Chris Mason headshot
Christian “Chris” Mason
Chris Mason headshot
Christian “Chris” Mason

CHICAGO — Senior living and other aging services leaders took another big step forward Tuesday with the announcement of the Vision Centre: Leadership Development for Aging Services initiative.

The action, announced on the first day of a two-day meeting in the Windy City, signifies a renaming of the Vision 2025 campaign, which was started five years ago to study and build more formal pathways for college- and university-trained leaders in independent living and assisted living, home care, hospice care, adult day services and skilled nursing.

“You’ve got the providers, you’ve got the associations, you’ve got the universities. You’ve got the accrediting bodies,” said Christian “Chris” Mason, DBA, president and CEO of Wilsonville, OR-based Senior Housing Managers and a Vision Centre trustee.

“This is a first. I’ve been in this business almost 40 years, and I’ve never seen this,” he added.

The Vision Centre is under formal IRS review to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Meanwhile, more than 80 thought leaders from higher education and the senior living, care and service sectors met Tuesday and will continue to meet today to firm up action plans.

The need for enhanced leadership education is dire, according to Vision Centre Board of Trustees Chairman Steve Chies. Almost 51,000 additional leaders will be needed by 2030, he said, citing figures based on figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number includes nearly 35,000 additional assisted living/residential care building leaders from current levels.

“If you look at how we’ve addressed this issue in the past, it has been like a ‘hand’ with all the spread-out fingers,” Mason said. “But as an organization, now it’s like a fist. It brings strength. It brings direction, and it brings focus.”

Mason, a past board chair and holder of other officer positions at the National Center for Assisted Living, told McKnight’s that Tuesday’s announcement is a historically significant step. He is in a unique position to know. His staff collectively has spent more than three decades leading in the development, operation, management and marketing of more than 200 successful senior living communities representing more than 20,000 units, including continuum-of-care, retirement, assisted living, Alzheimer’s care and congregate care communities. 

“We’ve spent so much time in our communities; we invested in what we call cap ex [capital expenditures] all the time — how much of our revenues go toward keeping the assets looking nice,” he said, referring to general industry practices. “And in today’s day and age, what’s the most important asset we have? Human capital. And we don’t invest in that. 

“This is our opportunity to bring all the stakeholders together,” Mason continued.

He emphasized the urgency of the situation, noting that operators in many parts of the country, including some that his firm has overseen, have had to curtail services due to a lack of qualified leaders and frontline workers.

“We just shut down a medical clinic that serves 7,000 patients. Why? We couldn’t get clinicians,” Mason said. “You look at this from that standpoint, and we have to figure out ways to engage people into the field. This is our beacon. It’s a way for people to see what we do and for all of us to paint it in the light it should be painted in. You hear a lot of people talking about the fact we need to talk about the positive things that go on. Well, we’ve never done that collectively.”

Although he acknowledged that problems cannot be cleared up overnight, Mason added that there is no time to waste.

“This is a real problem today, and it’s not going to get better. It’s going to get worse,” he said. “They talked about 50,000 leaders that will be needed. …I think it’s more than that. So many people are aging out and retiring.

The Vision Centre’s goals include creating 25 robust university and college programs designed to prepare future generations of leaders for aging-adult service organizations. They also include getting those programs to foster 1,000 paid internships among senior housing, care and aging services by 2025, something both Chies and Vision 2025/Centre founder Douglas Olson, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, call the potentially most special part of the initiative.

Sean Kelly, vice chairman of Vision Centre’s board of trustees and CEO of the Kendal Corp., which operates a dozen senior living communities in nine states, said that momentum is on providers’ side with Tuesday’s announcement.

“The Vision Centre will be of all of our making and will be the driver of the evolution that we seek,” he said. “It will be a place that brings about the continued professionalization in our field and where our colleagues will meet, learn, inspire and be inspired.” 

Eight endorsing/sponsoring groups were set Wednesday morning to highlight their efforts to address critical issues of partnership with educational programs: the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, the American College of Health Care Administrators, the American Health Care Association/NCAL, LeadingAge, the American Seniors Housing Association, Argentum, the National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards Foundation and the National Association of Home Care and Hospice. Ziegler once again is a sponsor and is hosting the annual gathering.

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