Mark Parkinson speaking
AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson delivers remarks as he accepts the McKnight’s Pinnacle Awards’ Career Achievement Award. (Photo by Lois A. Bowers)

Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, was honored Thursday as the 2024 McKnight’s Pinnacle Awards Career Achievement Award recipient.

Introduced by his wife, Stacy, and then welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd, the former governor expressed his gratitude for his career blending law, long-term facility ownership, politics and advocacy — as well as the teams that led him to success in each domain.

Here, McKnight’s Senior Living shares Parkinson’s full acceptance speech, characterized by his trademark humor and humility. It has been minimally edited for clarity.

“Let me say, this is going to be brief. I’m really honored. I want to first of all thank the McKnight’s group … all the folks that we’ve had a chance to work with for the last 14 years. It’s been great, and greatly appreciated.

“Honestly, and I mean this sincerely, what means the most to me is the other winners tonight and, more specifically, Bob Kramer, who received this award a year ago. I think Bob is out here somewhere.

“I’m so down on myself because I’ve had a couple months to think about this, and you would think that after you’ve been in this forever, you’ve been in this career, you’d be able to stand up here and say something meaningful, like some full sentence? I don’t have that. I don’t have, like, is it Rosebud from Citizen Kane? I don’t have anything like that.

“So I decided that I would just talk briefly about how I feel, and the way I feel right now is deep gratitude. First and foremost, for my family, Stacy and our kids, for their unconditional support and love. We’ve had just an insanely amazing life. I’m grateful for that.

“I’m grateful that we were crazy enough to build our first facility. And I mean, it was really, you look back, it was insane. We had a successful law practice that we loved. I was in the state senate, and I liked doing that. We decided we would give all of that up.

“We had this attraction, this calling, to build a facility, and we went on to build many more. But we didn’t know what we were doing at all. We had no long-term care [experience].

“We’re not second-, third-generation like a lot of people. We just didn’t know. And so there were a lot of things that we didn’t know.

“One of the things that we didn’t know is what our residents would be like, because we had no experience with this. Some of you have heard me say we thought they would be like in the ads, the active seniors coming off the golf course. We’ll take them golfing, and then we’ll take them for a little brunchy action. 

“And as soon as we opened up, we realized, these folks are a lot older than we thought. They’re much more frail. They’ve got a lot of needs. It was very different.

“But you know what? It was better because these people really needed us. And for 10 years, I got to be in those buildings and watch Stacy, and sometimes our kids, and our incredible staff 24/7 taking care of folks.

“And we made a lot of mistakes, and there were a lot of ups and downs, but every day that I came home from work, I knew that we’d spent 100% of our effort that day doing good. We had that feeling. …When we practiced law, we didn’t always have that feeling. So I’m grateful for that.

“I’m grateful that after that, our democracy is so screwed up that I actually became governor of a state. And that is a very long story, but I was a horrible politician. I did all of these things wrong. Stacy says I Forest Gump’d my way into becoming governor.

“But once it happened, we took advantage of it. And I don’t mean in a negative way. I mean in a very positive way.

“We surrounded ourselves with incredible people, and three of them are here tonight. My chief of staff when I was governor, Rae Anne Davis. One of our press people, Rachel Reeves, and Jennifer Hahs, one of our lobbyists. We got a hell of a lot of stuff done, and they haven’t been able to undo it yet. And I’m very grateful for that.

“I’m extremely grateful that when I left the governorship, that just by total luck, the CEO position at AHCA/NCAL was open. And I came to DC and, again, surrounded myself with an incredible team led by Clif Porter and others, including the three that I just introduced. And they make me look better than I am. It has been incredible.

“But I also discovered something that I didn’t know when we were operating, which was, it wasn’t just Stacy and I that were crazy and passionate about taking care of folks. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of companies across the country that felt the same way.

“And so suddenly, I had this real opportunity to work not just on behalf of the facilities that we had back in Kansas and Missouri, but on behalf of thousands of buildings. And what an incredible honor it was.

“And then the pandemic occurred, and I just felt so passionate and so appreciative of what we were doing. Just so grateful for all of you, the providers that are here in this room.

“And finally, I’m grateful for something that I haven’t talked enough about in my career, and that is that I’m grateful for the frontline caregivers. As we sit here today in this beautiful setting with this incredible meal and company, there are hundreds of thousands of CNAs and LPNs and RNs and dietary folks and housekeepers that are in the buildings.

“On the West Coast, I guess they’re still feeding folks dinner. On the East Coast, they’re putting people down for bed. People are thinking about planning the next day’s events.

“There are probably hundreds of settings right now where our staff are sitting with folks who are in their last hours and maybe even minutes of life, taking care of them. These are the real heroes.

“Some of these people are not treated very well. They are overwhelmingly women. They’re overwhelmingly people of color. There are large numbers of immigrants. As we sit here today, there are thousands of undocumented workers in our buildings who actually have to work under artificial names because our government is just so backwards in how they look at these incredible heroes.

“There are people that are walking to our buildings that don’t have cars. Their cars are breaking down, and yet almost all of them share our passion to take care of the people that we care for. 

“I accept this award. It means the world to me. And as Stacy indicated, really, the greatest compliment, the greatest honor that I’ve had is being one of you as a provider, having the opportunity to represent you in DC and fighting on behalf of the caregivers that are providing that great care every day.

“On behalf of you and them, I accept this award.”

The 2024 McKnight’s Pinnacle Awards honored 30 longtime leaders in senior living, skilled nursing and home care. All were recognized for their roles as change-makers, their influence on industry standards and their ability to inspire others in the field. For more on the ceremony and winners, see the event recap.

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