The Evergreens

Doug Halvorsen has a lot to say about what The Evergreens, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Moorestown, NJ for which Halvorsen serves as CEO and president, is not. “This is not God’s waiting room,” he declares, unprompted, while standing in The Evergreens’ main lobby.

The Evergreens, he mentions later, is also not an abode exclusively for wealthy retirees. Moorestown is well-known for being an affluent South Jersey town and, as you may recall, was named the best place to live in America by Money magazine in 2005. The Evergreens is not without its prestige either: the federal government and US News & World Report have both awarded the community a five-star rating.

But while Halvorsen concedes that some of his senior citizen residents are indeed “very wealthy,” and live in 1,800-square-foot apartments, he insists that’s not the norm. As proof, he offers up the fact that his own mother and father, a former schoolteacher and pastor, respectively, once lived there. “So I think two of the perceptions that we have to struggle with,” says Halvorsen, “is one, that if you move here you’re dead, which just isn’t true. And the other is if you move here you must be wealthy, and that’s not true either.”

A Place Anyone Can Call Home

He rattles off a variety of residents: admirals, firemen, chemists, Joe Holman of the Holman Automotive Group of car dealerships, even Dietz and Watson’s Mama Dietz. Some of them retired before coming to The Evergreens, others continued to work while living in the supposed “retirement” community. Some are full-time residents; others split their time between The Evergreens and their homes off campus. In recent years there has been a generational mix as the baby boomers join the members of The Greatest Generation.

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Doug Halvorsen

Exactly what residents want The Evergreens to provide them with differs for each individual. Halvorsen calls the full package of what his community provides “senior living,” which encompasses hospitality, housing, healthcare and everything else people need in their everyday lives.

“I’m very sensitive to the confusion in the marketplace,” he says of the fragmentation of those services at retirement homes such as Brandywine in Kennett Square, PA. “What do you get? In some situations you only get service if you have already had the train wreck. Folks come here and may never even use healthcare, they may or may not. Folks may come here and use the level of healthcare that is required by their care needs, and people move back and forth between the two.”

Take Dick Meehan, for instance. The 85-year-old has been an Evergreens resident for the past 11 years and claims his day-to-day life didn’t change much when he moved in. Meehan describes himself as “very active.” He still belongs to a country club, frequently golfs and travels to places like Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.

Still, he’s not as young as he used to be. It’s a reality he couldn’t ignore when he had a little fall at The Evergreens. A security staff member helped him up, and summoned the head nurse and practitioner, who showed up with a copy of his health records. The immediate availability of that kind of care whenever the need for it arose is why Meehan and his wife came to The Evergreens in the first place.

“Whenever we needed it,” says Meehan. “We didn’t need it the day we came in, but I didn’t realize how much help was waiting to be given to me. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

Meehan admits he hasn’t “always been a happy camper,” at his home for the past decade and change, “but only because I hadn’t really understood community living.”

After committing himself to going out of his way to make his fellow residents smile every day, Meehan slowly adapted. As a result, he was able to build a sort of extended family at the CCRC. “You don’t realize that at first, but I know everyone. If someone goes over to healthcare, I go over and visit them. Not because I have to, but because I want to. So it’s a different feeling. You feel for the people who are your neighbors.”

A Supportive Community

Like Meehan, Nicole Albrecht has been at The Evergreens for 11 years, but not as a resident. Though her job has changed several times since she came on board, Albrecht is currently the Director of Administrative Services. She attributes the kind of first-class care Meehan experienced to Doug Halvorsen’s genuine concern for his residents rubbing off on the entire staff.

She says that Halvorsen is “available, and you have access to him anytime you need access,” no matter where you sit on The Evergreens’ organizational chart. And while she believes Halvorsen is “100 percent” invested in residents’ well-being, Albrecht credits the entire staff for helping keep everyone with an Evergreens address comfortable, cared for and active. “We’re all here together trying to make our little town within a town function every day,” she says.

Stepping back and letting his people do their thing doesn’t come naturally to Halvorsen. He recalls a trip with his wife to the Midwest some years ago: When a hurricane hit back in Jersey he wanted to cut the vacation short and head back. His wife asked if he’d hired well. When Halvorsen replied that he had hired the best, she told him, bluntly, “Then leave them the hell alone.”

Conversely to this conscious effort to leave his employees alone, Halvorsen has spent his 16 years running The Evergreens always refining how he helps residents live active lifestyles. Some residents are the type of people who naturally gravitate towards living actively, but others need some support.

“One of the worst things you can do is approach retirement as if it’s really shutting down and retiring,” Halvorsen claims. Baby boomers are seen as a generation that has refused to accept old age. And while Father Time catches up with all of us eventually, elder boomers find themselves questioning what to do now that they’re reaching their golden years.

Like Dick Meehan, fellow resident Patty Rogers has found the answer to that question at The Evergreens. “It’s very busy,” she says. “I think I need a secretary. It’s busier than when I worked, and it’s things that I choose—except today I’m going to the dentist. But every day there’s something.”

Rogers mentions some activities you might expect a retiree to take up, like mahjong and dominoes. But she says there are many different options, including an acting studio. The Evergreens recently played host to the concertmaster from the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Rogers says there are lots of entertainment opportunities “if you like the classics.” Then she leans forward a bit and confides that she wants “them to bring in more rock and roll.”

The Best Laid Plans

Rogers’ predilection to having her specific desires catered to is really no different than what anyone—young or old—would want from any service provider in an ideal. It also speaks to something Halvorsen would later say about expectations. Though he sat on The Evergreens’ board before taking over as president and CEO, Halvorsen had no experience in senior care prior to that.

He’d worked in healthcare since 1976 and had a private practice in which he worked as a family therapist, but senior living was a new challenge for him. Like most outsiders integrating themselves into something new, Halvorsen came to The Evergreens with certain biases and expectations. He thought he knew what seniors would and would not like and what they would and would not be capable of. He was wrong.

“You really have to throw all your expectations out the door, because it’s so trite. People are really different.” It became clear that his job wasn’t to create a community for a certain stereotype or even a single type of community. His vision and strategic planning for The Evergreens must take all residents’ needs into account.

Since aging is an impossible thing to predict, he does it by trying to treat the soul. It’s a sensible approach considering that he also happens to be an Episcopal priest, though, of course, not all of those under his care follow the same religion. Furthermore, though he does occasionally celebrate the sacraments at The Evergreens, giving out the host as a priest one day and handing down a fee increase as a CEO the next can be an awkward situation. It’s a struggle, but Halvorsen says he always takes both sides into consideration when thinking about how best to help aging seniors given the constant fluctuations of their expectations and the state of healthcare at large.

He references New York City Fire Department Chaplain Father Mychal Judge, who lost his life on 9/11. Judge had a saying that Halvorsen applies to his own line of work: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for tomorrow.”

www.evergreens.org