“Where I’m a visionary, Franklin is steady. Where I see a flat site, he says ‘we need to move 100,000 cubic yards of dirt. Where are we going to put it?’ It’s a balancing act, and I think that’s been part of our success.”
– Greg Vital, President and CEO,
commenting on his partnership with Franklin Farrow, COO (pictured left)
Some of the best stories have humble beginnings. When Greg Vital and Franklin Farrow started Morning Pointe in Chattanooga back in 1996, they didn’t even have a computer.
“We had absolutely nothing – no letterhead, no pencils,” Vital recalls. “All we had was a business plan and our last paychecks from our former employer.”
At the time, Vital was 39 and Farrow was 26. After years of working together in senior care, the duo was eager to break into the growing industry with a new venture. Their mission was to deliver a different type of assistance than the model they were accustomed to, and their goal was to develop six brick and mortar locations for senior living services.
But first, they had to purchase a computer. So they mail-ordered one, loaded up QuickBooks, and got to work.
Fast-forward 20 years. Today the company has 27 (soon to be 30) locations, 1,500 employees, and an IT and accounting department that looks…well, just a little bit different.
From Concept to Creation
How did a dream develop into one of the most successful assisted living providers in our region?
One goal at a time, Farrow says. “It was kind of like the children of Israel out in the desert. When the cloud moved, we went forward. When it stopped, we waited.”
The duo ran their initial business plan by their mentors John Foy, Max Fuller, and the late Jim Berry, all well-respected entrepreneurs in Chattanooga. Suggestions were given, and revisions ensued. “To this day, we will never forget their guidance. It’s why we have a ‘Foy’-er in every one of our buildings,” Vital says, chuckling.
Initially, the idea was to just be developers of senior housing. “Our goal was to be landlords. We weren’t going to be in the management business,” Vital adds. But after the six buildings were completed, they decided to make a long-term commitment to the communities they served. “We realized that to provide the best possible service, we needed to assemble a management team and provide our own operations,” Vital says. Thus, Morning Pointe was born.
Year of Thanksgiving
To celebrate two decades of service, Morning Pointe has launched “Make Your Mark” – a year-long community service campaign with the goal of giving back 20,000 hours through volunteer efforts and philanthropic projects in 2017. “We’ve been blessed beyond our imagination in building this company,” says Vital. “This campaign is about giving back more than we ever received. We see it as a true extension of what the Morning Pointe culture is all about.”
Investing in People
Committed to raising up the next generation of leaders in senior care, Morning Pointe established the Morning Pointe Foundation in 2014 to create scholarships for nursing and allied health care professionals across the Southeast. Partnering schools include Chattanooga State and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, among others.
A Focus on People and Service
Today, Morning Pointe’s management team is made up of 1,500 employees who provide care at the company’s 27 locations.
Take a quick walk around one of the campuses, and you can sense the camaraderie among Morning Pointe employees. Farrow and Vital say it’s the benefit of being in a service business, where people can come together around a great mission. “Our uniting point is a commitment to care and compassion with a Judeo-Christian spirit,” says Vital.
Like many longstanding area businesses, the company has multiple generations of families within its workforce. The familial feel now reaches across many departments.
“Our work is more than about us; it’s about a team and a spirit,” Farrow says. “All of us, including those who started with us and whose family members have since joined us, are building a culture that seeks to care for others and creates an environment that feels like home.
“Whether it’s food service, cleaning, or health care, we all have the same job to do: celebrate the lives of our residents while they are with us,” Farrow continues. “Every day, we’re working to foster an environment to help our employees do that.”
“I feel safe here. I can lay down at night and not worry about anybody breaking in or disturbing me. The whole place is just wonderful. When I moved here, and I learned this was a faith-based place, I knew this was where I needed to be. I’ve even started writing a book and my friend Ann is editing it!”
– Karlene Miles, resident at Morning Pointe Senior Living (pictured here with fellow resident and friend Ann Bradley)
Adapting to Changing Needs
Vital says the company’s services have evolved to meet changing needs. In the early years, only a small part of the business was Alzheimer’s care. Today, it represents over 40% of the company’s business.
“People are living longer and Alzheimer’s disease greatly increases as you reach 85 to 90 years of age,” says Vital. “That combination is an opportunity to be of service.”
The company began with attached Alzheimer’s care wings, but has since added six freestanding Alzheimer’s centers of excellence. These state-of-the-art facilities are devoted solely to caring for those suffering from the disease and other related dementias – from their calm and soothing interiors, to programmatic activity, to staff with specialized training.
Morning Pointe has also added in-house physical therapy in most buildings, increased opportunities for activities and life enrichment, and partnered with schools on intergenerational programming. Now it’s looking at ways to improve its food service through farm-to-table partnerships.
“These decisions were about making long-term investments in the way we care for those we serve,” says Vital. “Our job is to enhance our residents’ quality of life, so they can enjoy their golden years in comfort and community.”
The Road Ahead
In the coming years, the company plans to continue improving the quality of its services and programs – and perhaps add some others.
“The way we do assisted living today is not going to be the way we do it tomorrow,” says Farrow. “Evolving is key, because the baby boomers have very different needs and wants.”
It’s also looking to grow its team of people who believe in its mission and will work to carry it out. “Our biggest challenge as we look to the next 20 years is finding the next generation of leadership to carry out our corporate mission,” says Vital.
If one thing is sure, though, it’s that the company will remain steady to its mission. Above all, caring for its employees and residents comes first.
“Twenty is going to be no different from 15 or 25. We have a job to do and a responsibility to our residents and families,” says Vital.