Profile: Lori Porter - A commitment to CNAs

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Lori Porter
Lori Porter
Lori Porter is the first to admit that certified nursing assistants have a self-esteem problem.

But the founder and head of the National Association of Health Care Assistants is not about to coddle her members because they feel undervalued.

“I have never gone into a facility and said, ‘Treat your CNAs as professionals,'” she says. “I say train them and treat them accordingly.”

Her tough-love approach has earned her the adoration of members, who number more than 35,000, as well as executives of some of the more than 500 organizations NAHCA represents.

“Lori has brought visibility to the importance of our nation's caregivers,” says Bill Mathies, who soon will be CEO of the new operating company of Sun Healthcare Group Inc. “She has given them a meaningful voice in the long-term healthcare debate and has created interest from all stakeholders.”

Suzanne Weiss, senior VP of advocacy for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, also speaks highly of Porter.

NAHCA “talks to CNAs about being responsible for their performance and being the best they can be,” Weiss notes.

Porter, who was raised in Anderson, MO, in the Ozarks, did not have much respect for direct-care workers initially. After dropping out of high school (she became addicted to soap operas, she says), she took a job unwillingly at a local nursing home where her mom worked. The self-described smart-aleck started as a dietary aide and later became a nursing assistant.

It was not fun, Porter says in her candid and humorous book “Everything I Learned in Life … I Learned in Long Term Care.”

She writes about her wearing dishwashing gloves to clean a resident's behind and being taken down a notch by a veteran for complaining after only six months on the job.

These experiences were teaching tools that helped her gain respect for the profession and paved the way for a meaningful career in long-term care. She also has worked as an administrator and operations director.  

She formed NAHCA (formerly the National Association of Geriatric Nursing Assistants) in 1995 with her life partner, Lisa Cantrell. It was not an easy start. Along the way, she sold her house to produce a newsletter. She also had her car repossessed.

Today the organization is on steady footing with revenues of $500,000 a year and 10 employees. A compelling speaker, Porter does about three live events a month.

When she is not on the road, she is at her 7½-acre home in Joplin, MO. Porter has raised two children (Laci, 22, and Matthew, 18) with Cantrell and enjoys gardening.

Despite her efforts to help caregivers empower themselves, Porter, who turns 48 in August, acknowledges the profession is beset with problems. These include low pay, low numbers and low respect. But she is not about to host a pity party—or blame management.

Her message to administrators and owners? Nurture your stars.

“Focus on the core group [of frontline caregivers],” she says. “What you pay attention to is what you grow.”


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Resume

1980
Works as dietary aide at Indian Creek Nursing Center, Overland Park, KS

1981
Becomes certified as nursing assistant at Kansas Area Vocational & Technical School, Kansas City, KS

1982
Takes position as CNA at Indian Creek Nursing Center

1989
Becomes licensed as a nursing home administrator by Kansas Department of Health & Environment

1989
Hired as administrator at Lincoln Avenue Care Center, Olathe, KS

1993
Works as administrator at Medicalodges Inc., Coffeyville, KS. Promoted to operations director of five skilled facilities

1995
Founds National Association of Health Care Assistants (formerly National Association of Geriatric Nursing Assistants)