As the year was coming to an end, I found myself hoping that the new year would bring relief, that it really could not get worse. I imagine many of you ended the year tired but with a sense of cautious optimism.

Just as my work day on the East Coast was coming to a close, I got a call from my chief operating officer telling me that one of our memory communities was in the path of a wildfire and would need to be evacuated. Really? What next? Locusts?

My team is incredible — strong and resilient. Our residents, too. To put this in context, this community is a memory care community; it is full. The Juniper folks in Louisville, CO, and the Colorado team members, aided by the national support team, went into action preparing to evacuate. Family members were called, and while we would have liked to have had some of our residents stay with family, the area around the community was closed to incoming cars.

This story will continue to unfold, but right now, I need to share with you another story that is unfolding. Early in COVID, I was asked to join a group of mid-size operators willing to share our COVID experience and solutions. Frankly, it was also a pseudo-support group. We met weekly throughout the first year. We are now meeting twice a month. We call ourselves the Operator’s Collaborative.

These folks are a lifeline, and they proved yet again that new can collaborate and support one another, even when we share the same markets. As I talked with my team about evacuating our precious residents, two colleagues from “my group” reached out to ask if they could help.

With COVID surging and staffing in crisis, they offered help. Two communities from two different operating companies rallied and got ready to help us transport our residents to a safe community. No questions, just open-hearted willingness to be there for a fellow community.

This is the silver lining. Collaboration. Support. An understanding that we all together nurture individuals. I am deeply grateful to my colleagues Patrick Dooley and Isaac Scott of Milestone and Anthem, respectively. I am thankful for the culture they have created and for their wonderful teams that reached out to help. 

This type of mutual support and constructive dialog and, most important, common mission to protect and provide wellbeing for America’s older adults, is what we need as an industry and as leaders. This is what the Operator’s Collaborative has offered me and the 11 other CEOs who participate. I know this is part of the “good”, a clear benefit of the turmoil and frustration the pandemic has wrought over the last couple of years.

Lynne Katzmann, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Bloomfield, NJ-based Juniper Communities. She received the first McKnight’s Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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