McKnight's Women of Distinction - 2023 honorees announced

Six women have been chosen as the second class of Spirit Award winners as part of the McKnight’s Women of Distinction program.

The Spirit Award recognizes inspirational caregiving deeds and other noble gestures by women who have demonstrated acts of bravery, courage, perseverance, dedication or determination — or other noble gestures. Honorees were chosen via a nomination and judging process.

“These Spirit Award winners exemplify the heart that so many working in long-term care bring to their personal and professional lives, and they remind us what is truly important. Those with whom they live or work, as well as those for whom they care, are fortunate to have them in their lives, and we are honored to share their stories,” McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor said.

This year’s honorees:

  • Mary Franklin, Executive Director, Cypress Cove, Fort Myers, FL

Mary is credited with going above and beyond during and after Hurricane Ian. First, she led team members in moving residents to upper floors when a storm surge flooded all first-floor buildings and villas at the continuing care retirement community campus, which houses more than 650 residents and has more than 500 employees. Her own vehicle was destroyed and her home damaged, but she remained “completely devoted” to her Cypress “family,” a colleague says. She organized ride shares, clothing drives, hot meals and more for fellow employees who lost their vehicles, homes or possessions, all while also attending to displaced residents’ needs.

  • Necia Jeske, Director of Nursing, The Bay at Suring Health and Rehabilitation, Champion Care, Suring, WI

Necia has faced numerous challenges in her personal and professional life — raising twins, including a son on the autism spectrum; helping to care for a nephew; working as a certified nursing assistant and licensed practical nurse on her way to becoming a registered nurse and director of nursing; and moving to a new facility when the one she was working at downsized. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all, however, was battling lung cancer, working while doing so. “As a survivor, Necia has not only been an inspiration to facility staff, but also a mentor to facility residents and their families,” a colleague says.

  • Nadeen Moore, Area Nurse Manager, Florida, Brookdale Senior Living, West Palm Beach, FL

Nadeen is credited with demonstrating exemplary communication during Hurricane Nicole in 2022, when she “took the reins” in West Palm Beach, FL, ahead of and during the storm, promptly reporting critical issues and, above all else, never compromising resident safety. “Throughout the storm, Nadeen continued to have a great rapport with people at a local and regional level,” a colleague says. “She went above and beyond to visit a local hospital, communicate with the residents that were evacuated during the storm and gave crucial feedback on her findings.”

  • Kendra Roberts, Vice President, Operations, Affordable Housing, HumanGood, Duarte, CA

In October, a fire broke out and severely damaged HumanGood’s Grand Lake Gardens life plan community in Oakland, CA, closing it indefinitely. Residents, who had to drop everything and evacuate, were left without clothes, personal belongings and basic necessities. Kendra sprang into action, mobilizing her teams to respond to supply residents with clothing, toiletries and assistance with transportation and temporary housing — even though she oversees affordable housing operations, a business division within HumanGood that is separate from life plan community operations. “Her actions that day represent her desire to provide support and help wherever and however she can for those in need,” a colleague says. Kendra is also a leader on HumanGood’s Inclusion Council, helping to draft the organization’s inclusion statement.

  • Natalie Spencer, Director of Nursing, Sanatoga Center, Genesis HealthCare, Pottstown, PA

Natalie Spencer started her career in healthcare more than 20 years ago, but perhaps no day was more important than Jan. 1, 2023, when she attended a Philadelphia Eagles football game with her son. She became aware of a fan who was turning blue while unconscious on concrete steps a short distance away and sprang into action. With the help of another fan and a fan-physician who later came on the scene, she moved the man. Then, she started CPR, which saved the man’s life. Throughout her 18-year long-term care career, she has worked every position and shift possible, from CNA, to LPN, RN, nurse manager, assistant director of nursing, infection preventionist and director of nursing.

  • Janie Whipple, Connections Coordinator, Academy Point at Mystic, Benchmark Senior Living, Mystic, CT

As an example of the ways in which Janie works every day to make residents feel at home and loved, she arranged a weekly restaurant reservation for a resident at his favorite place, his favorite table and with his favorite server — and accompanied him. She also transformed the senior living community’s reception area into a concierge hub for the community, anticipating residents’ needs and providing solutions. She has accompanied residents to weddings and other events and coordinated special remembrances for those who have passed away. Janie also frequently helps raise funds for causes, including the Benchmark One Company Fund, Argentum’s Silver Pac, the Alzheimer’s Association of Connecticut and the Terrie Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation, all from her “hub” at the reception area.

Other honorees announced

The McKnight’s Women of Distinction awards program was judged by a national, independent panel of judges. Overall, 26 states are represented by the honorees across the three other major awards categories that have been announced to date.

In addition to the Spirit Awards, the McKnight’s Women of Distinction awards program includes a Rising Star category recognizing women who are aged fewer than 40 years or have fewer than 15 years in long-term care; a Veteran VIP category that recognizes women who have more than 15 years of experience and have made an impact in their field at a level lower than vice president or its equivalent; and a Hall of Honor category that honors women who are at a level equivalent to vice president or higher and who have had a significant effect on their organization or industry. 2023 winners in those three categories were announced in February.

The 2023 program, as in years past, also will bestow a Lifetime Achievement Award; the recipient of that award will be announced soon.

Awards dinner, educational event set for May 22

All of this year’s honorees will be celebrated Monday, May 22, during an in-person cocktail reception, dinner and awards presentation at the JW Marriott in Chicago.

The presentation of awards will be preceded by the fourth annual McKnight’s Women of Distinction Forum, offering educational sessions featuring industry thought leaders discussing important topics. All events are open to the entire long-term care industry, family members and friends of winners, and anyone else interested in attending. Details of the educational sessions will be published soon.

For more information and to register for either or both events, visit Those with questions about the events should contact Anna Naumoski, senior event manager at the parent company of the McKnight’s brands, Haymarket Media, at [email protected].

Keep up to date with McKnight’s Women of Distinction news on the McKnight’s Senior Living website. See a list of previously honored women by year and category on the McKnight’s Senior Living website or an alphabetical list at (scroll down to see it).

PointClickCare is the Diamond sponsor of this year’s program. PharMerica is the Silver sponsor. Additional sponsors include Healthcare Services Group, Omnicare, Sentrics and ShiftKey.