PHILADELPHIA — Calling workforce issues a “rallying cry,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan asked members to “help us figure out our moon shot on workforce” during remarks at Sunday’s keynote session of the 2018 Annual Meeting & Expo.

It’s the “one challenge that we face that will define almost everything we do for many, many years to come,” she said. “This issue brings us all together in a way no other issue does.”

The number of working-age adults is decreasing, the increasing demand for services is outpacing the supply of qualified workers, and some operators have difficulties paying a living wage due to reimbursement rates, Sloan said.

“This is fast becoming one gigantic — and seemingly unsolvable — math problem, a math problem that even a super computer cannot solve,” she said.

But perhaps members have the answers, Sloan said. LeadingAge is seeking from members examples of how they have addressed the workforce issues they have faced.

“Today, I’m appealing to you to hear all of your stories,” she said. “I want to hear what challenges you face and what solutions you have implemented. It doesn’t matter whether you are a large community with multiple campuses or a small organization with only a handful of staff. Your input is vitally important to our collective success.”

Sloan asked audience members to complete the comment form located in the annual meeting app (it’s located on the second screen of the app; click on “Workforce Moonshot Ideas”).

“Send us your best ideas. And then, together, let’s put them into orbit,” she said. “We’ll take the lessons learned, expand upon them and implement them until finally, we achieve our moon shot.”

Ageism also problematic

Workforce is one of four challenging areas LeadingAge identified in its 2030 Aging Services Scenario Toolkit, released earlier this year, Sloan said.

Discussing another one, attitudes about aging, the CEO echoed comments she had made at the 2016 annual meeting.

“Ageism is everywhere. It’s insidious,” she said. “It demeans accumulated wisdom, wastes the energy of entire generations and ignores the initiatives, insights and instincts that can only grow with time.”

Sloan, alluding to the location of this year’s annual meeting, said, “I would wager a bet that Benjamin Franklin, who was 70 years old in 1776, was never asked by a server in his favorite pub here in Philly, ‘What can I get you, sweetie?’ Just think of the national treasures — the literary, legal, political, military, business, medical and educational treasures — we’d have lost if we had viewed our Founding Fathers and founding mothers the way we view older Americans today.”

Technology and government

The two other challenging areas for LeadingAge members, Sloan said, are technology and government.

Through the 15-year-old LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technology, or CAST, she said, “We connect to technology companies and research institutions, sharing through case studies how you are experimenting, adopting and adapting. And yes, we are advocating for technologies that are user-driven, specifically designed with older adults and providers in mind.”

Regarding government, Sloan called on members to meet with governors, state legislatures and their staffs after the midterm elections.

“This is our chance to re-introduce ourselves, hear our elected officials tell their stories about aging and give us a chance to tell ours,” she said. “These stories shed light on our common bond. We are all aging.”

Also Sunday at the meeting:

  • Sloan prefaced her remarks by sharing that one of the 11 people killed Saturday when a gunman opened fire at New Light Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh was a resident of LeadingAge member Forward Shady Apartments. Melvin Wax was 88.

LeadingAge said more than 7,000 people had registered for the annual meeting, which has scheduled more than 150 education sessions with more than 450 speakers and has an expo hall with 575 companies exhibiting. The meeting continues through Wednesday.

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