Welcome to Bridge the Gap with hosts Josh Crisp and Lucas McCurdy. A podcast dedicated to inform, educate and influence the future of housing and services for seniors. Bridge the Gap aims to help shape the culture of the senior living industry by being an advocate and a positive voice of influence which drives quality outcomes for our aging population.
Bridge The Gap

Senior Living Startup Journey with Austin Steele

BTG Ambassador Austin Steele is on a mission to achieve exceptional quality outcomes by leading a world-class care team.


We want to be passionate about caring for our residents as well as our employees.

Austin Steele

Guest on This Episode

Josh Crisp

Owner & CEO Solinity

Josh Crisp is a senior living executive with more than 15 years of experience in development, construction, and management of senior living communities across the southeast.

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Lucas McCurdy

Owner & Founder The Bridge Group Construction

Lucas McCurdy is the founder of The Bridge Group Construction based in Dallas, Texas. Widely known as “The Senior Living Fan”.

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Austin Steele

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We want to change the world one heart at a time and we've got that on our wall.

Quick Overview of the Podcast

On a mission to achieve exceptional quality outcomes by leading a world-class care team. BTG Ambassador Austin Steele, Chief Strategy Officer of Journey, shares the strategies that his team is adopting to keep employees satisfied in the workplace, plus his thoughts on the future of Journey.  

This episode was recorded at the NIC Spring Conference.

Produced by Solinity Marketing.

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Welcome to season seven of Bridge The Gap, a podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Powered by sponsors Accushield, Aline, NIC MAP Vision, ProCare HR, Sage, Hamilton CapTel, Service Master, The Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. And produced by Solinity Marketing.

Lucas 00:49:

Welcome to Bridge The Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas here in Dallas, Texas. Spring NIC 2024. We got a great friend, guest, and BTG Ambassador Austin Steele. Welcome to the show.

Austin 01:01:

Hey, appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Lucas 01:03:

Awesome to have you on. We've known Austin for a number of years. It's been fun to watch your journey, pun intended because you're on a brand new journey with a brand new company called Journey. So give us the origin story. You've had a great career working for some really good companies. And now you've decided to step out on your own and take this big risk and dream on this journey.

Austin 01:27:

Yeah. Man, it's a super exciting time. A little bit scary too, but was asked by a guy that I've known for a while. He was actually a colleague and a boss of mine, but Bernie McGinnis and he came to me and said, Hey, I'm going to start this thing. Do you want to be a care team member? Do you want to be a part of this? That kind of developed over the summer and there were some opportunities that we were working on and I said, yeah, let's do it. I'm in. We actually officially just kicked off recently on March 1st was our first acquisition. But we've been working on it for a while, quite a bit over the summer and into the winter. But yeah, so that's just how it started. Both of us really have a lot of passion for caring for seniors and doing it the right way and providing the right care. It really made sense. I mean, as far as why to do something like this as opposed to going to find just your normal job, I guess.

Josh 02:22:

So vision of what you guys hope to do. And then I guess the second part is like, why now? You guys had such exciting careers already and why is the timing right for what Journey's doing?

Austin 02:33:

We want to change the world one heart at a time and we've got that on our wall. We believe that. We believe that care is done at the bedside. It's one resident at a time, one interaction at a time. As a big large operator, you're only as good as your worst care team member. Now is the time. We think that there are a lot of transactions that are happening in the market. There are some people that thought that they could go in and do something and it's a little harder than what a lot of people think. It takes time and we're excited about the different opportunities and it really just comes down to what we might end up landing. And you say no more than Yes. Which I've never been a part of that. So it's something new and exciting just to be a part of.

Josh 03:17:

What a worthy mission. And I don't want to get too in the weeds here, but you said something that I think is super just valuable and I can't rephrase it exactly how you said it, but you said basically you want to do this one heart at a time, one resident at a time, one member at a time. But that you're only as a large operator, you're only as strong as your weakest link, basically. Like that caregiver. So that hit me, but from a blocking, and tackling, how do you change that? I mean, what is your vision for how you help the recruit and that you help the team members realize how valuable they are? Because that's what I heard there is the value of that person providing that care to that one resident. If that isn't right, nothing else is. So I mean, how do you even start on a mission to change that?

Austin 04:03:

And you're exactly right because It is trying to make sure that everybody feels like they are a part of something, that they are a part of the mission. We want them to feel a part of that. We believe that if you break it down, a happy employee gives better care.

Josh 04:18:


Austin 04:18:

So in order for us as the employer, what can we do? We want to be passionate about caring for our residents as well as our employees. And we really put that at the center for us. So our care team members, we don't actually call them employees, we call them care team members, because we think that's really what they are. We want to go in and change things. We're going to go to a weekly pay. The building that we were taking over, they didn't have weekly pay as an operator. It's harder to do, it's a cashflow thing, but we believe that's the right thing to do. They have access to their cash a day after they work. Affordable health insurance benefits. We have a program that we're putting together, it's called the Journey Advantage, where we're looking at some housing discounts, maybe some discounts at a large grocery chain that we've been able to negotiate and just trying to go out and say, what are just the little things that might happen?

Austin 05:09:

We're looking at giving every care team member potentially cell phones with unlimited talk text and data. I mean, just different things that we're looking at and trying to figure out like what are those things that we think if we could give an employee a phone, that's their sense of security almost. Right. On Maslow's hierarchy, that security is normally that shelter is almost like your phone these days. If I didn't have my phone I don't even know if I could get back to the airport. So trying to figure out how do we take these different kinds of wraparound benefits that we think that every care team member is going to look at and go, oh wow, this is great. We're giving them a program where they have an app on their phone. They can talk to a physician 24/7, it costs them $0. Your kid's sick? Here, talk to him. Send a script over to CVS.

Josh 06:01:

Yeah. Some really meaningful and thoughtful benefits to reward great team members. So congratulations on your first acquisition. I think that's what I heard.

Austin 06:09:

Yeah. Thanks.

Josh 06:09:

It's not easy to do. What type of community is it? What are you guys doing there?

Austin 06:13:

It's something that just kind of popped up. It's in southern Indiana. We're from Indiana. So that works out. But it was a lady who was actually, she's retiring from working and owning a nursing home because she's going back to school to be a chaplain.

Josh 06:31:


Josh 06:31:

She's 80 years old. Amazing. She wants to be a chaplain at a hospice and we met, and we hit it off. We had the same values and it was awesome. So it's a small building. It has 39 beds. The biggest employer in town. It's got a flashing light, doesn't even have a full light. I mean there's literally a biker bar right next door. Yeah. It's what you might think of southern rural Indiana.

Josh 06:59:

But this lady's probably put her blood, sweat, and tears into this building and everything she could give.

Austin 07:04:

Everything that she can give. I honestly think that she was so excited for us to be able to step in and give that vision of where we think it can go. Because I think she thought "I might have to just close up shop." So it's super exciting to be able to come in and do that. It's been great. We've been bootstrapping it right now. I had to miss meetings this morning because I had to do payroll. Somebody has to do it. There's just a handful of us on the team right now.

Josh 07:33:

Wow. But what an exciting time, man.

Austin 07:34:

Yeah, it's fun.

Josh 07:35:

And we'll look forward to tracking and keeping up with your successes.

Lucas 07:39:

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Josh 08:01:

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Josh 08:18:

So from a pipeline standpoint, looking for mainly just acquisitions right now?

Austin 08:23:

Yeah, mainly mainly acquisitions. That's what we're targeting. We want to do the Midwest and Southeast. That's our geographic footprint that we want. We really want to have a regional presence, if you're talking about pipeline on where we want to go. And we think having that regional presence, you have a regional nursing staff and regional operators, that model works better than flying somebody in from Indianapolis. I would rather have somebody that's boots on the ground there who is going to know the space and live it and breathe it.

Josh 08:56:

Sure. So from a growth strategy, looking at the three to five year horizon, where do you think the journey will be?

Austin 09:02:

In three to five years, really I think somewhere in that 30 to 50 range is probably the comfortable space that ideally we would love to get to. Now that I'm saying that, that's a lot.

Josh 09:16:

You're gonna be busy.

Austin 09:18:

And we've been busy just for one, which is shocking coming from mainly being an operator and really on that operation side. And I've done some strategy work and now it's a different type of like role. And so it's been a lot of fun.

Josh 09:34:

Yeah. So when you look at what I'll just classify as a mom-and-pop that you've acquired. I don't know if you have more of those in store or not, but with a mom-and-pop, I'm assuming probably not highly sophisticated systems, it's a small community. What do you see when Journey comes into a market like that? What is the value you see that you're really going to bring to that community with what you guys are bringing in?

Austin 09:56:

You're exactly right. It is very mom-and-pop. I'm talking, every check was done by hand. PTO was kept in a binder. I mean, our administrator is 82 years old.

Josh 10:09:


Austin 10:10:

So what we're going to bring is just better systems, more efficient systems. At the end of the day, our hope too is that yes, we know there's going to be a learning curve. We bring in an EMR to give more time where we can give more patient care. It takes a while to write everything out and calculate it. Right now our administrator, he told someone how much they owed and he put it on a 10 key and the tape started going, It's going to go down in folklore, I promise. And the lady just wrote the check, no questions asked. That's the mom-and-pop feel. I'll be honest, we want to maintain a lot of that family feel. That's where a hundred buildings, we probably don't want to be a hundred buildings, because I want to walk in and know the people there.

Josh 10:56:

Right. Well, Lucas and I have talked about this so much, what you were describing, I don't know what the stat is. At some point years ago I looked at it in those mom-and-pop shops the small that owned one to two or three is at some point it was a large percentage of the actual beds in our country were owned by mom-and-pops the fabric of our country and our industry. That's how it all started. There is something special about that. And there is something special about someone who takes full ownership of every life in that community. The beauty of what you're talking about is not losing that, but giving them the opportunity to only enhance what they're doing. And that's something pretty special.

Austin 11:36:

Yeah. I think you said it really well. As far as what we are looking for, we're just excited about it and we do, we want everybody to feel like it's that it's family. Bernie and I were joking, we probably know three-quarters of the staff. I know them all by name because I've been doing their payroll and they don't even know it. I can tell them how old they are and I don't want to freak them out, but it's the fabric of what we want. And you're right. The mom and pops. That's what started it.

Josh 12:05:

Right, yeah. It's really exciting. It's fun to see again, your journey and how that's all coming, and awesome to have you as an ambassador. As busy as you are.

Austin 12:12:

Yeah, I'm excited, man. I'm excited about it.

Josh 12:15:

As busy as you guys are and for you to be able to also think bigger than that and think, how can I further advance the industry? Man, it's really appreciated.

Austin 12:24:

I'm excited about it and I appreciate what you guys do. There are a lot of people when you think of media, who don't sing the praises of what really the care that's being provided day in and day out. You get to hear the bad stories, but as a sector and as an industry, you do care for the people that you take care of.

Josh 12:46:

Well, Lucas and I often talked about this, and the reason why we started this is because we see boots on the ground. There are so many people like you that are very much influential in the industry, but doing everything for the right reasons. And so for us to just simply be able to share those stories, the success, we feel like that really helps to change the perception of the industry and encourages hopefully more people to our industry, because when I got in the industry, I don't know, 20 years ago there were not too many folks younger in the industry. So it is fun to be here at NIC and to see all the young executives and entrepreneurs that are entering the space I would say 20 years ago was not a thing that was happening.

Austin 13:29:

I remember when I got in, I don't know why anybody took direction from me when I first started running a building. I've seen pictures like, wow, I looked really young. I used to always be the youngest guy in the room, right? Now it's like I got gray hair coming in and all the stuff.

Lucas 13:47:

Both you and Josh have very similar careers as you all are still young men, but your entire careers have really been spent in the senior housing industry. What a unique perspective for both of you to be on a similar journey in different marketplaces. So a great and fun conversation to have and I'm excited to hear more. And if you're out there listening, you notice that BTG talks a lot about an ambassador program and you're probably wondering like, what is that? How do I get involved there? You can go to our website, btgvoice.com, click ambassador, and you can read all about how to apply to become an ambassador, just like Austin Steele did here. Austin, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate you telling us your story.

Austin 14:28:

Appreciate it. Thanks guys.

Josh 14:29:

Thank you.

Lucas 14:30:

So once again, go to btgvoice.com, download this content and so much more. Connect with us on LinkedIn, we want to hear your story. And thanks for listening to another great episode, of Bridge The Gap.


Thanks for listening to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. Connect with the BTG network team and use your voice to influence the industry by connecting with us at btgvoice.com.

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