The Interview: Scott Rifkin talks about acquiring North Oaks Retirement Community

  • Veteran physician and long-term care executive Scott Rifkin is heading a local group of partners in the acquisition of the North Oaks retirement community in Pikesville.
Veteran physician and long-term care executive Scott Rifkin… (Monica Lopossay / Special…)
May 08, 2011|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, Special to The Sun

Veteran physician and long-term care executive Scott Rifkin is heading a local group of partners in the acquisition of the North Oaks retirement community in Pikesville.

Rifkin, 51, is the managing member of Mid-Atlantic Health Care, a company that owns and operates senior-living properties in Maryland and Delaware.

For Rifkin, the acquisition, which will require the approval of the Maryland Department of Aging, is personal: He grew up in Randallstown and still lives in the area, as do his parents.

Rifkin's partnership is planning to spend $2 million in capital improvements at North Oaks.

The retirement community now includes 182 independent-living residences and 50 health care suites.

Rifkin, who studied at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, began his career in 1988 specializing in internal medicine. He was appointed medical director at North Oaks in the early 1990s. He still practices medicine on a limited basis, but the business side of health care now dominates his career.

Joining him are several partners, including adviser the Rev. Danny O'Brien, the former executive director of Charlestown, a retirement community in Catonsville, who is the senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium.

Rifkin says he's poised to develop a model to show how active adult retirement communities can serve residents as they age.

He sat down with The Baltimore Sun recently to discuss North Oaks, the changing health care system, the aging baby boomer population and his transition from physician to businessman.

Where does the acquisition of North Oaks Retirement Community stand?

We do not own North Oaks yet. It's owned by Life Care Services out of Des Moines, Iowa. They … have owned this facility since the early 1990s. We're hopeful [the sale] will be approved by Aug. 1.

Being a physician, does it give you a different perspective on retirement communities?

I will not be the primary doctor here. But what it really allows me as a physician to look at is this as a really great place … to stay healthy and active. If you have a 75- or 80-year-old looking for a different living situation, I can say to them with a lot of confidence, go look at North Oaks. It's a wonderful place to live and it is also a wonderful place to stay healthy. Also, if you live in an apartment somewhere, it's very isolating. There's no valet who is going to come help you, there's no [medical] person from the health suite who will come up and help you. We have many residents who drive. We also have transportation to take them shopping, to the doctors or activities.

As a physician why did you transition into more of a business role?

About 15 years ago, I recognized that to practice medicine the way I love to practice medicine, which is 20 to 30 minutes with every patient, minimum, that world unfortunately was changing. The ... world wants you to see a patient every five minutes. I didn't want to practice that way, and I started looking at other things I could do with my medical background and very slowly transitioned into becoming a medical business person. It gives me a greater opportunity to do things that are beneficial for the community. I had a wonderful career. I do miss it.

What is it about the business world you enjoy?

There is a unique opportunity right now to have a huge, positive impact on people's lives by understanding the health care system as it's evolving. We're really living in the most changing health care world that we've probably seen in 100 years. Budgets are tight, the economy is tough, insurance companies are trying to reduce the care provided, and somebody's got to be willing to say we can find creative ways to provide better care. Unfortunately, the insurance companies aren't going to do that. The government really doesn't know how to do that. It comes down to individuals in the system trying to figure that out.

Why is acquiring North Oaks a good investment?

I didn't look at this as an investment. I've loved North Oaks since I was medical director here in the early '90s. This to me is really a community I've known for 20 years, this is a community I took care of patients in, and this was a community the owners were looking to sell to a local group. It is where I would want to live when I'm ready for this kind of community. And I really want it to be available for my parents.

I would say half the people here, I either know them or I know a family member. We didn't look at this a pure investment. This is more of a mission.

You referred to North Oaks as a diamond in the rough. How so?

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