For several years Jon Lundberg has been the chief operating officer at Ebenezer Foundation, the biggest senior-housing provider in Minnesota. He will soon succeed longtime Chief Executive Mark Thomas who will retire in a few months after completing Ebenezer’s centennial celebration capital campaign. We asked Lundberg about his career and the industry. Some excerpts from the conversation:
Q: Mark Thomas has led Ebenezer for an impressive 29 years. Will you bring a new leadership style to the job?
A: Mark and I have worked together for the past 10 years and were colleagues for a number of years before that. We are more similar than not.
Q: What single trait makes you qualified for this job?
A: I have had the opportunity of working in the senior-living field for now nearly 40 years. I began my work as a nursing assistant in high school and college and have worked every other role in between since then; as a result, I understand this work well. While I may have experience and history on my side, the success to any organization is in the staff of the operation who on a day-to-day basis ensure that we are creating great communities to live and work in. My strength will be in providing those quality caregivers the guidance and structure they may need to get their work done, and then get out of the way to let them do what they do best.
Q: Ebenezer serves roughly 10,000 seniors every day. What is the single biggest challenge when it comes to meeting their needs?
A: Staffing. Today, people are living longer than ever before and the 65-plus age group is expected to double. In the next 12 years 21 percent of Minnesotans will be 65 and over. Right now, we literally can’t hire people fast enough.
Q: How has the industry changed in the 100 years since Ebenezer was founded?
A: We have come a long way from the single-family home we started in 100 years ago. We now provide beautiful, comfortable and convenient options suited for older adults with varying financial means and expectations.
Q: What was Ebenezer’s role 100 years ago?
A: Our focus was to provide a home to homeless seniors. Back then our residents were housed dormitory style.
Q: And what about today?
A: Today’s seniors are looking for more than the basics. Ebenezer is growing because we are able to provide sustainable communities that give seniors the services and amenities they need and want. Working with a variety of developers, Ebenezer has created beautiful, apartments homes — with amazing amenities.
Ebenezer communities create an environment that fosters socialization, engagement and opportunities to learn and grow for our seniors. Just recently, we partnered with Minneapolis-based virtual-reality startup Visual to provide seniors in our Ebenezer Care Center with virtual reality experiences in order to improve their health and their lives.
Q: Is there a place in the market for age-restricted, 55-plus apartments with no services?
A: Absolutely, as the population ages there will be need for a wide variety of living and service delivery models. The baby boomers will expect as much choice and as many options as possible. And we will need to create as many possibilities in terms of living arrangements as well as financial levels. There will always be a place for that type of model. In fact more than 50 percent of our senior communities are independent 55-plus buildings. This model allows seniors to preserve their independence, by providing living spaces that can accommodate their changing physical needs. It also creates a “community of peers” to socialize with, while at the same time providing an underlying security system.
Q: How will the industry evolve?
A: Home- and community-based services will become a more significant focus. We will not be able to build enough of the bricks and mortar to meet these needs. We will need to be creative as to how we can serve people better in the community allowing as many as possible to age in place. Technology will be an important part of how we can make this happen. Being part of the Fairview Health System will be critical for us as we work to meet these changing market trends. In the future, I believe the industry will focus on how to provide community-based services that help keep seniors in their homes for as long as possible.
Q: What inspires you?
A: In my first job, I developed a strong bond with one of the men I cared for named Arthur. Arthur had limited mobility and speech due to a stroke. He taught me the power and value of human kindness and how no matter our age, ability or disability we all crave human connectedness. He taught me about loss and finding a way forward even when times or circumstances appear bleak. And, through my friendship with Arthur, I learned that in all we experience in life we must have the courage to listen, learn and act. Concepts I carry with me to this day.
Q: Did you intend to get in to the senior-housing business?
A: My first job in high school was as a nursing assistant in our local community nursing home. The work was hard and challenged me in many different ways, but I soon learned that I enjoyed the work and that in this field what I did could make a difference in the life of another. I found meaning, value and purpose something very important to me.