Katie Smith Sloan on stage

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan speaks at the 2021 LeadingAge Annual Meeting + Expo. (Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video)

ATLANTA — As the long-term care sector continues to deal with negative fallout from the pandemic, Monday’s focus at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting + Expo keynote session was on the value of “telling your story.”

During Monday’s keynote address, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan highlighted the organization’s Opening Doors to Aging Services initiative, launched earlier this year, which sought to better understand public perceptions of the sector and better communicate what it offers for older adults and their families.

LeadingAge performed what it calls “first-of-its-kind” research on public attitudes about the sector in the spring and summer, using those data to develop communication strategies and resources to inform and align messaging across the sector. 

“To know us is to love us,” she said of the findings, which revealed that overall public views of the industry are “actually not that bad.” 

More importantly, she said, was discovering that one-third of Americans are unfamiliar with the long-term care field 

“Even as the pandemic put a spotlight on older adults and caregivers, a large number of people don’t know us,” Sloan said. “This finding reveals a golden opportunity. By using a range of strategic messaging and tactics, we can introduce our field to millions who don’t understand who we are and what we do.”

Sloan called the insights a “gift” to the field. This fall, LeadingAge launched the education phase of the Opening Doors initiative, including providing strategies and guidance to enable providers to leverage the research for impactful communications about the sector, as well as tools and templates.

“There is no fast way to change widely held public views, but if we speak with the same voice, with messaging informed by research, we have an opportunity to proactively define the aging services sector for millions of people across the country,” Sloan said. 

In her remarks, outgoing LeadingAge Board Chair Carol Silver Elliott called on the sector to stop letting others tell the narrative of aging services.

“This is our moment,” she said, adding that it’s time to redefine the field, and time to leverage new partnerships created during the pandemic, for advocacy and change.

University of Pennsylvania marketing professor Jonah Berger capped off the keynote session by discussing the hidden factors that impede change and how to mitigate them to change the narrative.

Leadership, tech awards presented

LeadingAge also handed out two leadership awards at the keynote:

  • Paul Winkler, retired Presbyterian Senior Care Network president and CEO, received the 2021 LeadingAge Award of Honor. The award recognizes someone who provides nationally significant, transformative leadership. Winkler is a coach for the LeadingAge Larry Minnix Leadership Academy and chaired the LeadingAge Pennsylvania board.
  • Kristen Schulmerich, RN, director of nursing services at Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester, NY, was presented the 15th annual Joan Anne McHugh Award for Leadership in Long-Term Services and Supports Nursing. The award honors a nursing director deemed to have created a supportive and engaged workplace through leadership skills while managing nursing and frontline staff members.

At an off-site event Monday after the educational sessions ended, McKnight’s Senior Living, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Home Care honored several finalists in the annual McKnight’s Excellence in Technology Awards. McKnight’s previously had honored some finalists during the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living Convention & Expo earlier this month in Maryland. 

The in-person celebration followed an Oct. 20 virtual event during which all finalists and winners were recognized. The virtual ceremony was part of the inaugural McKnight’s Tech Awards + Summit, which included four webinars. The virtual awards ceremony and webinars are still available to watch; register online.