Executive Spotlight: Edward Forfa, CEO Berkshire Place
Edward Forfa has worked at Berkshire Place, a senior health care community in Pittsfield, for two decades, the past 15 as executive director. Under his tenure, the nonprofit with roots dating to the 19th century has opened a new facility in Pittsfield, and recently reopened a senior independent living community in its old building at 89 South St. after a $5 million renovation project.
Those are impressive accomplishments, but Forfa's career originally began in a different direction. The Lee native, a sports management major at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, had his sights set on a front-office job in professional sports. Forfa got a taste of that life during the mid-1990s, when he worked in ticket sales and advertising for the former Pittsfield Mets of the New York Penn League. But after two years, he reassessed his priorities. A chance to change careers came up and he took it.
We met with Forfa recently to talk about his former career and his current career, the changes in the senior health care industry over the past two decades, and what it was like to work at the UMass Amherst sports information office when John Calipari was the men's basketball coach in the 1990s.
Q What were your original professional aspirations?
A I wanted to worked in Major League Baseball, originally. My background was in sports. Baseball and basketball were my favorites, and those were the sports that I also played [in high school]. I worked in the sports information office at UMass during the basketball team's rise to prominence with John Calipari.
Q Did you work directly with Calipari?
A Not directly, because I was in the sports information office. We did all the things around him. You don't realize it at the time, but when you look back, wow. It was a great time for UMass basketball, baseball and football.
Q How did you become involved in the senior living industry?
A My mother is a registered nurse. She got me in that direction. I did an administrator-in-training session back in the mid-1990s.
Q What's the difference between management jobs in professional sports and in the senior health care industry,
A There's a lot of similarities. You'd be surprised, in a sense. When I went to school for sports management, [it was] the same core business background. They did marketing, advertising, economics accounting. Those were all the core courses, but in school, they were just applied to sports. It's the same principles for the most part, just applied differently.
Q How has the model for assisted living changed during the two decades you've been at Berkshire Place?
A I think the nursing facilities have become more like the hospitals were and the assisted living ones have become more like the nursing homes. It's just that the dependence or care of those components have increased. What used to take place in hospitals now takes place in nursing facilities, and what used to take place in nursing facilities is now in assisted living.
Q Why has that changed?
A It's a societal component; a technology piece. And to some degree it's maybe the reimbursement piece. [People] are moved out of hospitals quicker now when they're sicker than when they used to be. ... And assisted living facilities have a more dependent focus, too. I think people want to reside there before moving on to the next step, so they bring services into those settings.
Q What's the biggest misconception that people have about assisted living and nursing homes?
A They get confused and think it's all the same. It's very common.
Q What is the difference?
A There are different levels. Assisted living, I guess, is more social-based with some medical. I guess the concept is more social for the assisted living and more medical for the nursing facility. ... Assisted living is kind of the first step.
Q You now have two facilities at Berkshire Place instead of one. Is that better for your business model?
A I think it's helpful because we have little pockets of programming that we can do to support the community. We have the skilled nursing and rehab center at Berkshire Place. At Home with Berkshire Place is a home care support program that we have. At 89 South, that's the assisted senior living again, another complementary service. It's nice because we're kind of going back to the roots of the organization. That's how [Berkshire Place] started [in 1888], that independent living with seniors with meals, wellness, social activities and programming.
Q Before renovating and reopening your new assisted living facility at 89 South, the 19th-century building it's located in was vacant for five years. I know that 89 South St. has been part of Berkshire Place since the organization's inception, but did you consider selling it?
A We wanted to look at what was the highest and best use for retaining that building. Did it make more sense to sell? Or did it make more sense to repurpose it? Ultimately, we felt its reinvestment into the downtown, its location and its history, the many people we've served since 1888, the different families and generations, that we decided to put it back into use rather than sell it.
Q Did you get any offers?
A It wasn't on the market. But we had some people exploring what it would entail.
Q How do people begin the process of finding the facility that's right for them?
A They want to find the least restrictive environment, but the one that meets their needs. There's not one resource [that people can go to] per se. For nursing facilities, it's Medicare.gov. For assisted living, it's the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. There's also two associations in Massachusetts, Leading Age and Mass. Senior Care. So, those can be resources. You also have your commercial places that advertise. ... A lot of times it's word-of-mouth in the local community. Especially in our community. We're interconnected. We know our neighbors, unlike in big cities where we may not.
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