LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan addresses attendees of the opening general session.

LeadingAge’s new vision is to “permanently change the image of aging in our society,” the organization’s president and CEO, Katie Smith Sloan, told those attending the opening general session of its annual meeting Sunday in Indianapolis.

Board members unanimously agreed on the vision, Sloan said, and she called on members to discuss ageism at the meeting and speak out against it when they return home.

“Ageism seeps into everything you have been doing in your organizations for many decades,” Sloan said. “It inhibits staff recruitment. It clouds the public view of what we do. It negatively influences philanthropy. And it leads to onerous public policies. Ageism is working against all that we believe in. It paints aging as a disease that cannot be cured. It drives paternalism. It reinforces the notion that older adults are a burden to their families and to society.”

Despite the new vision, Sloan said, continuing priorities for LeadingAge are helping members address challenges related to staff recruitment and retention, payment reform, long-term services and supports, and safe and affordable seniors housing.

This year’s annual meeting is drawing about 6,500 attendees, a LeadingAge spokeswoman told McKnight’s Senior Living. Although that’s not a record, the organization is experiencing its highest annual meeting attendance ever from members from Indiana and nearby states such as Illinois and Ohio, she said.

Keynote speaker Charles Duhigg, a New York Times reporter and author of “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business,” told attendees that when he speaks with leaders of social movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, many say they have learned from those involved in the civil rights efforts of the 1960s and more recent gay rights efforts.

“But unusually, a number of them also say, ‘And people who are fighting ageism,’ ” Duhigg added. “You are the tip of the sword in helping America learn how to question these biases that we live with, that sometimes we don’t even understand.”

Working in aging services “is as close to God’s work as exists on this Earth,” he said. “And we are entering a time when the issues that you deal with will be so much more present, so much more top-of-mind, than ever before.”

Also at the opening session, LeadingAge presented several awards:

  • The Award of Honor was bestowed on Jerry Brown, executive director of Bethany Center Senior Housing in San Francisco.

  • The Older Adult of Distinction Award was given posthumously to Jess Harder, a resident of Sunshine Meadows Retirement Community in Buhler, KS, who was 100 at the time of his death on July 17.

  • The Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership Award went to Morningside Ministries of San Antonio, TX.

  • The Joan Anne McHugh Award for Leadership in Long-Term Services and Supports Nursing was presented to Robin Scully, RN, director of wellness and a wellness nurse at Lasell Village, a continuing care retirement / life plan community in Newton, MA.

Sunday also featured educational sessions before and after the opening session. The meeting continues through Wednesday.

Below: Visitors to a wall LeadingAge set up on Georgia Street near the Indiana Convention Center pledge to take a stand against ageism.