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RainTree Blossoms

When this company opened its first senior residence in the Philippines, everyone told its founder Marc Daubenbuechel that it’s not going to work. With the rise of its new expansion, however, he continues to prove them wrong.

WORDS BY ANGELO CANTERA / IMAGES BY EMMAN PEREGRIN

RainTree Care Services and Senior Residences is doing one of the things that people didn’t expect it to do in the Philippines; it is growing.

The business was founded in 2015 by German national Marc Daubenbuechel, and when people caught wind of its concept—to develop and operate high-quality, boutique-type senior homes in the country—it was met with naysayers left and right.

“Everyone told me that it’s not going to work,” he said. “Senior residences are not popular in the Philippines.” As it turned out, however, “everyone” was wrong.

Several months ago, about three years since the company was launched, Marc and his mother Cornelia were found in Muntinlupa, strolling beside a rectangular pool surrounded by greenery and heavily tinted glass. At the end of their path, beneath moderately overcast skies, the upper half of a construction site could be seen looming over a cluster of trees. They were at a house called Bahay Doña Rosario, a 1,500-square-meter property that serves as RainTree’s maiden facility in Metro Manila, and they weren’t just there to oversee its day-to-day operations; they were also there to monitor its much needed expansion.

“At the moment we are fully booked,” he shared, “so, we’re planning to expand here.” The project, expected to be fully launched this July, will add nine more rooms to the property.

“We hope to complete them in time,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries.”In the Philippines, it is highly common for the elderly to be personally cared for by their kin. There are senior homes in the country, so Marc acknowledged, but only a handful of them thrive due to prevalent family-oriented customs. It is such norms that had people coming to Marc’s office worried that they might be perceived as “bad children” for relinquishing the care of their seniors to the German’s hands. According to Marc, however, the local way of life “is shifting.”

“Yes,” he said, sitting in one of the common rooms of Bahay Doña Rosario, his eyes unwavering behind blue-rimmed glasses. “Senior residences weren’t part of Filipino culture, but it also wasn’t part of the culture [for Filipinos] to live in small condominium units.” Another deviation from tradition, he added, is the milieu that now sees “both the father and the mother” of a household working “sometimes eight hours a day.” With these factors affecting numerous families in the country, Marc believed that it is has become more challenging for some locals to personally tend to their elders. It’s because, he believed, that a place like RainTree flourished.

Bearing the slogan “we care, we value,” RainTree seeks to put an emphasis on the word “home” in the phrase “senior home.” It aims to do this by providing healthcare services to elders in an environment devoid of the starkness present in a lot of medical institutions. Such a concept can be seen at its first facility. Sprawling along a suburban street—the kind often flanked by high-end properties in gated communities—Bahay Doña Rosario, from the outside, looks nothing more than a typical multi-storey house. Inside—amidst wooden furnishings, large windows and earthy tones—the place’s reality is often only be divulged by its uniformed personnel and the details one can miss with a quick glance. For example: the notes on a corkboard outlining the weekly activities of its residents; the wheelchairs obscured beneath a staircase, the BIR notice posted on one of its walls.

“When we were deciding on the place,” he shared, “we wanted it to look like a resort, but one that will not go beyond 25 beds.” This decision stems from two things, he said: the desire to ensure that each resident can be easily monitored and the goal to maintain a homey atmosphere at times lost in large institutions. “We didn’t want it to look like a nursing home,” he summarized.

Nevertheless, it is in this house where RainTree provides the various services it offers. For starters, it has memory care programs that aim to aid the elderly in coping with the likes of dementia. It also provides rehabilitation services which seek to help them recover from vastly debilitating conditions (like a stroke.) Its bread and butter, however, is its the long-term care program; it is a service that sees the company providing what its website calls “round-the-clock assisted living” to seniors. Through this, each resident is examined before getting fitted with a customized care plan that seeks to satisfy not only their needs but also their wants.

“[We take note of] what kind of soap they prefer,” he said, “what time they want to wake up, who they want to be woken up by, what they like to do.” This is mostly because of one fundamental belief that, according to Marc, governs the business:  “We do not have patients here in RainTree. We have residents. And this is mostly about how you make the residents happy.”

This is, by no means an easy task, he admitted, but considering what he witnessed in the past, he has deemed it a necessary challenge to confront for a retirement home to blossom in the Philippines.

Marc Daubenbuechel (upper left) founded RainTree in 2015 and now his mother Cornelia (lower left) helps him run its maiden facility.

THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM

Like a lot of foreigners, Marc had no intention of putting down his roots on Philippine soil, but when he came here in 2006 to work at the New World Hotel in Makati, his plans changed.

“I fell in love with the country,” he said. “There is so much potential here especially in tourism.”

Because of this, Marc, upon his return to Germany, studied tourism management before moving back in 2009. It was some time during those years when the idea for RainTree began blooming in his head mostly due to his mother.

“She is in the geriatric care industry,” he said of Cornelia who sat beside him casually greeting residents who walked by. “She’s been in it for 30, 40 years?”

“30 years,” she confirmed.

According to RainTree’s website, Cornelia has worked as a nurse for the German Red Cross and a dean for the Johanniter Geriatric Academy. It was her professional experience that inspired Marc’s bachelor’s thesis which discussed how “to build a nursing home in the Philippines.” He didn’t immediately pursue this when he came back but he did get involved with something related to it. Working for the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Marc got tasked to help foreigners who wanted to retire in the country. Eventually, it was this post that enlightened him on the difficulties commonly faced by the elderly in the Philippines.

“My frustration comes from this,” he said. “If we market the country to foreign seniors, what happens if they get sick? It’s not just palm trees and beaches that make retirement. You need an entire support system,” and, in his opinion, the system in place at that time was not enough. For one, he believed that training methods for nurses in several institutions in the country might limit their capacity to aid the elderly with special needs.

“In Germany, how to take care of dementia alone, it is studied for three years,” he said. “Here it can be compressed in a day.”

Cornelia, however, was quick to add that the German system isn’t perfect either. “It’s not very good for me,” she said. “In Germany, the elders can be a little neglected. Here, people are highly motivated to learn how to take care of their elders. It’s part of the Philippine culture to care.”

This became the basis for RainTree’s core concept. When Marc launched the company, he and his mother designed it to make use of care practices from Germany upgraded with Filipino warmth. He hired local nurses willing to further their knowledge and his mother stood at the forefront of their instruction.

“My mom developed a specific training module so they can learn how to take care of the elderly with special needs,” he said. “For example, if they get agitated, how can you get them out of their agitation?”

“That’s the idea,” Cornelia declared. “It’s not only a senior’s residence, it is also a training facility,” and now, this duality is taking root.

Cornelia and Marc Daubenbuechel, the two people managing RainTree.

BEARING FRUIT

Due to the training of its nurses (as well as the other notable features of its maiden facility,) Marc said that RainTree now has a handful of success stories to help sell its concept. Among them is that of a resident everyone in the house called “Mama Hyacinth,” a woman suffering from memory problems. When she came to Bahay Doña Rosario for the first time, Marc shared that she wasn’t saying a word and was mostly confused by the happenings around her. These days, however, she can be seen grinning from ear-to-ear, greeting even strangers who would cross her path.

“Do you like my house?” she asked a photographer of this publication, visibly delighted. “You can visit anytime.”

Meanwhile, there were also residents who, according to Marc, came to the place practically bedridden. These same residents can now be found exploring the facility with their attendants.

“We’d often have crying children around thanking us because of how we managed to help their parents especially because of stroke rehabilitation,” he said. “That’s really empowering and it makes it worthwhile.”

“Worthwhile” despite all the challenges that have confronted the project, he confirmed. The man, after all shared, that the process of putting up RainTree came with a host of difficulties. Before Bahay Doña Rosario found home in the South, initial plans for its development were uprooted twice. The first time it happened, it was in a community near Alabang Town Center, a subdivision where the homeowner’s association, according to Marc, deemed that if they “accept old people, the property values will decrease.” The second time it happened, the community accepted them but the developer eventually decided to keep the chosen location “strictly residential.”

Now that RainTree has a home in Muntinlupa, a new set of complications have cropped up. For instance, there’s the need to maintain the quality of care high. Then there’s the issue of culture, marrying what Marc calls “German strictness” with the generally laid back attitude of his mostly Filipino staff. Personal difficulties are also present and Cornelia can attest to them.

“Sometimes, it’s really hard here because I am from Germany and my husband is in Germany now,” she said. “But if I look around and I see the residents are so happy, then everything’s fine.”

Marc confirmed that they are—“happy” that is. “They’re home [in Bahay Doña Rosario],” he said of the residents. “For some, it’s their last home.”

“But, it is a home,” Cornelia quickly added, and as it blossoms further with a new expansion, both hope that it would be just that for more people in need of one.

 

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