LeadingAge leadership on stage at annual meeting

New LeadingAge Board of Directors Chair Mike King (far right) celebrates LeadingAge Vice President and Head of Conference Services and Brand Experience Sharon Sullivan (left), President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan and outgoing Board Chair Carol Silver Elliott during the Annual Meeting + Expo on Tuesday in Atlanta. (Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video)

ATLANTA — With a theme of hope for the day, LeadingAge installed its new chair of the Board of Directors, Mike King, during Tuesday’s keynote session at its Annual Meeting + Expo.

King, national president and CEO of Volunteers of America, succeeds Carol Silver Elliott, president and CEO of Jewish Home Family, and will begin his two-year term in January.

A board member since 2015, King has been an advocate on Capitol Hill, where his work focused on the preservation of federal funding and other resources that support vulnerable populations. He also sits on the executive committee of Leadership 18, an alliance of the nation’s largest charities and nonprofits. 

“We’re in the love business,” he told attendees.

“That’s what motivated everyone as you risked your own lives to continue serving. At times, when you were totally exhausted, you saved lives,” King said. “It comes down to your love for your people. That’s what motivated us, that’s what kept us going, that’s what motivated us to overcome.”

After taking his oath of office, King recognized Elliott for her strength in leading the organization through the “most incredible time in history.” He also lauded LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan for her “consistency and resiliency” and being the “absolute glue” that held members together during the pandemic. Additionally, he celebrated Sharon Sullivan, LeadingAge vice president and head of conference services and brand experience, whom he called the “queen of conference planning,” for putting together the annual conference.

Affordable housing

The VOA provides “hard-core human services,” King said, including senior living, multi-family housing, veterans housing, addiction recovery and prisoner reentry programs. But in an interview after the keynote session, he told McKnight’s Senior Living that some of the most important work the agency does is in affordable housing.

“At the very time when people have the most need for housing — especially seniors — we have a shortage of that,” King said, adding that he’s holding out hope that proposed funding for Section 202 Housing for the Elderly in the Build Back Better Act comes to fruition. 

King also said he supports calls for increasing funding for affordable housing service coordinators. A proposal from the Senate Appropriations Committee calls for $125 million to be put toward service coordinators. Such coordinators, King said, are a critical piece to integrating healthcare into affordable housing.

Changing perceptions

Changing the narrative around how people look at the senior services sector is a top goal for King as LeadingAge chair, he said, adding that language should center around engagement, contribution, growth and “making the last third of life one of the most stimulating, growing, learning times of life.”

Older adults, King said, provide an “incredible amount of wisdom,” and their housing choice should provide a contributing, thriving, learning environment.

“We must change the language and change the expectation,” he said. “This is not going to be a restful time; this will be a time to be engaged, be a part of the solution.”

King said he looks at aging services through the filter of “Would I want my mom to live here?”

Industry challenges

The biggest challenge facing the industry right now, King told McKnight’s Senior Living, is pandemic recovery, which will be a learning period in the same way in which the pandemic was a learning period. He subscribes to the “one day at a time” philosophy from the addiction services sector, he said. 

“It’s an incredible philosophy for dealing with the pandemic,” King said. “In times like this, you must remain nimble and ready to stay in the present and look at everything fresh every single day. You can’t assume anything.”

Also after the keynote, Sloan told McKnight’s Senior Living that the industry isn’t “going back to normal,” but is looking at a “restart.” Some providers, she said, have mostly recovered and are moving forward, whereas others are looking at a much longer road to recovery, mostly due to workforce shortages.

Workforce issues and occupancy are the top challenges facing senior living and the rest of the continuum of care, she said. 

LeadingAge is tackling the workforce shortage from a variety of angles, including partnerships with high schools and college, internship and apprenticeship programs, and advocating for immigration reform, training and higher wages for direct care workers, she said.

“There is no one answer,” Sloan said, adding that workforce issues will “make or break us.”

“Our job is to make us a career and a workplace of choice,” she said.

Business news

The organization also recognized its newly elected board members: PACE of the Triad Executive Director Ursula Robinson and LeadingAge Florida President and CEO Steve Bahmer, an ex-officio member. Board members elected to second terms are Ohio Living President and CEO Laurence Gumina, Nascentia Health President and CEO Kate Rolf and VNA Health System CEO Joseph Scopelliti.

In other business, Erica Thrash-Sall, executive director of McFarlan Villages Corp. in Flint, MI, was presented with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Equity. The honor recognizes an individual who changed systems and policies at a local level to reduce health disparities and move toward health equity.

Racial justice advocate Glenn Harris delivered the keynote address, sharing steps to take to inspire action and transform organizations and communities to reflect a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The meeting continues through today.