Lancaster County, A Community Where All Generations Thrive. - Lancaster Chamber of Commerce
Lancaster County, A Community Where All Generations Thrive.
150th Anniversary, Chamber Updates

by Larry Zook, CEO of Landis Communities

For nearly as long as there has been a Lancaster Chamber, nonprofit organizations, many connected with local faith groups, have been providing aging members of the community with safe places to live and the services they need as they age. Currently 17 Continuing Care Retirement/Life Plan Communities in Lancaster County serve more than 12,600 residents and employ more than 8,500. Their combined payrolls top $279,000,000 which generate significant revenue in state and local taxes along with more than $12,200,000 in property taxes and other payments, making aging services one of the larger sectors of the Lancaster County economy.

My connection to aging services began when I was a child. I visited retirement communities including Mennonite Home and Landis Homes, along with members of my church, as we provided music and devotional programs. The journey continued in the early 1980s when I began working at Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) in Salunga, PA while doing undergraduate studies at Millersville University in business administration and computer science. EMM was the organization responsible for starting Landis Homes in 1964. In mid-1982, soon after I began working at EMM, Landis Homes was spun off as a separate non-profit corporation with board members appointed by Lancaster Mennonite Conference
(now LMC) and EMM.

EMM created Landis Homes to be a retirement community to serve retired Mennonite missionaries, pastors, church workers and all who desired to be part of an active community of Christ-like love. In my 10 years at EMM I met persons serving around the world, like Dr. Lester and Lois Eshleman, who served at Shirati Hospital in Tanzania. They had given their lives in service as a doctor and nurse in Africa, and when we met, they were looking forward to joining the community at Landis Homes at the end of their time in Tanzania. During my time at EMM I appreciated being able to complete a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in urban economic development at Eastern University in St. David’s,
PA, where teachers included Tony Campolo and Ron Sider. This training piqued my interest in both urban engagement and social enterprise/entrepreneurship.

After my wife, Dawn, and I spent two years teaching English in Chongqing, China from 1992-94, as part of a joint program of EMM and Mennonite Central Committee, we returned to Lancaster and I began serving as one of Landis Homes’ first IT staff persons. In the following years in my servant leadership journey at Landis Homes I had the privilege of supporting other areas including Human Resources, Finance, Volunteer Services, Housekeeping and Laundry, and Dining Services. When Ed Longenecker announced his retirement as president in 2006 after serving for 30 years, including over 13 years as a wonderful mentor, I had the privilege to begin leading Landis Homes in January 2007 alongside many compassionate and creative team members who are also servant leaders in their areas of giftedness.

In 2014, as Landis Homes celebrated our 50 th anniversary, I devoted time to understanding our history and learning the stories of how our founders, including persons like Orie Miller, Frank Enck, Ira Buckwalter, Sanford High, and Charles Good, brought their many gifts of discernment and experience together to launch a community of Christ-like love. Frank Enck encouraged the other founders “to keep in mind our vision of creating community rather than a traditional old people’s home facility.” Sanford High arranged a road trip to Florida to visit four innovative retirement communities and prepared an 8-page summary which encouraged the founders to continue the planning and influenced the way the community was built. Other founders reached out to local communities with longer histories like Mennonite Home, Brethren Village and Welsh Mountain Home, along with newer communities like Calvary Fellowship Home in order to establish the strongest foundation possible for Landis Homes.

The relationships our founders cultivated continue today as local retirement communities connect regularly to share learning and seek to better serve the community. The 17 members of Lancaster Area Senior Services (LASS) collaborate to connect with legislators and other elected leaders in Lancaster County as we seek to serve both those who live in our retirement communities as well others throughout Lancaster County. We also collaborate to offer an annual Explore Retirement Living Open House event.

Just as Lancaster County has changed throughout the decades, so has the field of aging services. One significant inflection point for Landis Homes came in 2008 when the board took on the challenge of a strategic listening process. What we heard was a clear call to keep retirement living strong at Landis Homes, but to also focus on serving the approximately 80 percent of seniors who didn’t have the financial resources to live in traditional retirement communities. This led to the creation of Landis Communities and the development of services designed to care for persons in their own homes as well as provide housing options for persons at a variety of income levels. Our Home and Community-Based Services programs now serve clients across the County and beyond. We provide living options in Manheim Township, Lancaster City and the New Holland area, with plans for additional locations.

As those of us in the aging services sector look forward, we have both challenges and opportunities facing us. The challenges mirror those broadly present in many segments of Lancaster’s economy. The ability to attract quality staff is certainly an important one. We seek team members who understand our mission and values and who see their work as “more than a job,” viewing serving others as part of their calling in life.

Technology is another challenge to impact our business models. During COVID-19 we have seen glimpses of this as we used electronic tablets for residents to communicate via video with loved ones, saw online meetings replace many in-person meetings and began to normalize online video visits with healthcare providers. We believe this is just the start of where advances in technology are taking us. LeadingAge, a national membership organization of which many of the local senior care communities are members, has created a Center for Aging Services Technology to expedite the development, evaluation, and adoption of emerging technologies that can improve the aging experience. Many of us are exploring telehealth applications, internet and social networking applications, computer-based monitoring and symptom questionnaires, wearable and embedded monitoring devices, and software- and internet-based games. Across the nation, some are exploring using robotics to deliver meals to residents in campus settings, and several LASS members have hosted international developers of this
technology. Given my technology background, I find this a meaningful area of innovation and learning!

Opportunities exist in the simple demographics of an aging population. The Lancaster County Office of Aging notes that, of the County’s total population of 544,000 approximately one out of every four residents is 60 years of age or older. The proportion of individuals who are 60 years and older has been on a gradual rise over the last 15 or more years and will continue through 2060. The aging baby boomer population, combined with a decrease in the younger population, is a primary factor in driving the growth of the 60+ cohort.

Another opportunity is the willingness of businesses to try creative collaborations across sectors to see what new models can emerge. We are now seeing the rise of construction companies and developers jointly working with senior providers to determine how they can work together to provide new housing options for those above the age of 55. We have seen developers own buildings with senior service providers holding master leases, which allows providers to avoid huge capital outlays at the front end of
building projects.

Also, in a world marked with increasingly lonely and disconnected people, our sector is providing places of connectivity and community. A 2017 AARP study found social isolation and loneliness is costing Medicare an estimated $6.7 billion annually. Seniors who are lonely and/or isolated see increased physical and mental health needs. The same study noted those who were isolated were nearly 30% more likely to need care in a skilled nursing setting. This has huge ramifications for families and loved ones. By providing caring, safe places for those in our County who would otherwise be lonely and isolated, the senior services sector is helping reduce the future needs of those who are aging and their families. We are again reminded of our founders’ vision to “create community.”

Landis Communities and other organizations serving seniors in Lancaster County benefit greatly from the Chamber. From providing opportunities to continue educating ourselves to supports they offer businesses and nonprofit organizations; the Chamber continues to bring value to its members and the larger community while being willing to change when that is needed.

Looking both back to my childhood and forward to what the future holds for senior living providers, I remain convinced that Lancaster County will be in the forefront of being a wonderful place for persons of all generations to engage in active community life where all thrive, including those age 55 and over.

The Lancaster Chamber is proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, alongside the business community. This year’s content has been centered around highlighting the leaders and businesses who are contributing to building a thriving Lancaster County community. This article was first printed in our 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine, you can read more here: 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine

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