Luxury hotelier, real estate investor and philanthropist Laurence Geller explains why he founded dementia care specialist Innovative Aged Care and reveals his growth plans for the business.
British born real estate investor Laurence Geller made his fortune in the US luxury hotel business but has always kept close ties with his homeland.
After becoming Chancellor of the University of West London, Laurence decided he could make a difference in the battle against dementia in the UK.
Having become chair of the Alzheimer’s Society’s National Dementia Appeal, Laurence saw the opportunity to “break the mould” in dementia care.
It was here that the idea for Innovative Aged Care and its first luxury, purpose-built dementia care home, Chelsea Court Place, was born.
“I wanted to target central London, in particular, when I realised that Westminster and Kensington, as well as the other London boroughs, were the least well served for dementia beds per capita in the country, primarily because of the price of real estate,” Laurence said.
“My son, Guy, and I decided to take a risk and take premises in Chelsea using our own money as no banker would take the risk on such an unproven concept.”
When launching his care business, Laurence said the key thing for him was to differentiate his offer and that providing luxury hospitality alone would not be enough.
Having realised that residential care home practice entailed provision of care at a ratio of one carer to every seven-to-nine residents, Chelsea Court Place was founded on the model of one carer to every two residents.
“It was expensive,” Laurence admitted.
“It was expensive to build, expensive to run and, therefore, relatively difficult to make profits on and provide a return in investment. In other words, it was a highly risky proposition.”
The labour intensive model, which offers the highest level of curated care with superior resident longevity and quality of life, is funded by weekly fees of up to £3,000, making Chelsea Court Place amongst the UK’s more costly care homes.
The level of wealth in Laurence’s targeted West London demographic, however, is such that the waiting list for Chelsea Court Place is longer than the home could ever satisfy.
Following the success of Chelsea Court Place, plans are now well advanced to roll out its highly personalised, high end care model elsewhere in the capital.
Work has begun on three, 30-35 bed homes in Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, near High Street Kensington and on the eastern side of Notting Hill, which are scheduled to open by the end of 2020.
Recruitment for senior people for the organisation is well under way.
“We will recruit people from anywhere who have a willingness to learn and have high empathetic qualities and really want to practice their craft without having to worry about penny pinching,” Laurence said.
“We think 30-35 beds is a very good model but we don’t want to go much bigger because we don’t want to depersonalise our service.
“I would like to have double that number of properties but not much more. We are underway with further site acquisitions in Greater London.”
Given the recent problems encountered by some high profile, high end retirement developments in London, CHP was interested to hear what the local authority response had been to Laurence’s planning proposals.
“The local authorities have been supportive once we articulate the local need and what we are doing to support dementia care in the local boroughs,” Laurence said.
“I don’t want to say that initially we get a sympathetic ear but we get a more open minded hearing.”
The guiding principle behind Innovative Aged Care is to raise the bar for dementia care through its pioneering research and best practice.
“We really believe that we what we do is innovative,” Laurence stressed.
“We are prepared to invest in experimentation and fail because it’s a personal investment by my family. We know we are going to take risks, we may make mistakes and lose money but we are going to learn.
“When we opened Chelsea Court Place, I said that whatever happens we will codify what we are doing and if it becomes a financial failure we will publish it all and let the world know the good and the bad and share what we did wrong so the next person can make it better.
“I will not accept mediocrity and will always struggle for excellence because if you give the best, you get the best.”
Best practice and learnings from Chelsea Court Place are shared with the University of West London where Laurence has founded a masters’ degree in dementia care.
“We have started to see graduates coming through from the programme,” Laurence told CHP.
“They are ambitious people and I hope they are going to change the world of dementia. I think some will want to go into private care with two-thirds having ambitions to be leaders in social care.”
The philanthropist has made a further £1m donation to the university to establish a dementia care training programme from undergraduate level, down to short term diplomas.
“I wanted to find a way of getting national accreditation and wanted to make sure there were staff available for people like me and others who follow,” Laurence said. “Without professional care by full time, part time and volunteers, there will never be high quality and consistent care with planned and improved outcomes. Simply stated, the burden will be on welfare and more of the same time unsatisfactory results and pressure on the NHS.
“I also wanted to take some of our unique programmes that we had researched and see if others would take them.
“If it’s not me, then who is going to do this?” Laurence asked.
“I hope others can learn from my example. We are making some money but, more importantly, making a difference and getting tremendous outcomes. People are living much longer than their doctor’s and children’s expectations because we can do things on a personalised basis so everybody gets more attention and we can make and implement very individualised plans for each of our members.”
As a self-proclaimed evangelist for dementia care, Laurence said he had made it his mission to improve the lives of people who will develop the disease.
“Dementia is going to attack one in three of us so let’s find out how to make lives better and save society a fortune because, as society ages, the fast increasing number of people with dementia will destroy the NHS and take productive members of society and their families out of the workforce and inevitably put yet more burden on government welfare,” Laurence concluded.
“The credo I live by is simple: ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’