Beacon Hill at Eastgate Expert Series
Jeff Huegli came at “just the right time,” according to Beacon Hill at Eastgate Board of Directors’ Chair Carl Dufendach, who hired Jeff in 2003 to assume the post of President/CEO of the Michigan Christian Home. His previous position was Executive Director of Porter Hills Village and he brought with him not only a full understanding of the residential development dynamic, but also a vision of what the next chapter of the Michigan Christian Home (MHC) could be.
In 2003, MHC faced serious challenges: a declining census, a residential offering that was not appealing to the target market, plus staffing struggles and clinical shortcomings. The board had great confidence in Jeff and sent him forth to “do God’s work” in the continuing mission of providing high quality residences and services for the older adults in this community.
Jeff understood that they had to do something dramatic in order to continue their mission and started work immediately on what was to be the independent-living residence at 1919 Boston. He secured financing that required 75% of the apartments to be pre-sold. If that weren’t challenging enough, in 2007-2008 banks throughout the world failed causing a global financial crisis leading to the Great Recession of 2008. The original financing was withdrawn when one of the banks closed its doors. New funders came on board but demanded 100% of all apartments to be pre-sold before shovels could hit the dirt.
What happened next is what Jeff terms a “miracle.” Financing was secured with all apartments pre-sold – “the only retirement community new build in the country.” The new residence opened in 2010, expanded in 2015, again, with 100% of apartments pre-sold. Jeff credits the Lord – “This is an enduring testament to God’s will and guidance. I take no credit for this; I worked through His hands.”
As all this was happening, Jeff asked the Board to consider changing the name of Michigan Christian Home – A Baptist Home for the Aged. Neither Jeff nor the board wanted to stray from the legacy of MHC and its values, but the name was no longer suitable. There was wide support to recognize and highlight the Eastgate neighborhood in which it resided, so, Beacon Hill at Eastgate became the new name of this expanded, beautiful retirement community.
Jeff recalls those early days: “We were in a very tough market, surrounded by competitors who wanted our market share and that hasn’t changed.” His initial focus was on internal operations – hiring the best people to handle the day-to-day, which gave him the opportunity to continue to focus on his vision for Beacon Hill. But that commitment to find and hire the very best people for Beacon Hill has continued. According to Jeff, “We work with the best and our desire to be the best drives our work.”
2003 was a watershed year in many ways. The country and the retirement community industry were ramping up for the deluge of baby boomers who were hitting retirement age. Currently, there are an estimated 73 million within the boomer ranks.
However, no amount of strategic planning, futuristic modeling, or research-based forecasts to prepare for the country’s growing older population could have foreseen the once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic. Nor have we yet realized the full impact of the epidemic on our seniors let alone society in general. However, our experience over the past 18 months have made it clear that both aging and retirement will change.
As Beacon Hill’s CEO, Jeff has seen, lived, supervised and grasped the enormity of the epidemic. Based on that experience, he also has first-hand knowledge of the types of changes we can expect to see in the coming years. “Many of the trends we were seeing, pre-pandemic,” Jeff said, “will accelerate. There will be a boom in innovations improving life for older adults.”
Jeff referred to a Wall Street Journal article (11/15/2020) that stated the country’s experience of quarantining has spurred entrepreneurs to think about what older people need to maintain person-to-person contact, beyond Zooming, such as voice-activated tech to connect older adults with loved ones who cannot visit in person.
Jeff also pointed to the dramatic growth in telemedicine. “This was driven,” Jeff explained, “by Medicare’s decision in March 2020 to expand reimbursement to doctors for virtual visits.” Jeff pointed to wearable devices and diagnostic tests for personal use that will provide doctors with key information, including blood pressure, weight, and glucose levels and will pave the way for better remote patient monitoring. Other innovations include voice technology to notify an emergency contact if an individual asks for help.
“All of this,” Jeff explained, “underscores the need to plan for adequate infrastructure within Beacon Hill so we can zero in on the types of technology we want to add over the next several years.” A particular intriguing idea Jeff pointed to is something he termed a “tech concierge,” who would be a tech-savvy individual, able to engage with residents and solve whatever a particular resident needs – from logging into something, to setting up a smart home ecosystem in their apartment.
We’re not through with COVID yet, Jeff says, but we hope and pray that as more individuals are vaccinated, we will actually achieve herd immunity, open up our campus and begin to resume life as we once knew it. “We learned a lot about each other and those we care for during COVID,” Jeff said. “We are stronger, more resilient and have found deep resources of kindness and generosity. We at Beacon Hill truly became family to each other and learned to trust, rely on and support each other in ways that no one could have imagined.”
Beacon Hill’s lasting legacy, says Jeff, is that he, the board and staff are all community servants. “We adopt the best teachings from the Bible for care and hospitality and we do it every day.” He goes on to say that Beacon Hill excels in hospitality – daily dining and services to feed the mind, body and spirit. “We were founded in the teachings of Christ – the story of Mary and Martha. We are a community resource. Our investment of $120 million was for the growth of our community and for all of us to be instruments of service.”
Asked what he is most proud of, Jeff says it’s seeing the Michigan Christian Home legacy and now the Beacon Hill legacy strengthened, horizons broadened, and to do so by adhering to the original values instilled by MHC. “Our founders can look down on us and see Michigan Christian Home. Scale doesn’t matter; it has to do with carrying forward this noble cause, the divine inspiration to care for this precious population.”