McGarry and Hart

Michael McGarry (left) has taken over as president and CEO of Montgomery Place, succeeding Deborah E. Hart (right). 

Michael McGarry, formerly of the Hyde Park Bank and longtime head of Montgomery Place's board of directors, has been named the continuing care retirement community's new president and CEO as of Monday, succeeding Deborah E. Hart.

Hart is continuing her work at Montgomery Place, 5500 S. Shore Drive, through the end of the year for continuity's sake before fully retiring. Gregory L. Gleason, vice chair of the board of directors, replaces McGarry as acting chair until a meeting next month to elect new officers.

"There's a spot in my heart for Montgomery Place," McGarry said. "When you get to know the people, when you get to know the residents — I know a lot of people in the building when I first got involved and continue to know a lot of people, just through the bank and getting involved in the community. You get to know these people, and it just kind of builds a place in your heart where you feel that you can help."

McGarry joined the board in 2002. He became Hyde Park Bank's president in 2011, having worked in lending, human relations, and strategic development and planning. In 2012, Wintrust Bank acquired it, and he stayed on as its market president until 2017. In 2013, he was part of the organizing committee for Special Services Area #61 (Downtown Hyde Park), served as its first board chairman from 2014-17 and remains an active consultant.

"I've always done banking. That's always been my background. But as far as what makes me able to do this job is when I first joined the board, they asked me to be treasurer, because all bankers have to be treasurers. It's built into the bylaws!" he said. "So through that, you get to know the finance side of it, and then by being in various committees, you get to know how the inner operations work."

Montgomery Place's primary business, around 80%, is independent living, where residents have their own apartments but get a daily meal and other services like transportation and security. There are 19 assisted living spaces, which function as a bridge to 40 24-hour skilled nursing care spaces.

There are for- and nonprofit senior living facilities; Montgomery Place is a nonprofit and a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), designed to provide housing for residents' as they continue aging. It was established in 1991, with roots in the Church Home, founded in Hyde Park by an Episcopal priest in 1888. McGarry said nonprofit CCRCs are more mission-driven; Hart said for-profit homes tend to be in assisted living, not independent living, and that it is uncommon to find for-profits with all three levels of care.

"Skilled care is almost all in the for-profit world," she said. "But they are large chains that gain their margin based on volume. They'll have from 50-200 locations, and they gain their profitability off of margin. I didn't say care."

Montgomery Place is the only senior living facility within Hyde Park-Kenwood proper. It is expensive. McGarry pointed out that living on your own involves separate expenses for food, cable, transportation and internet — all of which are covered by Montgomery Place's monthly fees. Long-term financial planning for retirement is important; long-term care insurance plans are available for purchase.

"Many individuals that we get who want to move here, they want all the benefits of living here. But they're shell-shocked on what it costs to live, because they didn't have any adequate savings," Hart said. "There are locations that have locations available for the low-income to low-middle income families, but they don't have all the features that we have. They are much more basic in what's provided for services. So it turns into a financial equation."

McGarry said three types of residents move into Montgomery Place: people with a connection to the University of Chicago who want to re-engage with it, people with family in Hyde Park or Chicago (primarily the South Side) who want to live nearer to them and Hyde Parkers looking to downsize.

"Typically a co-op or a condo is not going to offer any activities for the residents to do, it doesn't offer the camaraderie, it doesn't offer dinner with your friends every night, it doesn't have those sorts of things," he said. "They're looking for that sort of engagement to add to their lives as well, too."

Hart said people live there anywhere from three months to 24 years. New residents tend to live there for the rest of their lives. "It's due in part to the concept that they're buying into. We are continuing care. They know that when you're here, this can remain your home all through the remainder of their lives, regardless of what their health conditions may be," she said. "That gives them that security they were seeking at a much earlier age."

Gleason, in a statement, pointed to Hart's earlier professional work in accounting and data management in having given the board "insights into trends in senior living as we developed our current strategic plan.”

McGarry, for his part, said CCRCs are still a people business, about making people comfortable and fulfilled where they are. But on a more concrete level, he said the baby boomers are continuing into retirement and that the industry continues to prepare itself for their arrival. So, too, will the industry's senior management continue retiring, in part because the worst of the pandemic has passed.

At 59, he himself was born at the end of the postwar baby boom. He said he will work at Montgomery Place as long as its board will let him.

Hart, however, said she has no plans to retire someday to the facility she once led.

"It's kind of like preachers never stay in the last church where they were a preacher," she observed. 

Looking back at pandemic leadership

Hart worked in the senior living industry for 30-plus years. She leaves Montgomery Place after six years as CEO and president and four years before that, from 2002 to 2006, as chief financial officer, and saw the facility through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the shutdown caused by COVID-19, Deborah excelled in not only protecting and caring for residents and staff members, but also transparently communicating with families about the issues Montgomery Place faced and solutions to address them. When there was no blueprint to guide us, she earned the trust of so many of us,” Gleason said in a statement

Hart said leading an organization through a crisis of that magnitude teaches you a lot about yourself: "You don't concentrate on the stress that you're facing, you just are in problem-solving mode. And you also, as a leader, have to be able to create calm, rather than panic."

Montgomery Place had two small outbreaks of COVID-19 in the pandemic's first and second surges last year. It shut down early in the spring of 2020. While some residents were infected, Hart said none of them died from the disease.

Early success had little correlation with staff pay rates, Hart suggested. It may have had a relation to supply availability in the days of pervasive personal protective equipment shortages (Montgomery Place was asking for donations at one point and received hundreds). She also pointed to her administrative staff moving into the facility during the first two months of the pandemic, which she said improved staff and resident morale

From 2016, Hart was able to take Montgomery Place from 70% occupancy to 85% before the pandemic hit, but she said she was able to arouse staff-resident cohesion to a degree that was absent before she took the job.

"It was building trust, building camaraderie," she said. "With residents, building trust in the management and the leadership and the confidence that we truly cared. The past administration that was here had started to wane over the years. COVID helped, in that respect, because we were able to be here so much more and gained that confidence."

"The confidence that I was able to build with the resident body and the families, though, I think is a hallmark that wasn't present in many locations. And that came from the communications that we were doing constantly with the families."

"And now that the confidence is here, it's the perfect time to pass the baton."

Correction: This article initially misidentified the new CEO and president of Montgomery Place in the headline and opening paragraph as Gregory Gleason instead of Michael McGarry. The error will also appear in the Nov. 11 print edition. The Herald regrets the error. 

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