I had always found it a joy, a delight, and an honor to work with senior living communities and services all over the country; however, I had never worked within senior living in my home base of Lake County, Illinois. So, in 2007, with this conviction and desire to serve within Lake County, I met with my State Senator and State Representative with a simple request: how could I benefit senior living initiatives in Lake County?
Their response was clear and quick. They immediately made a referral to the Board and Leadership of Lake County. Soon, a Lake County Board member met with me about needs and concerns related to Winchester House that was owned and operated by Lake County since 1850. He asked me to consider serving on its newly formed Advisory Board. A couple of leaders from Lake County also met with me and soon the opportunity to serve on this newly formed board became reality.
The Board member described a Winchester House that was losing over $7 million a year. The current facility needed a serious overhaul to continue offering services for the years to come, which would cost the county even more money to fix. To counteract these rapidly increasing costs, the Board voted to build a new Winchester House on county land, which was near the current skilled nursing facility.
I had driven by Winchester House for decades and knew of its wonderful reputation in the community and throughout Lake County. In fact, I remember bringing a singing group to Winchester House for a program years ago.
At the first meeting of the Winchester House Advisory Board (WHAB), the members of the WHAB elected me as Chair.. At that time, I never imagined that five of us around the table would be part of the WHAB for nearly fourteen years. It was clear from the first meeting that the passion of the WHAB was to implement positive changes that sustained and strengthened the mission of Winchester House so that the facility could best serve the senior population in Lake County – with a focus on elders in financial need – for decades to come.
Here are a few notable outcomes we achieved while working diligently together on the WHAB:
- We regularly reviewed Winchester House financial statements with the administration and county leadership during every board meeting. Slowly but surely, the Winchester House financial picture steadily improved in a manner consistent with honoring and respecting residents who had little-to-no financial resources.
- We held numerous meetings to focus on how to move forward with the new, approved Winchester House building plans. Our times together included several outside presentations to discuss the best building size, design, feasibility, etc.
- Our ongoing monitoring of the senior living environment – particularly in Illinois – resulted in a major change in direction. We decided to recommend to the Lake County Board not to proceed with the new building plans for Winchester House on county land. Changes in projected occupancy, major ongoing changes in the long-term care payment systems, and anticipated costs of a new Winchester House all contributed to this change in direction. This decision by the WHAB was followed by a recommendation to turn over the operations of Winchester House to a management company which the Lake County Board approved.
- To find the best management company for Winchester House, the due diligence process included travel across Wisconsin and Illinois to other senior communities that were being operated by potential management company candidates.
- Throughout this time, the WHAB and County Leadership continued meeting with Winchester House leadership and administration. In addition to reviewing the most recent financial results, we would review survey results, promote person-centered initiatives, follow up with resident inquiries, and many other agenda items. We met with Lake County Board committees as needed and as requested. Soon, our discussion returned to the long-term future of Winchester House.
- Together, the WHAB recommended that the Lake County Board begin a process for reviewing and selecting a management company that would commit to a new Winchester House building project while taking the County totally out of Winchester House ownership and operations. The Lake County Board supported and approved this recommendation.
- In the summer of 2020, the WHAB journey came to a respectful and successful conclusion. Thrive, a new community located not far from Winchester House, gladly welcomed the remaining residents and staff from Winchester House into its doors along with new residents as the old Winchester House permanently closed.
- In late August of 2021, the Lake County Board held a formal farewell event for Winchester House. Steve Carlson (the board member who first met with me years ago) gave a moving presentation that included the work of the WHAB throughout the years.
Throughout this entire Winchester House journey, I am very grateful and thankful to God for all those who played such a key role along the way. Their diligence and teamwork resulted in:
- Saving Lake County millions of dollars throughout the years in operating costs, improving the overall operations of Winchester House and in the critical decision not to build a new Winchester House on county land owned and operated by the county.
- Thrive, a wonderful community that is well-positioned to serve its senior residents and carry out the original Winchester House mission for years and decades to come.
When I first began to serve on the Winchester House Advisory Board, it was the desire of my wife and me that when we would ever leave Lake County, we would leave something behind that would benefit people in the senior living arena for years and decades to come – and that’s what happened. We are so grateful to have been a part of this amazing and exciting team endeavor.
The amazing story of Winchester House in Lake County would never have happened, if it weren’t for the years of teamwork and dedication from a number of groups, including the Winchester House Advisory Board, the ongoing commitment of the Lake County Board (through the good times and bad), the passion of Lake County United for sustaining the mission of Winchester House, the Winchester House residents, staff, leadership, the management and development teams, and so many other key stakeholders.
This writing could not be concluded without expressing thanks to Monica – a long-term resident of Winchester House. Monica represented the residents at our meetings. Her opinions and thoughts were clearly expressed. Her passion and love for the staff and other residents at Winchester House came through loud and clear. Her desire to see a new Winchester House that not only sustained the mission but strengthened and sustained the mission for the long-term was always at the forefront of her mind. Although Monica did not physically cross the finish line with us, somehow, someway perhaps she knows — and she is smiling.
With Gratitude and Thanks
The Other Four Members of The WHAB who served throughout the entire journey and experienced the joy of crossing the finish line together.
The Lake County Board
Lake County United
Lake County Leadership and Staff who worked with the WHAB
Other Individuals who served on the WHAB during a portion of the journey
The Villages of Libertyville and Mundelein
The Winchester House leadership and management teams
The Winchester House Residents and Staff
The Member of the Advisory Board who succeeded me as Chair when we moved to Minnesota in August of 2017
The opportunity to continue to serve as a member of the WHAB after our move
Management and Development Company Leadership and Teams
One final thought. The Chair of the WHAB – when speaking at the farewell to Winchester House – mentioned that she had a daughter in junior high when the Winchester House journey began and now she is a grandma. This just shows the time commitment and dedication that went into this entire process.