Headshot of Joe Pohlen, smiling in a collared shirt and tie with an orange microphone to the left of the image

The FORT Podcast: Joe Pohlen

Today’s episode features Joe Pohlen, Founder and Partner of Cardinal Senior Management, an assisted living company operating facilities in Michigan and Pennsylvania. 

On this episode, Chris and Joe dive into the different levels of senior care and look into how Joe’s facilities look and operate. Joe describes the process of acquiring buildings, the sales process of adding residents, and how they focus on maintaining the dignity of the resident above all else. They also have a sobering discussion on just how hard the pandemic hit seniors.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts

(03:18) – Joe’s Background and Career

(05:46) – What’s court-appointed receivership?

(06:28) – Is there anything really important you learned from working in business receivership?

(07:23) – How do you define assisted living and what are the different buckets of senior living?

(09:20) – When do you know it’s time to move from assisted living into a nursing home?

(09:46) – How old is your average resident and why are there more females than males?

(10:28) – How do you find a deal when you want to acquire facilities and what does a deal look like to you?

(13:33) – How do you finance your deals?

(14:16) – What’s usually going on at the facility when you find a deal you like?

(15:52) – What are you doing on Day 1 after you close?

(18:12) – What kind of work do your salespeople do?

(18:50) – Who brought this sales-driven philosophy into the organization?

 (19:49) – How does taking over a new property work in terms of existing staff and training?

(20:34) – What do your lease-up plans look like?

(21:22) – How long have leasers planned on coming to Cardinal before signing?

(22:52) – How many people come in against their will?

(23:07) – How do you get these people comfortable with living there?

(24:18) – What activities can residents participate in?

(25:25) – What happens on holidays?

(26:32) – How do you get paid?

(27:11) – Is there a doctor on staff that prescribes medication and how do staff administer medications?

(29:11) – Are there upsells on the sales side of Cardinal?

(30:15) – How are residents able to afford this rent?

(31:44) – How does medication arrive at pharmacies and then your facilities?

(32:22) – What do the resident’s kids care about the most?

(34:37) – What are some of the lingo and sandboxes that people don’t understand at the beginning?

(35:23) – What are your fixed and variable costs?

(36:04) – Is your business a target for legal issues?

(37:26) – What are some reasons you could get sued?

(38:01) – Why is keeping the resident’s dignity your main focus?

(39:54) – What brings you joy in this job?

(41:07) – The Red, Green, Yellow HR Function for Staff

(42:42) – What does a unit look like?

(43:11) – What are residents not allowed to have?

(43:46) – How do you manage bedtime and do many residents need care throughout the night?

(44:34) – What does the food look like?

(45:54) – How quickly between meeting with a potential resident do they move in?

(46:20) – How do you get people comfortable with the reality of death in your business?

(48:11) – What happens when someone passes away in your building?

(49:23) – What was happening in your world during COVID?

(58:30) – What was it like to be a resident the past 6-8 months?

(1:00:26) – How did vaccine administrations work?

(1:01:36) – What did the past year teach you about leadership?

(1:03:46) – Is there any technology on the horizon that will have a profound impact on your industry?

(1:07:22) – Does dating and marriage happen with residents?

(1:08:08) – Population and Age Stats of the Boomer & Silent Generation

(1:09:07) – With people living longer, how will people be able to afford so many years of care?

(1:10:06) – What do the next 10 years look like to you?

(1:10:43) – How would you be valued with 50 properties?

(1:11:56) – What happens to prisoners when they get really old?

(1:12:50) – What’s your perspective on the world when you spend so much time with the elderly?

(1:14:50) – How many deals will you do this year?

(1:15:02) – Is there more opportunity out there for you right now?

(1:15:57) – Do you plan on staying in assisted living or do you want to go into nursing homes or independent living?

(1:17:27) – Is there anything from a government standpoint that you would like to see changed?

Twitter Questions

(1:18:58) – How can people experiencing poverty sustainably afford assisted living?

(1:19:39) – How do you approach the distributed nature of your business?

(1:20:33) – What’s going to happen in 15 years with the largest population aging into assisted-living eligible?

Personal Questions

(1:21:47) – Do you have a morning routine?

(1:22:33) – Did you have a childhood experience that led you to be such a great leader?

(1:23:50) – If someone was getting into your industry, what’s the best advice you can give them?

(1:25:02) – How can people reach you?


Episode Summary

Embarking on a journey into the operational, financial, and ethical facets of managing assisted living facilities, Joe shares his experiences and learnings from his tenure in the industry. A pivotal theme that emerges early in the discourse is the imperative of navigating through the balance between ensuring safety and respecting the autonomy and privacy of residents. Joe sheds light on the complexities of managing the varied social dynamics, relationships, and interpersonal interactions within the facilities, ensuring that they are consensual, safe, and respectful of the resident’s autonomy and personal lives. This narrative underscores the multifaceted management approach that intertwines ensuring physical safety while also respecting and facilitating the social and personal lives of the residents.

Diving deeper into the operational aspects, Joe emphasizes the criticality of a human touch in managing assisted living facilities, underscoring the necessity of empathy, tailored care, and a deep understanding of each resident’s unique needs and circumstances. The discussion navigates through the challenges and ethical considerations of managing health declines and end-of-life scenarios, reflecting the emotional and operational sensitivity required to manage these critical and sensitive phases with compassion, ethicality, and operational efficacy.

The financial strategies and risk management practices employed in managing and operating assisted living facilities are dissected, with Joe elucidating the approaches towards financing, managing financial risks, and navigating through varied market and economic conditions. The discussion underscores the significance of strategic financial planning and adept management to navigate through market fluctuations and economic challenges, ensuring operational viability and sustained quality of care for residents.

A philosophical approach towards staff management and organizational culture is brought to the fore, with Joe highlighting the importance of building a culture of respect, value, and appreciation for staff. Contrasting prevalent industry practices of underappreciation and undervaluation, Joe underscores the imperative of ensuring that staff are motivated, valued, and empowered, ensuring the delivery of optimal care for residents and maintaining high operational and care quality standards.

In discussing future aspirations and anticipated challenges, Joe shares insights into the strategic approach towards managing and expanding assisted living facilities, ensuring that growth does not compromise the quality of care and management in existing facilities. He highlights the importance of ensuring that expansions are sustainable, structured, and do not dilute the operational quality and efficacy of existing facilities, maintaining a steadfast commitment to delivering high-quality care and operational excellence.

The FORT with Chris Powers is produced by Straight Up Podcasts

Back to Top