Hamister Group, LLC
A synergy of hospitality and healthcare
Business View Magazine interviews Jack Turesky, President/COO of Hamister Group, LLC, for our focus on Top Hotel Management Groups.
What began in the mid-1970s with a single assisted living residence in western New York has today evolved into a fascinating synergy between hospitality and healthcare. Under the entrepreneurial savvy of founder, Mark Hamister, the Hamister Group, LLC has become a serious player in the sectors of assisted living and hotel facility management. Exceptional financial results are a hallmark of the company history, with investors and shareholders depending on the Hamister Group to deliver strong bottom lines, maximize profitability, and increase asset value. And they are never disappointed.
Jack Turesky, President/COO of Hamister Group, LLC, shares the backstory: “Mark Hamister started the company in 1977 with a 92-bed, assisted living residence in Leroy, New York. I remember because it was the first facility I was responsible for. The company name at that time was National Healthcare Affiliates. Over the years, that company grew to 21 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. Mark sold most of the company in 1996 at an internal rate of return of 37.2 percent, so it was a very profitable sale. Then, in 1996, he started purchasing home healthcare agencies. Between 1999 and 2003, he sold all except one for an internal return of 15.9 percent. We still have one agency we did not sell, which is in Potsdam, New York. Also, in 1999, Mark purchased five self-storage facilities and sold those in 2005 for an internal rate of return of 45.4 percent. Then, we purchased our first hotels in 2004, and we’ve been purchasing and selling hotels on an ongoing basis ever since.”
Based in Buffalo, New York, the Hamister Group, LLC currently owns 10 hotels in three states (NY, Indiana, and Pennsylvania) for a total of 1,129 rooms and 18 apartments. The healthcare division continues to grow and now has six assisted living facilities with a total of 858 beds – of those, 131 beds are memory care. In March 2020, the company is also closing on a 68-bed memory care facility in Virginia, which will bring the total number of beds to 926. The segue from assisted living to hotels is not as surprising as one might think. From a facility management perspective, the two sectors have a close relationship.
As Turesky explains, “We’ve always treated our assisted living, and our nursing homes, when I first joined the company, as though they were hotels. But we were a big believer in hospitality – to do the things we thought hotels would be doing, even though we didn’t have any experience at that point in the industry. I remember very distinctly, Mark Hamister took me out for lunch one day and said, ‘I’ve been thinking about getting into the hotel business because of the great success in hospitality we’ve had using those thought processes and those principles. If I did, would you be in favor of it?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely, let’s give it a try.’ So, we went ahead and purchased our first hotels and we’ve implemented hospitality in both sectors of facility management. The only difference from our perspective is that we offer nursing services in the assisted living.”
The Hamister Group believes in hands-on management, which involves regularly making rounds through the properties; going into the rooms and seeing them from a customer’s point of view. Whenever he visits a facility, Turesky sits down for a “lunch with a bunch” with five to ten staff members. They have a candid, transparent discussion over lunch about what they’re doing well for the employees, and if there is room for improvement. Turesky notes, “I can honestly say that over 50 percent of the good ideas we’ve implemented in the company, over the last 36 years, have come from those types of meetings, where the rubber hits the road. We really do want to hear what our employees have to say.”
With approximately 1,100 employees on the payroll, the importance of a good company culture is critical to the Hamister Group’s success. The biggest challenge is finding exceptional people. Turesky admits, “Unemployment is relatively low and the fast-food industry has really put a press on wages. Here in New York, there is a fast food minimum wage and a ‘normal’ minimum wage, so it’s been challenging. But we’ve had great success in terms of recruiting and retention of our staff. We measure different statistics to evaluate whether we’re losing staff more than the competition because of turnover. And overall, we have (relatively, for the industries we’re in) very low turnover rates, and very high stay quotients.”
Staff training in the Hamister healthcare facilities is done through Relias. All employees are encouraged to use the system, not only for state-required training, but for other programs, as well, on their own time. At the end of 2019, the Hamister Group conducted an Employee Engagement and Communication Survey, and the subject of personal growth ranked high among staff – the ability to train and learn and grow. It speaks to the value placed on corporate culture. And, while the company doesn’t want people to leave, if they do so for an opportunity to improve their personal success, that step is appreciated and encouraged.
Construction and development is another aspect of this thriving business. In fact, one of their projects just opened in February in Pittsburgh – an assisted living facility that was a former hotel. The Hamister Group developed the property over two years and is now managing it, as well. The company is always looking to develop and/or acquire property and, though the development is more expensive, they have had great success in that area. Because of the impending “silver tsunami” and an increasing demand for assisted living, the Group has seen more healthcare-related opportunities coming their way. That being said, they do have an investment committee that looks at all incoming potential acquisitions or developments. If it’s a good fit, they will take it – whether hotel or healthcare.
“It’s an exciting time to be in this business,” says Turesky, “because we try to remain cutting edge. We’re looking at such things as tele-medicine in our healthcare properties, which is very unusual for assisted living. In the State of New York, 100 percent of our beds are certified in enhanced assisted living. What that means is that we can provide skilled care, just not ‘24 hours a day.’ So it’s an opportunity for our residents to age in place. They’re not approving all the beds to be certified any longer in NY; we were on the cutting edge when the state first came out with that concept. We’re moving to electronic medical records; more of that is happening in assisted living now, and most of our facilities are already on that. We have electronic medication administration, as well. We’re focused on staying ahead and not just moving along with what the industry tells us to do.”
What sets the Hamister Group apart from the competition in assisted living is the use of technology – the telemedicine – and they present the advantages of that as it applies to the residents and their families. If something happens, the resident may not have to go to the emergency room, or a rehab center – they can get diagnosed and receive the appropriate treatment while remaining at the assisted living facility, with no extra charge to the family. “Things like that we call our overt benefits,” says Turesky. “That’s the hospitality factor. We want to do what’s exceptional for them and provide the services that they need. We have nurses onsite around the clock – not just on call, but in the building at each nurses’ station, 24 hours per day.”
Looking five years ahead, Growth Funds will be at the top of the agenda. According to Turesky, “We have three funds now and will be starting a fourth in the near future. We are not public, but we’ve been raising equity so we can grow at a relatively aggressive pace. We’re continuing growth at our corporate office and developing more opportunities to provide support to the field. We have a full IT department, and an HR department, and although we’re not that big, yet, we want to offer these benefits and serve our properties. Going into the future, we have a transition plan for the senior officers, like myself, who will be approaching retirement over the next four to five years, and we want to ensure a very smooth, positive transition.
“But I think the most aggressive thing we’re looking at is being able to attract the best employees. We are committed to offering them an opportunity for growth. To be able to make decisions within their realm and have some impact on the organization in different ways, depending on their position. Speed, Access, and Impact are the three words that define our company culture best. And a last note of importance: we would love to have more investors come on board!”
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AT A GLANCE
Who: Hamister Group, LLC
What: Hotel and assisted living facility management company
Where: Headquarters in Buffalo, NY