Lessons From a Wellness Leader: At John Knox Village, Excellence in Life Enrichment Leads to Strong Census and High Engagement

Jul 13, 2023 | Healthcare Marketing

By Rob Love, President, Love & Company


Over the past 20 years, fitness centers in Life Plan Communities have undergone a major transformation, adding state-of-the-art equipment in large rooms with lots of natural light and enhancing personal training programs. But to truly meet the wellness needs and expectations of today’s and tomorrow’s prospective residents, community wellness programs need to go well beyond offering strong fitness programs.
In this, the first of a two-part series on exceptional wellness programs, we take a look at the life enrichment program at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, Florida. In a follow-up blog, we will take a close look at Meadowood in Worcester, Pennsylvania. Both communities received the 2022 ICAA (International Council on Active Aging) NuStep Pinnacle Award as one of the top five senior living communities for wellness in North America.

Establishing The Vision

“Back in 2015, Love & Company conducted an extensive pricing and positioning analysis that showed us how we compared to the competition, and in what areas we were lacking,” said Monica Morrissey McAfee, John Knox Village’s chief marketing and innovation officer. “As the market’s desires shifted from healthcare to health and wellness, we knew we needed to build up that part of the community’s value proposition. So, we started a major transformation of not only our wellness programming, but our physical spaces as well.”

Today, John Knox Village’s Life Enrichment programming starts during the initial sales process, then runs through all facets of community life. “Our life plan counselors do a great job of discovery during the sales process,” said Jamison Becker, the director of marketing innovation, who oversees the community’s life enrichment program. “Information on each new resident’s interests is sent to all departments.”

“We then do individual evaluations of each new resident,” said Marsha Dixon, fitness and aquatics lifestyle manager for John Knox Village. “It’s research-based and lets them know where they are physically and how we can keep them living independently, because that’s their number one goal. For one resident, maybe their goal is just to be able to walk up stairs on their own. For another, maybe they want to play pickleball, so we ensure they have the strength and stamina to do that. We look at their balance, upper and lower body strength, and endurance, then put together an exercise prescription based on what we learned.”

Extending Beyond Fitness

As with other ICAA NuStep Pinnacle Award winners, John Knox Village’s offerings go far beyond fitness. Rachael Gallagher, Spiritual Life director, shared that, “One of the things I like to say is, ‘Even if you think you’re not spiritual, we all have a spirit, and it needs to be cared for.’ That is what Spiritual Life does here. It’s going to be totally different for every resident, but all under the guise of what gives you meaning in life, and what makes you feel like you’re fulfilling your purpose.”

“Our focus on comprehensive wellness also affected our vision for our physical spaces,” added Ms. Becker. “We knew that people were very interested in the arts, so we very intentionally built our Cultural Arts Center, where we now regularly offer Broadway-caliber shows and other educational and entertainment productions. We very intentionally built our dining venues. We went from an office-sized fitness center to a 6,000-square-foot fitness studio. And our aquatics center is just amazing.”

Complex Wellness for Higher Levels of Care

Like many communities, John Knox Village’s wellness programs are not just limited to independent living residents. Gloria Gantes, meaningful life manager at the community, shared her philosophy towards offering recreation therapy and other programs to residents of assisted living and skilled nursing. “I follow the flow theory. When an individual’s challenges and skills meet, then that individual reaches their full potential. They reach the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. That’s what we strive to do: develop their skills to meet their challenges.”

Continuous Evolution

John Knox Village’s program is far from static. With a continual focus on evolving and improving, the community conducts an annual, off-campus retreat of all department managers to explore how they can further integrate offerings between departments. It then holds monthly manager meetings to evaluate how the programs are doing.

A challenge of all wellness programs is to be able to effectively track and measure engagement. While the hope is that programs will soon be available to automate more of this, today much of the community’s tracking requires hands-on compilation. John Knox Village tracks and monitors key performance indicators on participation levels and reports the results to its board committee every other month. It uses CareMerge to track event registration and attendance, and is also partnering with Dr. Mike Roizen of the Great Age Reboot to beta-test an app that will help the community evaluate its ability to meet its goals. They hope that the app will be ready for full implementation in 2024.

A Strong ROI

Is this investment in comprehensive wellness programs paying off? At John Knox Village, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Ms. Morrissey McAfee shared the impact the life enrichment programming has had on the community. “Since that study, back in 2015, our census has risen from the low 80%s to as high as 94%. In addition, our commitment to innovation in our life enrichment program has helped us broaden our target demographic. We are now serving a more diverse resident base, especially the LGBTQ+ community.”

What is the future of the Life Enrichment program at John Knox Village? “We see ourselves evolving toward more of a Canyon Ranch model,” said Ms. Morrissey McAfee of the popular wellness retreat. “This is what we feel people are really interested in—developing a whole plan for their whole life. Our new residents are getting younger and younger, and they are very intentional about what they want the next part of their life to be. They just aren’t sure how to do it. That’s what our job is: to bring it all together and help them live the lives they envision.”

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