“There are no old people in Columbia,” they said. “Your plan,” they added, “is crazy.”
The public reaction to Nicholas B. Mangione’s decision to build a nursing home in the Howard County planned community 40 years ago made sense.
At the time, Columbia was in its infancy, just 10 years old. There was something new everywhere one looked: the villages, the homes, the families, even the idea of the place, conceived by the visionary James W. (Jim) Rouse. And, so, the notion that there would be a sufficient number of older people in the area to fill and sustain a nursing home struck many as inconceivable.
The skepticism proved misplaced.
Mangione’s first site was an instant success, thanks in part to a little luck, and now the company he launched in 1977 operates 10 nursing home/assisted living facility communities throughout Maryland and employs more than 2,000 people.
‘Take Care of Them’
The success story of Ellicott City-based Lorien Health Services is somewhat unlikely, and not just because of the company’s “risky” beginnings. The improbability stems from leadership’s laser focus on people rather than profits, on delivering innovative, high-quality services and amenities at a time when financial considerations have become paramount in the health care industry.
“They weren’t patients to him. They were somebody’s mom, somebody’s dad,” Lou Grimmel, Sr., Lorien’s current chief executive, said of Mangione. “That is somebody’s most prized passion. You better take care of them,” he added, summarizing the founder’s philosophy.
Mangione passed away in 2008, but his guiding principle — loved ones before bottom lines — endures.
The company’s chief operating officer, Wayne Brannock, confessed that he and his Lorien colleagues consistently break their own budgets, exceeding projections to enhance and improve facilities. “It is the right thing to do,” he explained.
As a result of such investments, Brannock said, “It is not uncommon to have people walk into one of our nursing homes and turn around and walk out. They think they are in a hotel.”
About That Lucky Break
Lorien owes its successful start four decades ago not to a hotel-like setting, but rather to a hospital. Needing more beds and the space to accommodate them, Howard County General Hospital’s Chief Executive Ted Hussey turned to Mangione for help, ultimately leasing the top floor of the new nursing home, installing some 60 beds, and using it as a kind of extension facility. Lorien provided all of the services except for nursing. It was a lucrative contract.
“It was a stroke of luck that the hospital saw an opportunity. [The CEO] came knocking on our door,” Grimmel said.
From there, Mangione went on to construct a retirement community in Columbia. Like the first facility, he built the second at the request of his friend, David Harans, who became part-owner for his expertise in nursing homes and would operate them. Likewise the third and fourth sites. Mangione ultimately took total control.
Today, Lorien runs communities not only in Columbia, but also in Elkridge and Ellicott City, as well as in the counties of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford.
A Family Affair
Despite the considerable expansion, Lorien remains a family affair. Mangione hired Grimmel, his nephew, even before establishing the nursing home company.
During one of his regular visits with his mother, Mangione asked Grimmel what he was doing professionally. The newly minted Salisbury State University graduate reported he was selling cars. His uncle responded by saying he didn’t see much of future in that line of work for the young man, and offered him a job as a dump truck driver at his construction site for Fallston General Hospital in Harford County.
When his first nursing home opened, Mangione arranged a job there for Grimmel so he could learn the business.
“He made me do every job there was to do in a nursing home,” Grimmel said, recalling 70-hour work weeks without complaint. Since those early days, Grimmel has been joined in the business by his four children and four of Nick Mangione’s 37 grandchildren.
“You can tell I love what I do,” he said. “They love what they do. I don’t think you can be good at something you don’t like.”
There’s more than love apparent at Lorien’s homes. In addition to a wide and growing variety of medical services, such as a telemedicine program to treat patients in place, there are also many features and activities on view that one doesn’t naturally associate with nursing facilities. There is a Starbucks coffee shop in every one. There are cafes, ice cream parlors, libraries and movie theaters, too. And at the Taneytown location, there is a restaurant called Flick’s Pub, featuring live music on weekends, karaoke and craft beer specialties. The place actually attracts patrons who live elsewhere.
“Imagine that a nursing home is the talk of the town,” said Jim Hummer, the company’s vice president of home and community-based services. “It is the coolest nursing home on the planet.”
Then there is the boxing. Lorien is partnering with the Maryland Association for Parkinson’s Support (MAPS) to offer a program called Rock Steady Boxing. The dual objective for patients with Parkinson’s is empowerment and physical fitness that is specifically tailored for their needs.
“They love it. Day one, it was amazing,” said Grimmel. More space is needed already to meet demand for the program.
Also uncommon is Lorien’s long-term care unit for Korean seniors. In fact, it is believed to be the only such offering in the state. Featuring Korean food, worship, language and games, the program started four years ago with five beds. Within three months, it tripled in size. Today, the program is available at two locations, one in Columbia, the other in Baltimore County.
The company’s liaison in the initiative, Dr. Sue Song, said she selected Lorien rather than a competing nursing home for a number of reasons. To begin with, she said, it is a supportive and stable long-term care company, while so many other outfits are regularly bought and sold.
What’s more, “The Mangione family and Lou [Grimmel] strongly believe a nursing home does not have to be separated from the community. At Lorien, I didn’t feel there was a wall. This family was part of the community.”
Forty years later, Lorien remains a part of a community that, come to find out, has older people after all.