March 13, 2009

For more than 20 years, The Gatesworth’s motto has been, The answer is yes. What’s the question? In an era when market research and focus groups all too often set the standard, “we listen to and learn from our residents, then update our programs and services according to their needs,” says Bob Leonard, director of operations at the senior living community. “That’s one of the reasons our waiting list keeps growing, even in a tough economy.”

    On April 15, in response to feedback from residents and the St. Louis community, The Gatesworth will open a 38-apartment addition, the West Wing. “We’ve had a great deal of demand for larger apartments, so the new ones run from 1,400 to 3,000 square feet, with most of them in the 1,500- to 1,850-feet range,” Leonard explains. “The entire wing is open and airy, like a resort. It even has its own terrace, courtyard, party pavilion and reflecting pond.”

    The full-sized kitchens are equipped with granite countertops and cherry wood cabinets. Spacious bedrooms include oversized walk-in closets, and the bathrooms are large and luxurious. Generous bay windows let the sunshine in, and each apartment has its own patio or balcony, “double the size of those in our other buildings,” he says.

    The resort theme continues with cozy common spaces, a baby grand piano, restaurant, wine bar, card room and media center with two widescreen TVs. Residents of the new wing also will enjoy the usual Gatesworth amenities, including a wide range of educational and recreational activities, a fitness center and pool, concierge and housekeeping services, and round-the-clock security. “The wing isn’t finished yet, but it’s already 50 percent leased, although there are still some choice apartments open,” Leonard says.

    Lavish amenities are nice, but what really sets The Gatesworth apart, he says, is the commitment of its staff and the quality of its services. “That’s what has always taken us to the next level,” Leonard says.  “We pride ourselves on having more than enough employees to meet our residents’ needs, and we’re going to hire more for the West Wing. That’s rare in this time of cutbacks.”

    The Gatesworth takes care to hire people who are not only qualified, but friendly and caring. “That’s why Martha Kessel, our executive director, interviews every potential employee herself,” Leonard says. “We choose people who know it’s important to look our residents in the eye, smile, say a warm hello and ask about the grandkids by name—not because it’s company policy or in the employee handbook, but because it comes naturally.”

    Leonard often hears from residents and their families that The Gatesworth doesn’t have a ‘retirement home’ atmosphere. “They tell us it’s more like a fine hotel,” he says. “Every aspect of the environment was designed with that in mind. People are reluctant at first to leave their homes. There’s always a period of transition. Then 30 days later, they come up to us with a big smile and say, ‘Why did I wait so long?’ That’s the nicest compliment we can get.”