President & CEO Katie Smith Sloan urged members to mobilize their generous spirit during her Annual Meeting address today in Denver.
It has been another unexpectedly difficult year for LeadingAge members. You have each given your hearts and souls to the battle against COVID. In addition, our colleagues in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas have more recently been stretched to the limit by Hurricane Ian.
Both crises have prompted me to admire your courage, deeply regret your loss, and ask myself two important questions.
How is it that LeadingAge members are so resilient, determined, and optimistic?
How do members sustain a generous spirit through the toughest of times?
The answers to both questions come down to two words: values and purpose.
LeadingAge members carry their values to work each day, as do we at LeadingAge. Those values are inscribed on our websites for all the world to see. For LeadingAge, those values embody courage, community, catalyst, and stewardship. For members, those values aspire to excellence, innovation, inclusion, respect, quality, wisdom, care, love, integrity, teamwork, and vitality.
Our values are what social scientist Arthur Brooks calls our “sculpture within the block of jade.” They live deep within our organizations. They give us purpose. They drive our actions. Without our values, we could not have weathered the global pandemic and the new, unprecedented challenges it has thrown our way.
We’ve always held our values close to our hearts, as well we should. But in these increasingly challenging times, we must also talk about those values with pride and conviction. The public, the media, and policymakers need to see our “sculpture within the block of jade.” That sculpture tells the world who we are and what we stand for. It represents what we do for older Americans and their families—and for everyone who will grow older. At the center of our sculpture is what all of us value most: the transformation of lives, organizations, and our sector.
How do we mobilize our generous spirit so it sparks recognition, appreciation, and action on the part of those who can help strengthen our work? Our values and purpose will be our drivers. But we also must call on our expertise, commitment, and insights.
Our expertise is wide-ranging. We know a great deal about aging and about health and well-being. We know about compassionate care. We know that a safe place to live, with access to services, is essential. We know what quality looks like. We know how critical well-trained staff are to delivering on our promise. We know how to lead with honor.
We also know that our system of long-term care in this country is not sustainable—financially or practically. The gap between the cost of care and what we are paid to deliver that care is growing wider and wider. Family members are stretched to the limit as they try to provide support to their loved ones. Our neighborhoods and community infrastructures are not designed to support our shifting demographics. And ageism persists.
How do we bring about needed transformation? We must rally around our vision for the future. We must raise our voices. We must use collective action to help policymakers, the media, and the public recognize and appreciate the work we do.
Transformation won’t be easy, of course. Our sector has always been under scrutiny, often misunderstood, and vastly underappreciated. Coming out of COVID, we find ourselves living under a microscope. There are calls for more transparency, which we support. There are calls for more punishment, which we question.
We must listen carefully to the critiques and respond in good faith, drawing on our expertise and experience. In addition, we must tell Americans and our leaders how they can support us so that every older American can live the life and get the care they deserve.
Mostly, we must drive the narrative about the future we want to build.
We know better than anyone what’s needed to deliver the quality care every older adult deserves. So, let’s go on offense and tell policymakers what we know about measuring and rewarding quality, about crafting reasonable regulations, and about financing long-term care. Let’s tell them about values-driven, mission-focused care and support. Let’s underscore the importance of paying a livable wage and professionalizing our direct care workforce. Let’s remind decision makers that we’re all aging, and that it’s time to invest in the kind of future we want for ourselves and for our children.
Indeed, we have an inspiring story to tell: the story of thousands of organizations, and hundreds of thousands of dedicated people who are driven by mission, by purpose, and by values that transcend profits or power. Policymakers, the media, and the public need to hear this story—and they need to know us.
Each of you gives me hope that when we raise our voices, people will listen. I am so proud of the work you do, the lives you nurture, the souls you heal, the communities you build, and the futures you forge.
We are all LeadingAge. I know that working together, we can shape a better future.