As you may have seen, we recently announced the hiring of Lauren Houlik. We chatted with Lauren to learn more about her background, what motivates her and how growing up in a musical family influences her work in senior living market research.
Love & Company: It impressed us that you’ve spent virtually your entire career in the senior living field. How did you get started in this sector?
Lauren Houlik (pronounced HOLE-ick):
“I didn’t feel a particular affinity toward senior living before I volunteered at a Pittsburgh-area nursing home for Medicaid patients, the St. Barnabas Nursing Home, in high school. It was an inadvertent discovery for me. I needed to fulfill a service requirement for Key Club and a friend of mine said, ‘Let’s go to St. Barnabas.’ We ended up having such a good time. I decided to apply for a job there in food service. We could tell that we made residents’ evenings better and we felt like we really made a difference.”
Love & Company: How did your experience at St. Barnabas guide you on the path toward a career in senior living?
“My experience there opened my eyes to the importance of helping people enjoy their retirement years, as well as helping seniors and younger adults live healthy and fulfilling lives while living at the home. We had some residents who were young, like in their 40s and 50s. Seeing folks make the best of it, particularly the long-time residents, opened my eyes to the possibilities despite what some (including myself back then) view as a pretty grim situation.
For example, I met a friend there named Donnie who moved into St. Barnabas when he was 23 because he was living with cerebral palsy. He was always funny, friendly, positive and left me feeling so glad that I had him in my life. Seeing him living his ‘best life’ there made me feel like others could too, and I wanted to be a part of helping them do so.
I also became aware of the dearth of options for older adults—and for younger people like Donnie living with physical limitations—and I wanted to make a difference. I have a passion for activism, and being at the nursing home sort of lit that fire for my career. I thought that I would have to become some sort of administrator to really be able to effect the change I wanted to make, so I pursued healthcare administration.”
Love & Company: So, from home in Pittsburgh as a young adult to a career in healthcare administration—what was your path to get there?
“I attended Syracuse University and got my bachelor’s degree in public health and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship. At Syracuse I also got more senior living experience by working as an administrative intern at the Menorah Park Senior Living Community and as a personal care assistant with AccessCNY, providing home care to adults with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and other physical limitations.
I capped my education with a master’s of business administration from the University of Rochester, and while earning that MBA, got more real-world experience as a program management associate with Evolent Health.”
Love & Company: So, seven years and three degrees later, you were ready to dive into healthcare admin full time. What came next?
“I pursued rotational training in acute care because I felt like I needed that ‘boots on the ground’ training. Vidant Health in Greenville, North Carolina, was a great choice for an immersive experience. It had recently divested itself of long-term care resources, and I got to see the challenges of placing rehab patients as a provider that did not have its own facilities to take them.
It really opened my eyes to how healthcare organizations can’t make long-term care profitable if they’re saddled with six- and seven-month stays. That was sort of an ‘aha’ moment. Health systems really need to align with post-acute care providers if they are to appropriately move people through the continuum.”
Love & Company: You said you had an “aha” moment—how did that change your career trajectory?
“Even as I gained experience as an administrative fellow at Vidant Health, which had an 1,100-bed hospital, being on the provider side felt really restrictive, and it was really tough to move the needle.
The organization would bring in consultants who had more pull than our internal team. So, learning a bit more about myself and my impatience, I realized that working in one health system or at one community wouldn’t be enough to make the change that I’d been wanting to make since my time at St. Barnabas. So, I shifted toward consultancy and took a senior living consultant role with DHG Healthcare in Atlanta.”
Love & Company: How did your shift to consultancy change how you approached your work in this field? Did you feel more empowered, more motivated, perhaps?
“Now officially as a consultant, I felt so much more qualified to make recommendations to senior living providers. Being able to move around and see so many different clients and communities really legitimized the experience for me. I was energized by empathy and a feeling of greater purpose, especially working with non-profit and mission-driven organizations.”
Love & Company: We heard that you come from a creative family. How did that guide your career path, and how does having two talented musicians as parents affect your approach to senior living market research?
“My parents advised me not to be the ‘whipped cream’ on the economy. Their careers—and some of the job instabilities that have come with them—showed me how to be resilient, and how I could still be creative in other ways. My sort of creative path was to study entrepreneurship and innovation as part of my master’s degree. I try to throw every idea out there and be creative with recommendations to clients as long as they aren’t ridiculous!”
Love & Company: Growing up with musicians as parents, you certainly had some experience in the creative arts as a child. Whenever we can host one of our drum circles in the office again, which instrument are you taking?
“I’ll take the floor tom. I like its heavy, round sound and it’s kind of the heartbeat of the percussion section—unless the bass drum is an option too!”
With several years of senior living consultancy now under her belt, Lauren is ready to help Love & Company provide thoughtful, yet data-driven recommendations to Life Plan Communities all over the country.
Her experience with market and pricing analyses, program planning, senior housing development strategies, and primary and secondary research makes us all the more excited to have her join our senior living market intelligence team alongside Karen Adams.