“The theme of this year’s meeting is momentum, an opportunity for us to harness the power of our collective energy to address critical issues that challenge our field. Issues like workforce, financial stability, governance, DEI leadership, and more.”
With those words, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan opened the Monday Keynote Session at the 2022 LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO in Denver, where 5,000 aging services leaders gathered to learn, share ideas, re-connect, and prepare to change their field for the better.
The session included recognition of the trauma older adults, their professional caregivers, and LeadingAge members have lived through in the last two-plus years. (It also included an appeal for member donations to the LeadingAge Disaster Relief Fund for members affected by Hurricane Ian.) The session was also a celebration of the resilience, courage, and forward thinking of the people who work in this field as they face, and prepare to remake, the future.
It was a theme expanded on by LeadingAge Chair Mike King, president and CEO of Volunteers of America (VOA), whose speech addressed the difficulty caregivers have lived through in the past two-plus years, referring to the concept of moral injury or moral distress and its consequences for caregivers in our field.
“Our CNAs, our nurses, our surviving caregivers during COVID dealt with this after folks passed,” King says, describing a program that supports emotional resilience. “I consider this proactive mental health care for our people. It is what we do for our most valuable resource. They are the poster child for momentum. We are still standing together, and that’s worth celebrating in the days ahead.”
Members Talk About Member Value
Interspersed throughout the session were three videos by members, explaining why they do their work and how LeadingAge provides member value that can strengthen them, connect them, and solve problems:
Kathy Pointer, Director, Kingdom Care Senior Village and Chair of LeadingAge DC, explains how her organization is bringing Village services and technology training to communities of color, strengthened by the help of LeadingAge resources, information, and member connections.
Beth Southorn, Director of LifeSTEPS, explains that her work is connecting with people in affordable housing communities and bringing services to these low-income residents. LeadingAge helped to make political and partnership connections that brought vaccinations to residents. “Out of all the trains, this is the ride for me, changing lives every day.”
Alma Ballard, Executive Director, Family Housing Management for Catholic Charities, sees the connections made between LeadingAge members like those of a family. “The key is to work with this family that everyone has a piece of, and solve problems together.” She tells the story of joining a program to install Google Nest Hubs in more than 220 affordable housing units, with LeadingAge help, and how it transformed the lives of residents.
A Mission Moment
The Monday Mission Moment brought three remarkable caregivers to the stage to tell their stories and learn why they are dedicated to their work.
Heidi Loughlin of the Orchards at Southington, Southington, CT, has been a bus driver for the organization for many years. Upon seeing declines in the health of some residents during COVID, she suggested that she should become a CNA as well. She got into a class right away, “and I passed the exam. Out of 60 questions, I only got 59 of them right,” she says, laughing. Loughlin now accompanies residents to doctor appointments and on field trips, so that other CNAs no longer need to be pulled away from the community. “You need to be very kind and genuine because they can spot someone who’s not genuine,” says Loughlin. “They’re intelligent, beautiful human beings and they deserve to be treated with dignity and kindness every day. This is the last chapter in life and I want to make it beautiful for them.”
Amanda Gruber of Three Links in Northfield, MN, was inspired by her mother, who worked at a nursing home for 52 years. “At Three Links Care Center, our mission statement is creating peace of mind for those we serve. And I really feel like my mom did that effortlessly and flawlessly throughout her entire career.” Gruber admired the way her mother’s residents and her teammates always came first. Gruber, who wanted to continue that tradition, worked with residents as a youth, and became a CNA at 16. “They have a wealth of experience,” she says. “They are like an entire library of experiences and intelligence and things that they have gone through, whether it’s pandemics or wars or losing family, and they can teach us so much more than we can ever learn. And it’s just an honor and a privilege to be able to help them.”
Evelyn Ebell of Seniors’ Resource Center in Wheat Ridge, CO, retired from her career with the federal government 20 years ago. She admired the home care worker that helped her mother at that time. “And after I retired, I said, I think I can do this job. I love working with older people. So I went over to Seniors Resource Center and applied, and got hired right on the spot. And I’ll have my 20 years in February of next year.” When things seem overwhelming, says Ebell, “I try to take a step back and look at the situation. What I want to do is what’s best for them; it’s not about me, it’s about them.”
Leadership Academy Recognition
The latest group of Larry Minnix Leadership Academy Fellows was honored–the newest group of more than 600 Academy alumni now making their mark in aging services. As they walked on stage, impact statements from the entire group flashed across a screen in quick succession. Eight of the Fellows displayed their impact statements on signs and read them to the crowd, then flipped them to reveal the word MOMENTUM.
LeadingAge Award of Honor
James Bernardo, president and CEO of Presbyterian Senior Living (PSL), received his Award of Honor, accompanied onstage by his wife Theresa, former PSL CEO Steve Proctor, PSL Chair Anne Drennan, and his successor as CEO, Dan Davis. Bernardo attributed his success to all of his colleagues at PSL, with special thanks to Proctor, his mentor and predecessor; to LeadingAge and LeadingAge PA; to the inspiration of leadership programs he has participated in as a coach, including the Larry Minnix Academy and LeadingAge PA’s Fellows in Leadership program; and most of all to his wife Theresa. (Read more about James Bernardo.)
Keynote: Abby Wambach on Embracing Failure
The session wrapped with the Inspire Keynote, a talk by Abby Wambach, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA World Cup Champion, and the highest all-time international goal scorer for male and female soccer players. Speaking on “Embracing Failure,” Wambach noted that “Failure isn’t something to avoid. It’s something to be fueled by.” Through the story of her career as an athlete, and the story of how she co-founded WOLFPACK Endeavor, a training program revolutionizing leadership development for women, Wambach explained how working as a team, using untapped skills, and accepting personal accountability and responsibility makes a leader. After her address, Wambach continued the conversation with Katie Smith Sloan on how her leadership insights can apply to the field of aging services.