Bristol House: A New Facility and A Fresh Approach to Memory Care
Arvind Bhakta, principle owner of Bristol House, and his team drew on their hospitality backgrounds to create a specialized memory-care facility in Warrington, PA. At Bristol House, residents are comforted by the warm and welcoming environment in which they receive state-of-the-art personal and therapeutic care.
As a ground-up venture, the Bristol House team needed experienced funders who could support the project even when setbacks occurred, as they do in projects of this nature. Fortunately, Arvind’s research led him to Pursuit for an SBA 504 loan, which was secured in partnership with Tompkins VIST Bank.
Here, Arvind shares insights about the loan experience and key lessons learned along the way.
Seeing an opportunity and leveraging skills and experience
Arvind’s extensive hospitality-industry experience dates back to 1979, when he opened his first inn. Since then, he and his family have expanded to own and operate numerous hotels and motels in several states.
Arvind and the team saw potential for a dedicated memory-care facility that would provide security and safety while also providing a true sense of home to long-term residents. In a pivot from their usual ventures, they undertook the research needed to support their idea and before long, the vision for Bristol House was developed. The leadership team, staff and administrators strive to embody Bristol House’s overarching philosophy: “We treat your family like our family.”
Arvind also knew that to bring their vision to fruition, they’d have to hire the highest-quality administrators and personal-care professionals available.
Securing an SBA 504 loan for a major construction project
To make Bristol House feasible, Arvind needed a longer amortization period than is typical with commercial real estate loans, as well as interest rates that would make the monthly payments easier and enable him to continuously reinvest in Bristol House.
He was familiar with the SBA 504 loan for real estate projects and knew that he could get the kinds of favorable terms he sought. He researched community-based funders in his region and he contacted Pursuit.
SBA 504 loans are made in partnership with banks and Community Development Corporations (CDCs), like Pursuit, and knowing that Pursuit could partner with his commercial bank, Tompkins VIST Bank, sealed the deal for Arvind. Pursuit and Tompkins VIST Bank, thanks to support from Arvind’s banker Ray Crespo, partnered on funding the Bristol House project and in addition, Tompkins VIST provided working capital.
Arvind explains that designing, building and licensing Bristol House was complex and resulted in a four-year-long project. It also required significantly more money than the team initially anticipated. But, he says, “Pursuit, Tompkins VIST and the SBA stuck with us throughout. They were always there, always providing answers and support.”
A commitment to safety and care
Arvind and the Bristol House team are rising to the healthcare and safety challenges inherent to the field of memory care and that have been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a challenging time to be in this business,” admits Arvind. “Still, families rely on us to provide great care and our team comes in every day and does that for their loved ones.”
Measures are in place to ensure that residents receive physical, emotional and intellectual activities to keep their bodies and minds strong and engaged. This is especially important considering that Bristol House, like all residential-care facilities in Pennsylvania, has had to curtail outside visitors.
“More recently, we’ve been able to help families get some different kinds of visitation, too,” he says. “For example, families can come to Bristol House for ‘window visits’ and the staff will allow ‘minor touch,’ such as removing screens. They’re small steps but they mean everything to our residents and their families.”
And to date, Bristol House has managed to keep the pandemic out of the facility while admitting new residents.
Lessons learned along the way
While there are many similarities between welcoming guests at a hotel and providing a welcoming and homelike atmosphere for long-term care residents, Arvind says that he and his team have learned many invaluable lessons along the way. Here’s what Arvind believes all entrepreneurs should know:
- Put the best team together.
“Who you trust to be a part of your team is one of the most important decisions a business owner will make and it can be the most difficult, too. It’s critical to hire people who want to take on challenges and achieve your vision. And it’s important that they know that you’ll support them, too.”
Happily, he considers Pursuit part of the right team. “Pursuit has been great to work with, especially because our project ran into some challenges and many funders would have backed out. Pursuit knew where we wanted to go and how we wanted to make a difference and they stayed with us.”
- Always have more capital than you think you need.
“It’s always best to have more capital than the cost of your project. If someone quotes you a project cost of $1 million, for example, aim to be capitalized at $1.5 million. If you don’t spend it, fine, but if you need it, you’re ready, whether that’s a construction delay or a pandemic or a new opportunity. And don’t use all of your personal savings. Instead, find a funder to help you. If you have money on hand, you can get through the tough times and if you survive those, the good times will come. But if you go through your savings, at best, you’ll always be catching up and you won’t ever get ahead.”
- Remember that people are the heart of every business and if you do what’s best for your clients and your staff, the rest will follow.
“We approached this business with lessons learned about creating caring and comfortable spaces and a vision to combine that with outstanding personal care. But when the pandemic hit and we had to close to visitors to keep everyone safer, we lost some vital connections. We realized that we have to allow some contact – it’s so necessary for our clients and their families. Every day, we face the challenge of balancing health and safety concerns with emotional care, but it’s working out. We’ve humanized things a little more.”
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