According to the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day. The influx of demand on retirement living spaces, healthcare, and continuing education has necessitated innovation in a field that has remained stagnant for decades. As people live longer, a renewed focus has been placed on making the golden years even more joyful than the lives that have led up to retirement years.
One organization that has continued to evolve its opportunities for its residents is Sunrise Senior Living. For over 35 years, the company that Paul and Terry Klaassen founded to champion quality of life for all seniors has found ways to help them live as fulfilling lives as possible, no matter the independence level of its residents.
One of Sunrise’s principles of service is “At Sunrise, options are a way of life.” The company operates a wide range of facilities ranging from retirement communities to assisted living to memory and specialized care, as well as comfort care.
For over 20 years, more than half of Sunrise’s entire existence, Jim Clark has served as senior director of facility management for the company. Clark oversees facilities as well as environmental oversight for all senior living facilities both in the US and abroad. That’s 350 separate retirement communities in 4 different countries.
Clark’s enduring commitment to care and service dates back to his youth. His father owned several truck stops and gas stations. The young Clark was always tinkering with mechanical work and at 14, he secured a job learning both the mechanical and electrical trades.
The trades are an especially salient passion point for Clark, as one of his continuing challenges at Sunrise is filling the open maintenance direction positions. There just aren’t enough people pursuing the trades to fill all the jobs that are available. College wasn’t the path for Clark, and it’s not the right path for many others. The senior director hopes more might consider the option as a viable opportunity for consistent and meaningful work.
Consistency also seems to be one of Clark’s calling cards. At Sunrise, he has partnered with the same architecture firm. Every single one of his 11 regional directors started as maintenance directors. The senior director says this is exactly the point. Don’t just think about the job today, think about where it can lead you.
Prior to coming to Sunrise, Clark scaled his work from running maintenance operations for a small hospital all the way up to Marriott Management Services which included a hospital with over 500 beds. The average stay there was around two-and-a-half days. At Sunrise, Clark interacts with the same residents for years. It means following through for his clients is essential in his role, and maintaining, not always the auspices of a facilities director, is critical.
While Clark considers himself in the twilight of his career, 2020 did provide a slate of challenges for which the director didn’t have much prior experience to rely on. The COVID-19 pandemic required the facilities team at Sunrise to address issues and solve problems that simply were not previously part of its tasks. The company consistently updated its operating guidelines. At times, residents were unable to engage in indoor or outdoor group activities, occupy common areas, or engage in community outings.
While everyone felt some level of isolation during the pandemic, it’s impossible to underestimate just how cut off many in the senior community felt from the rest of the world, and it’s not something Sunrise took lightly. With vaccination rates of its communities at appropriate levels, Sunrise was able to return to what it calls its “New Normal” in accordance with local and federal guidelines.
The facilities team’s current initiatives include surveying new cleaning technologies including electrostatic sprayers for sanitization and air bipolar ionization technology that takes oxygen molecules from the air, converts them into charged atoms that then surround microparticles, finally clustering and deactivating harmful substances like bacteria, harmful mold, allergens, and viruses.
Along with the chaos of a year shrouded in pandemic, Clark has continued to find ways to give back to his own community. The senior director acts as a mentor for the Franklin Covey Institute which provides leadership, guidance, and education for professionals. Clark says he’d love to mentor a young professional early in their career and pass along the accumulated knowledge that has undoubtedly touched thousands, if not millions, of lives.