A New Leaf: Local senior living facilities rebrand, set sights on improved hospitality

Two senior living facilities in Traverse City are turning the page on a fresh start.

The properties, owned by local real estate developer Bill Clous, have operated for the past five years as Traverse Victorian Senior Living and Water’s Edge Senior Care, respectively. Clous still owns the properties, but management has been taken over by Jason Thibodeau and Amber Phillips. Traverse Victorian Senior Living, situated at the corner of Munson Avenue and Eighth Street, will be rebranded as Northern Star Assisted Living. Water’s Edge, which is located at 4612 US-31 South, is now Aurora Senior Living.

Previously, both senior living homes were hotels. The Traverse Victorian Inn occupied the Munson location, while the Gold Coast Inn was part of US-31’s hotel row. For Thibodeau, who owns The Parlor in Downtown Traverse City, the new chapter for both properties is an opportunity to combine their hospitality industry roots with their current status as senior living communities.

“Hospitality, to me, is about caring for people, and that’s always been my calling,” said Thibodeau. “I think it’s often forgotten, but senior care is hospitality. It’s about taking care of people and looking after their best interests. I think a lot of that is lost in the senior care industry. It becomes something different for people and comes to be viewed as ‘just a job.’ But it’s such hard work that it really can’t be ‘just a job.’ It has to be a passion. You have to love caring for people.”

The philosophy for the two rebranded properties is a combination between Thibodeau’s hospitality background and Phillips’ experience working in senior care. Phillips has a long history working in assisted living, skilled nursing, and caregiving. Most recently, she served as the administrator for The Villa at Traverse Point. When she was ready to trade her administrative responsibilities and get back to a more hands-on role in caring for the elderly, she teamed up with Thibodeau.

Together, Phillips and Thibodeau have approached Northern Star Assisted Living and Aurora Senior Living with the slogan “Care That Shines Brighter.” They’ve been working for about six months to reshape and rebrand the facilities – a process that Thibodeau describes as a “top-to-bottom” reset. They hired all new caregivers, trained the new staff, implemented a brand-new set of policies and procedures and brought in a team of full-time maintenance workers and housekeepers to “whip the buildings into shape.” Both facilities saw their official grand openings in January.

The one thing that didn’t change much was the resident list. Thibodeau says that most of the residents of Traverse Victorian and Water’s Edge decided to stay put through the rebranding after hearing what he and Phillips had in the works. “They were able to see the difference, that we were going to offer better care and more attentiveness,” he said.

At both Northern Star and Aurora, there are now monthly “resident council meetings,” where residents can bring up changes that they would like to see in and around the facilities. There are also focused dietary meetings, for residents to suggest potential changes to the way the facilities handle food service. Already, both senior living communities have new cooks on the payroll and brand-new menus, as well as an improved in-room food service option to ensure that meals are hot when they get to residents.

“We’ve been stopped by residents and thanked for listening to them, for hearing what they have to say,” Thibodeau said. “And that’s the difference between the hospitality industry and doing something like this just as a business.”

Thibodeau and Phillips also have big plans for the future of Northern Star and Aurora. Now that the facilities have been rebranded and are officially up and running, the management team is looking to incorporate new offerings and selling points. One idea is to install gardening boxes for the residents, so they can plant and grow their own flowers or herbs. Thibodeau also wants to emphasize offerings like Northern Star’s “Serenity Suites” – large, well-appointed private suites for families with loved ones in hospice care.

Also in the works is a plan to make Northern Star and Aurora more family-friendly. Thibodeau says both facilities will soon have on-property children’s play structures, so that residents will have a good place to visit with their grandchildren. The family-friendly focus extends to employees, as well – including an innovative strategy inspired by this winter’s many snow days.

“Next winter season, we intend to implement an in-house program which will allow our team members to bring their children to work when a snow day happens,” Thibodeau said. “This will allow our team to continue care for the residents while allowing residents time to enjoy with youthful children. There are some interesting studies that support the positive effects of having children and elderly together.”