FellowshipLife CEO describes new approach to senior living (updated)

Jeffrey Kanige//June 5, 2023//

Senior care
Senior care

FellowshipLife CEO describes new approach to senior living (updated)

Jeffrey Kanige//June 5, 2023//

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In recent years, the ways in which New Jerseyans work have changed dramatically. Remote or hybrid arrangements are now commonplace, and expectations have likely been altered permanently.

Much has also changed for older residents who no longer work. And expectations about what retirement can and should be like have shifted as well. Brian Lawrence has seen all of those changes firsthand and leads his company accordingly.

Lawrence is the CEO of FellowshipLife, a provider of senior living communities around the state designed to accommodate older residents and their needs – not just medical needs, but lifestyle needs as well.

“We’re going to continue to reinvest into each of our communities and transform its community to meet what today’s active older resident is looking for,” he said. “So that’s ongoing. We have plans at each of our communities to continue that transformation and we’re going to continue growing and expanding our services to meet the needs of people as they age.”

Lawrence recently spoke with NJBIZ about FellowshipLife and its approach to senior living. What follows is an abridged version of that discussion. The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity. The full interview is available at NJBIZ.com/njbizconversations.

Brian Lawrence, the CEO of FellowshipLife, speaks with NJBIZ Editor Jeff Kanige on April 19, 2023.
Brian Lawrence, the CEO of FellowshipLife, speaks with NJBIZ Editor Jeff Kanige.


NJBIZ: I wanted to start with some news that the company came out with fairly recently, and that is the rebranding from Fellowship Senior Living to FellowshipLife. Now I read that the rationale was to appeal to folks who don’t view themselves as elderly, and you know frankly that sounds right to me as someone who doesn’t view himself as elderly. But I’m curious as to what the thinking was behind that. What drew you to that conclusion? It must have been more than just a feeling that those folks wouldn’t want to think of themselves that way.

Brian Lawrence: Absolutely. I’ve been in this industry for over 25 years, so we definitely have the pulse on aging Americans and what they’re looking for, which has changed over the past several decades. Back years ago – 20,30, 40 years ago – when people retired, they lived much quieter lives. They retired and it really wasn’t a continuation of their life, with all the community or engagement. Today, though, people after they retire, they have 20, 30, 40 years left, and it’s really another journey in their life. They want to continue to be engaged. They want to be active, they want to thrive. They want to connect and still be part of the community. They’re looking to be well, to be fit, to be stimulated intellectually. So, people’s lifestyle today is significantly different.

Things have transformed significantly since then, and organizations like us, we have to transform. A part of our mission and vision is that we transform the aging experience through innovative opportunities that enrich and empower the lives, the active, older adults within the region. And that totally mirrors what people are looking for today. They have transformed over the years, we as an organization that provides services to them. We also need to transform and meet the needs of the consumer.

Q: You said something that sort of caught my ear, and I’m wondering, are folks retiring earlier at a younger age? We just went through the pandemic with The Great Resignation, and I’m just wondering, are you getting people who are retiring before what most people would think is the standard retirement age, say 65, and up?

A: It’s not that. When people retire today, they’re still very young and vibrant and healthy. People are just so much healthier and active and engaged when they retire today. And they’re looking for a different experience.

Q: So 65 is the new 45 is what you’re saying. OK. Along with the rebranding announcement the company said it had forged some affiliations with three other communities. What does that entail, exactly? And what does each entity get out of that arrangement?

A: Just like most businesses, a standalone business organization operator, there are challenges that you face as you get pressures from outside forces. It could be a regulatory pressure. It could be economics. Inflation pressure. Or dealing with a pandemic. So as a single site operator, it’s a challenge to navigate that and have the resources to help address those challenges and to move forward as an organization. When you grow, you do two things. You serve. We are a nonprofit organization, we’re mission-based, and we’re here to help older people live an active, vibrant lifestyle, whether it’s in their own private home, or through one of our communities.

We want to make sure that they age gracefully, and they live a very healthy, active, vibrant life, and to do that effectively, and to be a going concern for the next, I don’t know, 5,000 years we need to grow to meet that mission and get those economies of scale and get those resources to benefit the organization as well as all those people that we care for and serve. So, by expanding from one community to four communities that has gone a long way to help us with those economies of scale, spread that overhead, have that greater buying power. We have one payroll that services, you know, over 800 people now, versus each community having their own payroll company paying those same fees four different times. Now, I’m just paying one fee.

Q: Tell me a little bit then about what role FellowshipLife plays in the community. How do you see yourself fitting into the industry, the communities that you’re part of around the state? And what do you bring that some of the other facilities don’t?

A: So, we are a very proactive, entrepreneurial organization, a learning organization, you could call it. We always look to adopt best practices and be on the forefront of what the consumers are looking for. What can we do to help improve people’s lives as they age and fill those gaps in aging services? We want to make sure we help you with that aging experience, whether it’s health and medical services or where to live—being in a more of a community setting or an area to live at your age that could accommodate you or plans for long term care to have some access to those services. All [our communities] provide long term care services right in your own home, throughout New Jersey. We launched therapy at home and wellness in home a couple of years ago, because of the demand and need for that. … How do I get to receive therapy services? How do I get myself to the therapist? Can I get someone to come to my home? We filled that gap, and now we’re serving over 200 people per month, and we just added that two years ago or so and that’s continued to grow and meet that demand that’s out there.

Speaking of demand, the biggest demographic throughout New Jersey and in America, is the aging America – people over 65 – and it’s going to be even more significant in the next 10 years. It’s going to grow over 50% over the next 10 years, the number of people over 65. And it’s just amazing the numbers and the need that’s going to be there, and we want to be well positioned throughout New Jersey to meet that demand

And on top of that, speaking about what people are looking for, and how they age and what they need, besides health and medical services. Wellness is a significant part of that as well. We’re updating our communities to have fitness centers available so people can be more active and more engaged, and have tai chi yoga classes, not to mention weight training and everything else.

We’re also opening our first medspa that we’re launching as we speak. That helps people age more gracefully, as well, focusing on facials or Emsculpting, which strengthens your core, and that could help with lower back pain and walking, or just cosmetic items to make you feel better. Or CoolSculpting—it gets rid of some extra weight around the midsection, or other parts of your body.

So, it’s all about the lifestyle. And that’s FellowshipLife—we truly are looking to make sure people live their best life wherever that journey takes them, whether it’s in one of our communities or it’s in their own home, or just everyday life.

Q: You mentioned some of the amenities – one of the things I read about was a theater that’s also open to the public. Can you tell me a little about that?

A: It’s the Sieminski Theater, and it’s truly a community theater, a real professional theater. It’s 257 seats. No bad seat in the house. It has a stage, a fly space — that’s the space over the stage where you can swing things and pull things up and so forth.

Q: Professional show biz, in other words.

A: Right. And we have a wonderful talent. We have a local community theater group that performs there, called Trilogy [Repertory]. We have a professional equity theater group called American Theatre Group that performs there. They just did a performance of Oarade at the theater. I’m sure you’ve heard about that, and how that is now coming on Broadway. It was just a fabulous performance — a full house each night that they had it. And we have Light Opera of New Jersey that performs there. The New Jersey Festival Orchestra performs there every year. And many other talents come into the theater.

Yes, that’s open to the greater community as well. It’s housed on the campus of Fellowship Village, one of our communities in Basking Ridge. So those residents have easy access to that as well.

But that’s what people are looking for. I mean, not just people that live in our communities, but everyone. They want arts and culture. They want wellness and fitness. They want engagement. We’re adding a pickleball court to the fellowship. That’s the type of engagement and lifestyle people are looking for.

Q: What it sounds like you’re talking about, is that this isn’t the conception that most people have of a senior living facility. This sounds like a basic multifamily residential development with all the kinds of things that you’re talking about.

A: It’s a continuation of the community that you’ve always lived in, but with more access to things, like, we have five-star indoor/outdoor dining. We have a bar at the community, and we’re adding that in other communities. The pool, the fitness center, the theater, the pickleball court, the walking trails. The list goes on and on.

It’s just a continuation of your existing lifestyle. Your lifestyle is not changed because of your age. You want to continue accessing the same type of hospitality services that you always access throughout your life.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 8:47 a.m. ET on June 6, 2023, to correct the spelling of Sieminski Theater.