The Golden Age // Family Tradition Serves Families in Transition

By Connie Bye

As a youngster, Morgan Rohrbach would stop by her grandmothers’ apartments at the Madison Avenue Retirement Center (MARC) and do her homework. Sometimes she worked as a server in the dining room.

Today Rohrbach is president and CEO of Bainbridge Senior Living (BSL), the company her father, Don Roose, launched in 1991 when his mother-in-law needed to downsize. The MARC, now Madison House, was the first of four residences Roose went on to create for seniors.

Despite her close connections to senior living, Rohrbach did not have her sights set on the family business. Her dad offered to bring her in after college, but the timing wasn’t yet right. “I was young, studying marine biology,” she said. “It took me a while.

”Nonetheless, after working in her field of study—and taking a year off to sail with her husband and three children to  Mexico-Rohrbach came home to work at BSL. She started in marketing, revamping the website. Next she became administrator for Madison and Wyatt Houses before supervising construction at Madrona, which opened four years ago. In 2016 she took over the leadership role.

Madison House, along with Wyatt House and Madrona House, provide varying levels of assisted living, including a memory care unit at Madrona. Winslow Manor offers independent senior living. Together, they can accommodate about 200 people.

Rohrbach, 41, said she’s always looking for ways to better meet residents’ needs. Last November, she hired Tamas Ronyai (owner of L’Atalier TR) as executive chef to focus on healthy, fresh meals with local ingredients when available.

“He’s great with the residents, and the food is amazing. ”The food is indeed tasty, according to Bill Hemp, 90, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment at Winslow Manor where residents eat dinner together Monday through Friday.

He had lived with his wife in Winslow for eight years, but after she died and the apartment lease was up, he made the move. “I have a beautiful garden apartment here,” said Hemp, a noted Bainbridge pen-and-ink artist. “I use one bedroom for my art studio.”

Rohrbach also likes to collaborate. For example, Boys and Girls Club members sit and read with Madrona residents. “The interaction is great for the kids and our residents, who love their energy and youthfulness.” In addition, internships through Bainbridge Youth Services train teens in administration, culinary arts and life-enrichment skills.

Still another example of collaboration is the family council Rohrbach set up earlier this year at Madrona. “Many of our residents can’t speak for themselves,” she said. “Our [residents’] families are supportive, and they’ve helped us address issues.

”In addition to permanent housing, BSL offers short-term stays in furnished apartments for a variety of reasons, including respite care or rehab after hospital stays. And for those who are on the fence about assisted living, short-term stays can help with the decision, Rohrbach said.

That was the case for Vivian Stevens, said her daughter-in-law, Caroline Stevens. She had lived in the same apartment in New York City for nearly 50 years but tried a short-term stay at Madison House at the urging of her family.

“She was a reluctant transplant,” said Caroline, a retired hospice nurse. “She only brought a couple of suitcases at first. Gradually, we convinced her she needed to stay here.” Vivian moved for good in 2009.

To cope with progressing dementia, Vivian, now 95, transitioned last year into Madrona, which offers the level of care she now needs. “They [BSL] have been very kind to Vivian and to us,” Caroline said, “and they are committed to having her stay in the system as her needs change.”

Looking ahead, Rohrbach is considering ways to keep improving. She aims to make better use of staff time by reducing paperwork. She’s looking to expand life enrichment activities for residents. And she’s weighing options for attracting and retaining employees, who mainly live off-island.

She has even considered building staff housing, so employees and their families could enjoy all that Bainbridge has to offer. That would be an expensive venture, she knows, but she’s thinking about it. “We’ve made many changes,” Rohrbach said, “but we’re ready for the new wave.”