There’s a new player on the long-term care scene and it makes no small plans. It’s goal, in part, is to “enlighten” the rest of the profession with an employee-focused brand of care, as well technical innovation that could revolutionize resident response times and care.

Illuminate HC is its name, and the moniker itself is a show of the creativity behind its leaders. Illuminate stands for its proprietary, new logistics system that uses patent-pending software and a new staffing model that speeds up call-response times.

The HC, meanwhile, stands for “human capital,” an ironically spartan phrase that belies the special touches that await those who would work for the start-up.

The company officially assumed management of nine former HCR ManorCare facilities in Michigan exactly a week ago, and it could be the start of something much bigger. Its co-founders told McKnight’s that another pair of acquisitions are already in the pipeline, and there are goals to build a bigger regional and then national entity.

“The crux of the model is really putting emphasis and resources on human capital, which is in our name,” explains CEO Yair Zuckerman. “We’re relentlessly pursuing what we think is the biggest plague to the industry’s workforce: Burnt out morale and turnover. We’d love to be known as the ones who solved the turnover problem once and for all, not just making a dent in it.”

Illuminate employees can expect higher wages and other wrinkles that might be called “perks” elsewhere but will be part of standard operating procedure with them, Zuckerman said. The extent of the details that he and his team have gone to can be illustrated by a point emphasized by co-founder and company president, Harry Schayer: custom uniforms.

“I believe we have the most advanced uniforms in the industry,” Schayer says. “We spent a lot of time trying to design something that would be comfortable and performance based. All of the enhancements to the staff will be key.”

Turnover takes so much from the bottom line, “everybody feels that’s where the savings will be,” Zuckerman explained.

The nine facilities are in the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas and comprise 1,054 beds. The company employs about 1,500 and plans to invest more than $20 million in capital improvements in the near term.

“While we definitely believe that patients should be comfortable and in a healing environment, we believe money is best invested on the team and people who care for them,” Zuckerman stressed. Accordingly, wages will “get where they need to be.”

“Frontline workers are not compensated enough,” he adds, saying the industry is guilty of saying it wants change but then “keeps doing the same things over and over.” “It’s easy to say wages will be raised. We’ll use different ratios and more support staff, and want to compensate the top 20% like the top 2% [currently].”

Yet there is a sense of tempered realism in both execs, who in previous work lives were top officers at Legacy Healthcare. New company? Yes. Industry newcomers? No.  Zuckerman was CEO at Legacy, while Schayer, who once worked at a facility where his father was the administrator, and later became a trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange, was COO.

“I think we have to earn” a successful innovator label, Zuckerman told me. “It’s going to take some time. This is a movement of sorts and we want to be able to deliver. We want to be the ones who solved the turnover situation. All of these ideas have to develop.”

They won’t be directing traffic from afar, they emphasized. With corporate offices in Howell, MI, and Evanston, IL, they plan to be onsite nearly every day at the beginning. They are already familiar with the buildings, having operated some of them under different arrangements previously.

“We want to be on the floor and show that we, too, have our customized scrubs and will work on the floor next to staff,” Zuckerman.

Adds Schayer: “We plan on being here, certainly in the beginning almost every day, making sure of the foundation. Our natural habitat is not in the office or the board room. It’s in the facilities. We’ll try to stick to that as much as we can.”

Part of the onsite tasks will be helping everyone adopt the facilities’ new identity. Once operating under the Heartland name, they are transitioning to a new brand called “SKLD” (pronounced just like it looks: “skilled”). It is indeed the full name and not a stock ticker symbol, Zuckerman and Schayer acknowledged, a process they know they’ll have to repeat for a while. Check out to learn more.

“We believe it speaks to the core. It’s very simple, very honest. We’re not trying to just come up with fancy names that patients don’t care about anyway. We want something to rally around and be simple,” Zuckerman explained. “How we want customer to think of it is how Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom and Epcot Center all mean one thing. We all understand the brand behind it is Disney and the experience it brings.”

They hope one magical aspect of it will be their patent-pending product that will improve communication among caregiving teams. “A product created by a lot of passionate people trying to solve the root cause of frustration,” it can reduce call light request response to as little as 30 seconds, they said. 

If it becomes widely adopted, it seems the “Illuminate” part of the corporate name — a play off of the phrase “call light” — will have been on-target. Until then, another kind of flash — a spotlight — will be the dominant glow around this intriguing start-up.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.