James M. Berklan

A little-known fact in Berklan family lore is that I was once part of a Guinness World Records Book entry. Maybe still am. There are press clippings somewhere at the house, but I don’t know exactly where.

For better or worse, it didn’t involve lying on a bed of nails, juggling chain saws or roller-coaster riding.

But there was international intrigue, mass media coverage and lots of good food. Lots and lots. And beer.

It occurred during a summer of college work in my adopted German hometown of Bad Homburg, a few miles north of Frankfurt. My role in it admittedly came by happenstance. Bad Homburg, you see, knows how to throw a party and this particular year, it decided to make a run at the world’s largest “Festtafel.” (Festival table)

Sitting, eating and drinking — this the Germans know how to do. When the big weekend arrived, naturally my friends and I joined thousands of others trying to get in the fabled book founded by twins Ross and Norris McWhirter. The table must have been at least a kilometer (0.6 miles) long, possibly longer, if I recall correctly. The newspaper photos the next day from above left the people at the far end indistinguishable.

It was a fairly anonymous, closeted way to enter what is perhaps the world’s favorite trivia/record book. But here I am, regaling in it still, albeit it for the first time in several decades. To browse the Guinness book is irresistible. To be in it is sublime.

That’s why I was so glad to see what the good people at Regency Post-Acute, Rehab & Nursing Care Centers in New Jersey have done with their hard-earned spot in the current Guinness World Record Book.

They were granted a spot in the 2015 edition by creating the largest gathering of centenarians in the world. There were 41 to be exact — though just 31 if you’re going by Guinness standards, which include a call for original birth certificates only. (The 10 others could not muster an original copy of a record that, remember, had to be dated 1913 or earlier.)

There they are, pictured on page 76 of the sparkly blue hardcover 2015 edition of Guinness. How do I know this? Well the Regency folks told me, of course! I even have my own copy of the book. Just as they proudly give a book to prospects and family members of residents already occupying one of their 710 beds (four skilled nursing and rehab facilities and one adult day care center).

Regency marketing gurus have hundreds and hundreds of copies of the book to give away, in fact. Good for them. They not only got creative with this promotion, which attracted politicians and news hordes by the droves, they also invited members from the outside community, including — get this — competing long-term care providers.

So along with the Regency five, you had workers, residents and their family members driving in from, among others, CareOne at East Brunswick, Willow Creek Rehabilitation and Care Center and Margaret McLaughlin McCarrick Care Center. It looked a little bit like a high school track meet, with buses from nearby communities crowding the parking lot at Regency Heritage Post-Acute, Rehab & Nursing Center in Somerset, NJ.

“We knew we had the record with our five facilities, but we figured it was worth a shot to invite others. They’re honorable competitors and located close by so we figured we’d reach out to them,” explains Judah Gutwein, LNHA, the director of admissions, administration, marketing and social media for Regency. “We also reached out to some senior centers in the area, and went out to churches and senior day care centers. It didn’t generate any admissions, frankly, but that wasn’t the goal. It was an all-expenses paid event.”

The brainchild of Regency Founder and President David Gross, LNHA, according to Gutwein, the centenarian soiree included food, fun, photos … and observers from Guinness. The gargantuan undertaking was stitched together by marketing wiz Marie Barnes, Regency’s corporate marketing and public relations director, Gutwein added.

Here is a video clip from the big day in May 2013. Coverage from AARP, never a bad thing when you’re trying to reach a lot of aging people, is here. Regency also helped spread the word with website partners like a APlaceForMom.com, which produced this spot. These are just a few of the favorable reports on the unique event, which erased the previous record set in 2009 in England.

The big gathering took place in 2013 but wasn’t certified in time for the 2014 edition of the Guinness book, Gutwein explained. That’s how the 2015 book came to be so valued. He adds that the publishers give only so much space to each category of records each edition, making it an unsure thing that something will appear each year or be a repeat entry in subsequent years. If someone else has already eclipsed the Regency C-suite (centenarian) feat, the Regency folks don’t know. And don’t really care.

“We’ve been very gratified by the feedback we’ve received on this. People seem to love it. Our centenarians didn’t just show up at age 99,” he reminds. “They came to be with us in their 80s and early 90s — we’re very happy with the way they thrive and have been with us a long time.” 

Gutwein says the company will try to repeat the gathering of centenarians regularly, perhaps with another gathering next year. Until then, there are other initiatives filling the creative spaces. There is, for example, the company’s “Icare” initiative and “TLC” program to avoid re-hospitalizations. 

TLC stands for “Think, Look, Communicate” and encourages everyone — not just nurses or aides — to observe and take part in a resident’s “global” well-being, especially as it might pertain to changes in status. It has been a “major” success so far and is expected to expand in the months ahead, Gutwein says. Reducing re-hospitalizations, of course, would be a major feather in the cap of any long-term care provider.

And for Regency and its residents, another great marketing move.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.