I had the privilege of attending our state conference this week. LeadingAge New Jersey/Delaware has not met in person since 2019 and it was joyous, and affirming, to see everyone back together again. All of these nonprofit leaders, from across two states, have struggled mightily these last 26 months, as have our colleagues across the country and beyond. We’ve lived through what I call the “dark days” when COVID-19 was an enemy we did not understand, attacking us in ways we could not anticipate and requiring resources we were hard pressed to find. We’re grateful that those anxiety-filled days are somewhat behind us but we long for the day when COVID will be a memory. All of these folks are battle weary and all of them know that this experience will never be forgotten, that it changed them, their staff and their organization.
We talked very frankly in more than one session about what going forward means to all of us. It’s an opportunity to look at our work differently, to take many of the lessons we’ve learned and apply them. The need for ongoing preparedness and the commitment to more sophisticated infection control are two of the practical implications. But, beyond that, we must look at how we provide care and services, which settings are best for those we care for and how we can better anticipate and meet the needs of both today and the future. We talked about the challenges of workforce and the struggle to find adequate staffing.
We also talked about the negative way that senior services, especially nursing homes, have been portrayed in the media. There is no question that, as in any field, there were and are some “bad actors” but the vast majority of elder care providers, particularly those who are mission-based and values driven, worked diligently to save lives and to do anything and everything for their elders, staff and community.
As we shared our various experiences and ideas, one phrase became a repetitive part of the conversation, that we need to look at our work, look at our field and “turn it inside out.” Can we look at older adults to help meet our workforce needs? Can we find ways that the elders we care for can help—perhaps mentoring young people and putting their skills and knowledge to good use. Many of us see a need to expand in the area of home and community-based services. But, turning our old model inside out, maybe there are new and unique partnerships we can find with other like-minded organizations. And, as far as negative image goes, maybe turning it inside out means that we don’t wait for someone else to tell our story. Rather than relying solely on word of mouth and reputation, it’s time that we tell our stories more strongly and more consistently ourselves. It’s time for us to stand up proudly, proud of what we do, proud of the role we play in enhancing quality of life for our elders.