It can be refreshing to speak to a person on the cusp of a new endeavor, as they’re wide-eyed with enthusiasm—for instance, about opening a 12,000-square-foot Town Square daycare franchise, which five days a week will host 80 to 90 older adults who have varying degrees of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
The new owner of this franchise in Sarasota, Fla., is Michael Finn, whose background for the past 25 years has been in media, mainly television. Having decided they needed a change, he and his wife moved out of New York City to calmer Sarasota, envisioning they would “do something entrepreneurial.” A franchise consultant pitched them the idea of Town Square, which brought back memories of Finn’s mother, a singer and a church leader, who would often sing in Alzheimer’s centers and was struck by how even though some participants might not remember their own names, they could sing all the words to every song she sang.
When the consultant mentioned that the concept of Town Square was based on Dr. George G. Glenner’s Reminiscence Therapy, which holds that bringing people with Alzheimer’s back to a time from which their memories are the strongest can reduce agitation and improve mood and sleep quality, Finn was sold. Glenner was a physician and Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of California in San Diego and renowned for his identification of the beta-amyloid protein. Glenner and his wife empathized with caregivers and their level of stress from caring for people with dementia, which led them to start daycare centers for people who had Alzheimer’s, to give caregivers respite.
Set Up for Success
Before setting foot in his Town Square daycare center, Finn says guests will be assessed not only by their physicians to ensure their behavior is appropriate for daycare, but also by a Town Square in-house full-time nurse to ascertain their care needs and level of functioning. Guests are then grouped with people of similar function levels. The nurse at Town Square Sarasota has 30 years nursing under her belt and the center director worked for 30 years at Brookdale Senior Living.
Guests are assessed and grouped by level of function.
Guests’ days will start with coffee and muffins in a 1950s themed diner, which looks out at Town Square’s centerpiece, a 1957 convertible Thunderbird parked at an old-fashioned gas pump. Throughout the day the staff will lead individuals through activities and locations, including a library, City Hall, theater that holds 50, game room and a park with benches, trees, lamp posts and speakers playing era-appropriate music like Frank Sinatra.
The franchise has built out a year’s worth of programming in advance, Finn said, so their new staff in Sarasota just needs to implement said programming each day.
“At the end of the day, guests will come back because, they are being engaged and they’re getting great care by trained staff who can handle all of their personal care needs,” said Finn. Town Square also employs CNAs in addition to programming staff and the nurses.
For the past two months Finn and his partner, Wendy Rickenbach, have been touring people through, amassing feedback. A certain percentage of caregivers say they could never get their parent to attend, as they don’t want help or don’t need daycare. But some of those reluctant people end up engaging in spite of themselves.
Rickenbach has asked, well, what if the person “worked” at Town Square? “Then he’d come every day,” said one loved one. At another Town Square franchise, Finn said 10% to 15% of guests “think they work” at the center, as accountants, or tour guides, or whatever it might be.
“People also want a purpose every day,” Finn added, and not just to be entertained.
All Systems Go
Town Square is required to have a ratio of one staffer for every five guests. And despite intense labor shortages he has had no difficulties staffing the center. Many of the programming staff are former high school teachers as they possess the big personalities needed to help guide guests through the various options each day. And many CNAs seem to prefer working in this more cheerful setting than in a nursing home or in assisted living, especially because Town Square is open 9 to 5, five days a week. Also, there will be “floaters” to keep an eye on guests who would rather not adhere to a set schedule. Finn said at the Town Square he toured in Baltimore, Md., there was one man who thrived on playing pool for much of the day, every day.
People want a purpose every day.
Finn assumes most guests will attend five days a week for 8 hours a day, but some for less time. The aim being similar to that of childcare, where kids come home tired after a long day and ready for a chill evening at home.
The franchise theme of the 1950s was chosen by the founder because many dementia sufferers in their 80s can have strong memories from earlier in life, but the 1950s is also a fun theme to build a center around, given the great music and cool imagery. “Even if we remodel for the 1960s or 1970s in the future, those towns still all had a city hall, diner, library, and a theater—we just need to change the images adorning the walls,” Finn said.
Town Square Sarasota will be the second franchise, but there are others going up in Austin, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and in the San Diego area. Once open and running on Jan. 24, Finn said they’ll start proving the model is financially viable and ascertain if it could potentially expand to other locations.
Guests receive a catered lunch daily, plus the coffee and pastries, for $135 per day, which Finn said families are finding reasonable as it costs $35 per hour to have an aide come into the home to give caregivers respite. Although Town Square will not be covered by Medicaid, it is covered by some long-term care insurance, and soon Finn anticipates a contract with the Veterans Administration for more steady customers.
“From where we’re sitting at the center of the senior population down here in Sarasota, this type of center just doesn’t exist. It’s either assisted living or private duty nursing and in Sarasota there is only one nonprofit daycare center, which does provide a great service for folks.
“But it takes a franchise to come along and create something specific and build it out. When families walk in here, they have tears in their eyes, as they have finally found a place where they can drop off their loved one and feel good about it,” Finn said.