It’s hard to put in words what the last 12.5 years at The Ensign Group have meant to me (though I’ve tried many times to share bits and pieces on this blog) …
20 days ago, Ensign completed the spin-off of its real estate into a new, separate, independent real estate investment company specializing in senior housing & healthcare called CareTrust REIT.
The CEO of CareTrust is Greg Stapley. He’s an Ensign founder, primarily responsible for acquiring the portfolio Ensign has today. Early last year, as we were headed towards a sale of Doctors Express, Greg told me about the plans for the REIT and his likely departure from Ensign to run it. He asked me to join him. At that time, I joked that I still had PTSD from the prior 12 months (moving my family to Baltimore to run a business that we ended up selling a year later … and all the accompanying ups and downs) and that I needed time to clear my head before making a long-term decision.
Immediately after the sale of DRX, I went to work for Ensign in skilled nursing operations again in Colorado to fill in for a couple guys who left their buildings in Denver at the same time. What was to be a 30-60 day interim project turned into an 8 month assignment — that I absolutely loved (except for the commute). It was GREAT to be back in daily operations, especially with the devoted and talented “Ensignistas” in Denver. Ensign asked me to move to Colorado and oversee operations there after a short time but I felt like I needed more time to decide. I genuinely didn’t know what I wanted to do next.
After our relatively short time in Maryland, my wife and I wanted to stay here for many years to come. By the end of the summer, I had narrowed down the decision to 1) join Greg and build CareTrust together or 2) open a new market for Ensign’s operations here on the east coast.
Ultimately, I concluded that CareTrust was the right course for me and my family. Even though it’s based in So. Cal. like Ensign, I’ll be the east coast office as we look to acquire senior housing and healthcare properties nationwide.
When it comes to real estate, they say its location, location, location. But when it comes to skilled nursing real estate, its really operator, operator, operator. In a way, my role at CareTrust is similar to one of my roles at Ensign for those 5 years I led the new leader selection & training (AIT) efforts. Ensign’s growth strategy depended on the pipeline of homegrown talent to lead its new acquisitions. My role(s) at CareTrust will be to build a bullpen of exceptional operators across the country who we can confidently lease our new acquisitions to. After a couple of operator “interviews” its pretty clear to us that it “takes one to know one.” I commonly hear, “You’re the only REIT that’s asked us about X, Y, Z (In-house rehab, centralization v. decentralization, RU%, Culture, turnover, clinical support, PPDs, readmission rates, etc.)” So, I’ll be working on operator relations, business development, investment underwriting, and oversight of our 3 operating independent living facilities in Dallas and Salt Lake.
When I made my decision last fall to go to the REIT, I did so with mixed emotions. I have and will retain deep, meaningful friendships at Ensign. Today, I’m thrilled for this opportunity to build on what we built at Ensign with new partners, in new places, and in a new way.