Incoming Ecumen President and CEO
Shelley Kendrick

Don’t expect extreme changes when Shelley Kendrick assumes the role of president and CEO at one of the country’s largest nonprofit senior housing and services providers, Ecumen, effective Feb. 4.

Kendrick, currently Ecumen’s senior vice president of operations and chief operating officer, will succeed Kathryn Roberts, Ph.D., the company announced Wednesday. Roberts told the company’s board members a year ago that she would be stepping away from day-to-day leadership. She will continue part-time in a new role of CEO emeritus and will support Kendrick during the transition.

“For the last seven years, I have been part of the strategic planning process here at Ecumen, and I have worked closely with Kathryn,” Kendrick told McKnight’s Senior Living. “She’s been an excellent leader and mentor and is going to continue to help me, and I do appreciate that. So having been a part of the strategic planning process, we’re going to stay the course. We’re going to continue to work with all of our communities and continue to find innovative solutions to help us meet the needs of those communities and strive for excellence and quality and serve their needs in the areas of housing and services.”

Ecumen’s board unanimously voted to promote her at a November meeting but waited to announce the decision, Kendrick said.

“The board is very pleased that Shelley has accepted our offer to lead Ecumen into the future,” Darrell Tukua, chairman of Ecumen’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “Her commitment to the mission of the organization and to ongoing innovation ensures Ecumen’s continued success as a leader in empowering people to live in the ways that matter most to them.”

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Shoreview, MN-based Ecumen is No. 27 overall on the 2018 LeadingAge Ziegler 200 list of largest not-for-profit multi-site senior living organizations in the United States and No. 4 in number of assisted living units. The 157-year-old company also offers independent living, assisted living, short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing as well as affordable housing and home and community-based services such as home care and hospice. With more than 40 communities in eight states — Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Idaho, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee — Ecumen employs almost 4,000 people and serve almost 20,000 customers annually.

Kendrick joined the company in 2012 as vice president of operations. Before then, she led the Minnesota Veterans Home – Minneapolis. Previously, she managed operations for several healthcare facilities in Ohio and Minnesota for 15 years.

“I entered senior living over 20 years ago, and I never left because I’m really passionate about improving the care and services for seniors and also for others who need us at a critical time in their lives,” she said.

A passion for the work isn’t the only thing that keeps her tied to the industry, Kendrick said. “We have a great employees here at Ecumen, and that’s another reason I stay,” she said.

As with other operators, workforce challenges are Ecumen’s top challenge, Kendrick said.

“People are our critical differentiator, and we have to continue to attract and retain top talent. That’s our goal,” she said. “That’s what we are going to continue to work toward, and that is probably the biggest challenge going forward for everyone in this industry.”

At Ecumen, part of the solution will involve technology, Kendrick said.

“We really have been focusing on making sure that we are providing our employees training and creating strong workplaces to help ensure consistency of care and service,” she said. “And my goal always has been to make sure our teams have the tools they need to deliver that excellent care. And that is going to continue for us.”

Under Roberts, Kendricks noted, Ecumen was named one of Minnesota’s Best Places to Work by the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Business Journal for 10 consecutive years. “We want to continue with that” she said.

Kendrick has a Masters in Nonprofit Business Administration degree from the University of Notre Dame and an undergraduate degree in English language and literature from Eastern Michigan University.

Roberts, president and CEO since 2003, now will lead philanthropic development for the organization and will represent Ecumen as a speaker at events that highlight the organization’s expertise and advocacy work.

Kathryn Roberts, Ph.D.
Kathryn Roberts, Ph.D.

Kathryn Roberts, Ph.D.

A current member and former chair of the national board of directors for LeadingAge, in 2017, outgoing Ecumen President and CEO Kathryn Roberts was named one of the nation’s top 50 “Influencers in Aging” by Next Avenue, a PBS publication covering issues for people aged 50 or more years.

Under her leadership, Ecumen said, the company was repositioned from a nursing home company to a housing and services company, and the organization’s revenue has doubled.

Among the initiatives she introduced:

• The Ecumen Awakenings program, which stresses caring for people who have dementia without relying on highly sedating drugs.

• Housing solutions designed to anticipate evolving demands for independent and assisted living. For instance, the first of Ecumen’s Zvago cooperative independent housing communities opened in 2017, and four more are in development. Also, Abiitan Mill City opened in 2016 as the first senior services community in the core of downtown Minneapolis.

• A workforce program using philanthropic grants to introduce nursing students to senior caregiving in rural Minnesota, increasing awareness of the field as a career choice.

• Expansion of Ecumen Hospice, which today serves more than 10 times the number of people in the state of Minnesota than it did in 2003.

“It has been a privilege to be a member of Kathryn’s team, to learn from her and work with her over the past seven years to build Ecumen’s future vision,” incoming President and CEO Shelley Kendrick said. “I’ve also learned from and been inspired by the employees of Ecumen who care for those we serve with heartfelt compassion. As the aging population grows, I am confident in our employees, who will continue to serve with excellence.”

“I’m exceptionally pleased that Shelley will be carving the path for Ecumen’s future growth and evolution,” she said. “She is an inspiring leader who carries a deep commitment to our mission. She’ll work tirelessly to create the solutions that are needed by our communities as well as a workplace that values, trains and celebrates our employees.”

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