Marie-Josee Lafontaine, Scarborough Retirement Residence
On her life in senior care, increased segmentation in senior living, and an integration of public health and private sectors
In our Inspiring Leaders Series, we interview visionaries driven by a passion for excellence that’s manifest in Canada’s most innovative retirement communities.
Thought Leadership at Scarborough Retirement Residence
"I think innovation is oxygen! For us to breathe life into our sector, for us to evolve and to change and mature and to grow, we have to have innovation. I think that this is an exciting time because we're fostering all that innovation. There's an appetite for it and there's some competition. I'm really excited about where we are currently."
At Scarborough Retirement Residence, owner Marie-Josee Lafontaine's deeply personal commitment to excellence finds new expression in advocating for deeper relations between the private and public health care sector. She sees this as having potential to transform the industry. Below, in the transcribed interview, Ms. Lafontaine shares some of her personal history, changes she’s seen, and those she’s currently pushing forward.
How did your career in this industry begin? [0:45]
I would say that officially, I probably started around 13 years old or 12 years old when I started to work my summers in a long-term care facility that was located in Rosebank [editor: this is a neighbourhood in Pickering]. So, that's really going back quite some time, really having that kind of an experience that I was really lucky to have, [that] I'm very, very fortunate to have.
I think it kind of gave me a lens that was a little unique, certainly a lens that was different from my friends as I was growing up. And it really introduced me to, you know, really my own [personal] call to action. I liked helping people. It called out to me. It spoke to me. It resonated with me. And so, I definitely developed a passion for seniors at a very, very young age.
[1:42] We started as a family business operating long-term care facilities first. And that goes back to 1958-1959. Over the years, my mother and father ran a company that had a little over 2200 beds across the province in small communities. The company was called Community Life Care. It [was sold.]
[With respect to Scarborough Retirement Residence], I wasn't ready to retire. I loved the business and I wanted to be able to continue to make a difference. It was really important for me to continue being involved, to practice a little bit of the legacy that I inherited, that I love so much, and to see if I could actually continue to move the dial.
How important is innovation in senior care? [2:33]
Well, I think innovation is oxygen! For us to breathe life into our sector, for us to evolve and to change and mature and to grow, we have to have innovation.
I think that this is an exciting time because we're fostering all that innovation. There's an appetite for it and there's some competition. I'm really excited about where we are currently.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry? [3:14]
The biggest change that's happening is really with the consumer. What are their needs, and what do they want, and what are their expectations? And so, we're probably going to see a little bit more diversity of product because there's going to be a larger, more visible segmentation of our senior market that is going to be attracted or is going to need different products. One size will not fit all.
How does your personal history drive changes at Scarborough Retirement Residence? [3:38]
Well, I think it drives every decision that I make. Over the years, I've seen some of the mistakes that we've made as a sector, or decisions that we've made naively as operators, and we've evolved. The sector has matured. A lot of the legislations that have come over the years have helped us to rise up to the quality of care that we deliver. Market changes and demands, I think, have contributed to that. And competition definitely has helped with us [improve] the quality of care that we give. And we're still evolving. We're still learning. We're still becoming better at what we do. So when we know better, we do better.
How does advocacy set you apart from other operators? [4:28]
I think one of the things that we looked at this as being sort of a unique contribution is participating with the Ontario Health team and being a partner in that for the Scarborough region. There are several operators that are involved that have retirement homes, but they are mostly representing the long-term care sector because the Ontario Health team is really a publicly is for the publicly funded resources in the health care system.
I felt that the retirement home, which really represents the private sector, really needs to have a voice at the table, because we have the same client. And we want to make sure that we can provide some of the resources, the publicly funded resources, that we can bring them into the community better than we currently are. And that is a way of advocating.
I wanted to be a good partner in this Scarborough Health Network and I [wanted to know] what is it that we would need, so that we can do a better job in navigating the care of our seniors.
I think they’re just starting to warm up to it and adopt it. But we started that two years ago, so I'm really proud.
The biggest change that's happening is really with the consumer. What are their needs, and what do they want, and what are their expectations? We're probably going to see more diversity of product because there's going to be a larger, more visible segmentation of our senior market that is going to be attracted or is going to need different products.
What’s unique about the culture and values at Scarborough Retirement Residence? [6:00]
Culture is born out of the spirit of family, and so we really do see and act and behave very much like a family, very inclusive. We are very transparent. We do involve the residents to have a voice, and to help us do the job that we do. They really do inform us. We involve the families in a way that I think is very, very healthy. We see ourselves as an extension of the family. I'm happy to say that the families feel the same way and so do the residents. We must have achieved something because everybody feels quite familial. I think our management style is also quite familial. We have employees that have been with us since we opened the doors.
It comes from the moment that they actually walk in through the door. We want to know their story.
Yes, they want to move, and yes, we want to facilitate it. And yes, we have the clicks and bricks and we can show them the amenities and their suite and where they're going to live. But really, it's knowing what their story is. And when we really sit down and we listen to the story, we're telling them that we're really interested in them.
[7:24] And I think we just change the conversation. We change it from, what room do you have available, to what's important to you? Tell me a little bit more about you. Perhaps the best way to approach this is to maybe echo what we're told. They teach us what we're doing right. They teach us what we're not doing right, but they teach us and tell us what we're doing right, too.
What recent changes distinguish your community? [7:48]
If there's anything that would be different is that we're introducing a couple of new things. One, we introduced a new clinical tool on our Point click care system, which is for a Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA). And in concert with that, we also introduced the Frailty Scale, to determine where they are in terms of their own frailty or wellness, and to determine what sort of services that they would probably be more likely to need and require.
What changes are you currently driving? [8:33]
By way of policy, by way of what we're able to bring to the marketplace and deliver in terms of partnerships, that is something that I think we still need to get the Ministry [of Health, Ontario -ed], to have a conversation with the private sector to see if there is something that we can do together. I believe that there is. I don't think that we should be mutually exclusive from one another. I think we have to find a way to come together.
What inspires you? [9:10]
I want to have a resident [who], when I hold their hand and I look at them and as soon as they say thank you. That's everything. It's everything. There is nothing else. Gratitude for doing a good job: that's my raison d’etre.
We involve the families in a way that I think is very healthy. We see ourselves as an extension of the family. I'm happy to say that families feel the same way and so do the residents. We must have achieved something because everybody feels quite familial. Our management style is also quite familial.
What do you see changing in the industry in the coming years? [9:33]
We're going to see that we're going to be providing more care. And if we're providing more care, you know, are we doing the best job that we can in delivering that care?
We do have to really take a look and see, what are the needs? We're going to have residents that are going to want to, and choose to (by design and by default)... choose to stay at a retirement community, or they may not have another place to go to, because the capacity for long term care may not be there. However, whether it is by design or by default, we still have to do the same level of the best that we can.
I think that's really important in terms of what I see the future. I think we have to figure out how we're going to bring a private/public solution to the table, to be able to meet the needs of those residents that choose to stay, by default or by design.
More about Scarborough Retirement Residence
Excellent care at Scarborough Retirement Residence is rooted in Marie-Josee Lafontaine’s deeply personal commitment, as seen above. This boutique retirement residence's uniquely familial ethos needs to be experienced to be appreciated. Learn more about Scarborough Retirement Residence.