now. Send us a comment if you can hear us. Thank you, Melissa, for letting us know that we didn't have any sound. So...
Michelle: That's my sister.
Chris: That's your sister?
Michelle: That's my sister.
Chris: Your sister saved the day.
Michelle: She did.
Chris: You know what, I refreshed these comments and two minutes ago, Melissa said... So, shout out to Melissa. So, where's Melissa?
Michelle: Melissa is in Cumberland, Maryland, where I was born and raised. I was born in Frostburg. But she's working, I'm sure, today, in Cumberland. And I have five sisters. I'm one of six girls. So, I did let them know that I was going to be on today. So, it looks like Melissa came on and...
Chris: Look, she says, "Sound is back." Thank you. Thanks for joining. That's so great. So, if you can read lips, you would actually know that Michelle was telling us how she got into the senior living industry. And so, would you maybe recap that for people who could not hear?
Michelle: Well, like I said, I have five sisters. I'm one of six girls. My mom actually had multiple sclerosis whenever I was growing up, so we took care of her. And I worked in a movie theater, as I said. Got some management experience. So, when I finished there...I finished my degree, I saw an ad in the classified ads and I applied for it, and they were looking for an administrator for a small assisted-living community, and I thought, "Well, I can do that. I've got management experience and I've taken care of my mom, and I've been in a big family, so, you know, let's try senior care." And that's how I ended up in senior care. And I've been in it for 27 years. So, yeah. Kind of amazing.
Chris: Wow. That is amazing.
Michelle: Even when I wanted to try to get away from it, somehow I was brought right back in. So, yeah, good stuff.
Chris: Oh wow. That is an amazing story. So, let's go to the comments for a second. Melissa, your sister, said, "Go Michelle. Love you." So, Michelle was so worried that she was going to get like bad comments, like people telling her to, you know, get off the air or something. So, keep those positive vibes coming. Karen is watching from Hershey, Pennsylvania. So, welcome. You said you know Karen.
Michelle: I do. Karen knows me very well. So, thank you, Karen. Yeah.
Chris: Hershey... So you currently live in Hershey?
Michelle: I do. I live in Hershey right now and I will be moving to Georgia, here, soon, as soon as I find a house and I sell my house, which hopefully will happen over the next few months.
Chris: So, do you think that you will miss the smell of chocolate?
Michelle: I will. I do. I do. I love Hershey. It really is the sweetest place on Earth. It's a sweet little all-American town, so yeah. But Georgia's pretty nice too. Yeah.
Chris: Georgia's pretty nice too, Georgia. So, Michelle now works for The Arbor Company. So, we're the folks who sponsor this show. The Arbor Company, we are managers of senior living communities. So, we operate the senior living communities. We have, I think, 32 that are currently operating in about 10 states on the East Coast. But what our hope is that the topics of this show are really kind of universal. It doesn't matter if you're looking for senior living communities, if you're looking for one of ours or another one, that we're just trying to give you universal topics. And again, lead you toward living the best life that you want to live. So, you talked a little bit, Michelle, about how you got into senior living. What has kept you in senior living for this long?
Michelle: Well, again, you know, I think that it certainly is something that I was in. I thought, "Ugh, I'll get out of that," because it's a hard business. It's not an easy business to be in. If you're all in, you're all in. And somehow I was drawn back in to the industry, and I've been able to have the blessing of bringing my talents to the table, which really is about...I mean, it's a caring environment where we take care of people's most precious loved ones, their mother, their father, their grandparents. So that, to me, is so very important, coming from the family that I come from and taking care of my mom. So, I've been able to use my natural gifts there of serving, and loving other people, and supporting, and encouraging them, which really is all about this industry. I mean, that's what it is. And it's just a natural fit for me. And yeah, so it's been great. It's been great.
Chris: Good. Good. So, we talked about that part of senior living. So, you worked at your previous company for a long time.
Michelle: Yes, a little over 24 years, which is a long time.
Chris: And so, you made the change and, you know, sometimes the change, it's good. But what led you to this company where you're working now?
Michelle: Well, you know, the company that I worked for in Pennsylvania was a small regional company. It wasn't really small. I shouldn't say that. But they're very well-known in Pennsylvania. And we also branched over to Maryland. Worked there for a long time and I was able to grow and take on additional leadership roles and additional responsibility. And great family organization. The culture just...you really felt like you were family. So, I think that's why I stayed for so long. And my kids are now grown and ready for a new challenge. I'm kind of somewhat of an empty nester and was looking for a new challenge. And there's lots of opportunities in senior care across the country, but I had really had a really great environment to work in where I felt appreciated and valued, and I could bring my talents, like we talked about, to the table. And so, I was very selective about where I wanted to go, and I really felt that Arbor had the same types of offerings that my previous employer did. That I could bring my talents to the table, that I could feel respected, loved, and appreciated for who I was, and that there's just a common respect for each other. And our three little taglines at Arbor is, "We listen. We respond. And we care." And I have to say in all of my interactions, even prior to coming to Arbor...I've known Arbor for a long time in the industry and they're very well-known across the country, and that is exactly what I have encountered here, is that definitely the folks here listen, they respond, and they absolutely care. And it's genuine caring. And that really makes a difference when you're joining an organization.
Chris: That's really good to hear. And you always kind of want to think that you're being genuine, but sometimes it's nice to hear it from someone else. And just like to make sure, like are we really doing what we're saying that we're doing. So, I want to dig into operations a little bit more. So, we talked about that, maybe before our microphone went back on. So, Michelle is the senior vice president of operations for The Arbor Company. And can you tell us just a little bit about what operations is and how that fits into the cog of the senior living community?
Michelle: It's everything, Chris. I mean, senior care doesn't happen unless you have operations. I mean, it just doesn't happen. I mean, you have folks that you care for, but you need to have staff, you need to have systems, you need to have that quality. All of those things that you promise a family member that they're going to get for their mom, or you promise that particular client resident that we're going to provide you with this care or this type of service, whether it's housekeeping or dining services, the meals, all of those things. That happens all through operations. Every single thing. So, it's very intricate, actually. You have to make sure that you have the staff, that they are well-trained, that the follow through is there, and that we deliver on our promises. And then, you get this other little crazy thing, and that's the regulations in each state. So, you have to be able, in order to have a license and to operate in a state, you have to adhere to those regulations. And you also have to make sure that the building is clean, you have to make sure that it's well-kept, and all of those kinds of things. That's operations.
Chris: That's it. That's it. So...
Michelle: Sounds easy, but it is not.
Chris: Yeah. It sort of sounds like, "Yeah, we don't really necessarily like have like a thing that we do," but ultimately, it's everything. You're touching everything. So, let's talk a little bit about how this company is aligned. So, you are the senior vice president of operations. So, who reports to you?
Michelle: Yes. I have three vice presidents of operations that report to me, and two regional directors of operations. So, the communities that we support and that we manage report to them, and everything in those communities report to them, and then they report to me. So, my job is to really provide them with the support that they need to be successful in running their communities and achieving the success, and delivering on the results and the promises that we make to our residents.
Chris: Okay. Great. So, I think, you know, we've talked a lot about you, and we talked a lot about your career in kind of senior living and where it's been. So, what's next? What's coming ahead of us?
Michelle: Well, you know, that's a really great question, and there's a lot that's coming. And those of you out there that don't think that maybe senior care is the place you want to be, you want to be in senior care.
Chris: From a career standpoint.
Michelle: From a career standpoint, yeah. I mean, the demographics. If you're keeping up, I'm sure you've heard about the baby boomers. Well, that baby boomer population is coming and they're going to soon be retiring, but I don't know that they're really going to be retiring. I think that that population group is going to want to have choice, they're going to want to have fun, they're going to want to branch out and look at different ways that they can live their lives. So, I think that we really are at a place right now that's very exciting, that we've never been in senior care. At least in the time that I've been doing this. So, the possibilities are really endless. But I think that there's a lot that's also changing, from an operations standpoint, that we need to be prepared for. And I think that that's everywhere, not just at Arbor, but I think that that's across the country. We need to be prepared. And several of those is that we do have an aging population, but they may be healthier, and they may have higher wants and higher desires...
Chris: Medicine's getting better, right?
Michelle: Medicine's getting better. So, people are living longer and they're healthier. So, you also have to take into account are they going to have the money to pay for senior care also. So, they're very conscious of the cost of what they're going to buy, so therefore, they like choice. And in this environment, assisted living, I mean, we've kind of said, "Okay, here's your services. This is your flat rate." But I think that our consumers are going to change that. I think that they're going to demand that we change that because they're going to want choice. And they're really not going to want to pay for what they're going to get. So, I think as operators, we're going to be challenged by that. I think that technology...well, just look at today. I mean, look at what we're doing today. The technology has advanced so much, and you wouldn't think that you'd see that in senior care communities, but the technology, the smart homes, are out there and they're being built. And so, definitely...robots. I think you and I had a recent conversation about robot. We did. We did. And when I went to a conference probably a year ago or so, they showed a robot that's being used in some hotels to deliver towels and deliver, you know, different meals to the rooms or whatever. So...
Chris: Coming soon to a senior community.
Michelle: Yeah. Yeah, you never know, right? Maybe.
Chris: Maybe. You never know. But we do have, I mean, on a smaller scale, we have, in several of our communities now, the Amazon Echo. Alexa.
Michelle: Which is amazing.
Chris: And we've got one here. We should bring on the show sometime to talk, but you can go and you can say, you know, "Alexa, you know, what's happening in my community today?" And she will read out all of the different activities that are happening in that community. And there's, you know, dining menus are loaded into that, you can pull that. So, it's...
Michelle: Yeah. "What's for dinner tonight?" Yeah. It's amazing.
Chris: You can read that somewhere, but it's a different way that you can get that information. And it fits in with people's lives.
Michelle: Yeah. So, I think that we're going to be challenged to find those kinds of technologies that are also...they're going to enhance the way seniors are living, but also not take away from the personal touch, because at the end of the day, we're still human beings, and we all need that caring and that love and that personal touch that only a human being can bring. So, I think we're going to be challenged by technology advances. We talked about consumer choice, the innovation. And then also, I think that the healthcare system in general is changing. And Medicare. Everybody, if you turn on the TV, you'll hear a lot about Medicare changes and healthcare reform and all of that. And has that really affected us? Well, it has. And in some markets, coming from Pennsylvania market, we've seen a lot in the Pennsylvania market where hospitals have been merging, and the way in which they're caring for folks are changing. Particularly, Lancaster General merged with Penn Hospital in Philadelphia, and some of the advances that they're making to try to get out ahead of what's happening in healthcare is really amazing. So, I think we're going to be challenged with that. There's only so much money that can be used. So, those are some of the things that I think we're going to need to tackle and that we're going to see down the road, so I'm excited about those though, because I think with those challenges also brings that creative innovation. You know, how can we solve this problem and make it really great?
Chris: Yeah. And I think it's the creative side of it too. And I think probably...I don't know the best way to say this, but maybe responsible innovation? You know, there's a lot of technology out there. And Michelle and I have an opportunity to look at some of this technology and consider do we want to put that in our communities. And a lot of times we say no because, you know, we have these filters of, like, is it going to make residents' lives better? Is it going to make, you know... Basically, is it going to enhance what we already do, what we feel we really do well? And if it doesn't necessarily do that or if it's going to just be a hassle for people, or if it's kind of cool but doesn't necessarily fit the bill, then a lot of times we don't do it. So, I would challenge, you know, anyone who's watching this, if you are searching for senior living or you're thinking of searching in the future, you know, yeah, go to those new communities and look for the places that have new technology and all of the fancy gadgets and things like that. But just imagine what would happen maybe if those gadgets didn't work one day or if those gadgets were removed from the community. And what is the feeling that you get? Because really, at the end of the day, it's about kind of the warm and fuzzies of living in senior living. So, I think that's a big part of it.
Michelle: Yeah, it is. You need to make sure you weigh both sides of that.
Chris: And if you look, well...so, I have not been in this industry nearly as long as you, but my guess would be that over the 20-plus years that you've been doing it, what's changed is the technology and the ways that we sort of provide the service. But what hasn't changed is the human aspect of it, right?
Michelle: Yes. And when you talk about the human aspect and you talk about, you know, what are we going to be looking at over the next 10 years, I don't think that we're going to have any problem finding folks to come in and move in to our communities. I think that the work force and finding people who want to work in this particular profession is going to be our biggest challenge, so I'm really excited about the fact that...I mean, this is a great profession to work in. From whether you're a housekeeper, whether you're a CNA or a nurse, or a manager, I mean, there's endless possibilities to what you can do. Because at the end of the day, you absolutely still need the personal touch. It's all about the personal touch.
Chris: Yeah. I think you really hit it. That is key. So, let's take a shift for a second. I'll ask you kind of a final question or two. But a lot of people who are watching this show or do watch the show on a regular basis are seniors who, you know, maybe they're not looking for senior living right now, they might be looking in the future, or maybe they are actively looking for senior living. What is your advice for them as they are looking for communities? What should they look for?
Michelle: Yeah, yeah. That's a great question. I was asked that recently. And I think that you have to, when you go into a senior community, there's lots of them out there. When you go in, you really have to look. Is it clean? Is the place well-kept? Are the people nice? Do they greet you when you come in? And that's one of the things that I've been so impressed with Arbor. I mean, absolutely, every community that I've been in and here at our home office, people are so open and kind and gracious, and greet you with a smile and a hello. And I think that that is one of the things that you definitely should look for. So, you should go out and look at several communities. You don't want to just go. You want to choose.
Chris: And we tell people that on here. We tell people look at multiple communities, yeah.
Michelle: You have to because, you know, you want to pick what's right for you and what feels right, and I do believe, you know, people buy based on how they feel. And you and I have talked about that too. I mean, people buy what you feel. It's not always just the how much does it cost or what may be practical, but if I feel safe - and I think that that's one of the things - if I feel safe here and I feel that I'm in good hands, and the place is clean, and the people are really nice. I mean, those are the things that are so important when you're making that choice. And of course, you've got to look at your own finances and what can you afford and what can't you afford. And, you know, we've always gone from the premise that if you can't afford us, you know, we'll also help you find something. That our job is to also help you find the place that's right for you. So, yeah.
Chris: Okay. Great. Well, I think we are probably coming up on our time today. Will you join us again for a future show? Will you join us for every show?
Michelle: Well, you know, those folks out there that know me know like I can, so I would love to come back on. Yes.
Chris: So, if you want to see Michelle again, leave us a comment and let us know. Let me just check here real fast. We don't have any other comments coming in. But if you have a question, just leave them down on the comments, and we'll get to those in a future episode. So, we go live on Facebook, and now, YouTube, every Friday at 11 a.m. Eastern time. And it's about 15-20 minutes or so. And so, we would love for you to join us on a weekly basis. If that time doesn't work for you, you can always watch our past episodes. Just head over to seniorlivinglive.com and that'll take you to Facebook or YouTube or wherever you prefer to watch them. I think with that, thank you for joining. Thank you, Michelle.
Michelle: Thank you for having me, Chris. It was a lot of fun.
Chris: Yes, it was a lot of fun. And we will have many more fun shows ahead of us. Thank you all. Have a great weekend and we will see you next time. Bye-bye.