Federal regulators’ recently proposed rule on nursing home minimum staffing standards seems to have exacerbated the divisiveness among the various stakeholders in the aging services field. 

In an effort to be a catalyst for positive change — change that comes through unified approaches and balanced discourse — Gray Panthers NYC (GPNYC) is committed to bringing people and organizations together to break out of the group think of the status quo that appears to be keeping us at odds with each other and therefore unable to find common ground. 

To this end, more than two years ago, we began holding webinars with panels of diverse stakeholders for the purpose of fostering dialogue that will help us improve care in nursing homes so that they become places where person-directed care is a priority for everyone.

Our first step was a documentary on the topic. In February 2021, GPNYC President Jack Kupferman recruited us to co-produce a film about how COVID-19 ravaged nursing homes. “Honoring Nursing Home Lives Lost” premiered on the GPNYC YouTube channel in May of 2021, with an introduction from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). This powerful film would go on to receive an Impact Documentary award.

Secondly, to continue the conversation sparked by the documentary in July 2021, we launched a monthly webinar that became a series entitled Transformation Tuesdays. Designed to provide a platform on issues about quality of life in the nursing homes and long-term care settings, the webinars have featured consumer advocates, elected officials, industry experts and residents. 

Among the many lessons gleaned from this two-year journey is the impact that a handful of people can make. GPNYC consists of fewer than 10 volunteers, yet through our webinars our reach is now nationwide. We have touched many lives, and we plan to continue educating the public about nursing home reform and transformation, while creating a safe space for open dialogue on sensitive issues pertaining to older adults.

Gray Panthers NYC is committed to building bridges and finding common ground among the many advocacy groups. 

It was in this spirit that in May of 2023, we introduced the “Unity Series” of webinars, with the intention of bringing disparate groups together. To help in this effort, we invited Advocate-Activist Carrie Leljedal, of Illinois Caregivers for Compromise, to act as co-chair. As a presenter in an early Transformation Tuesday, she spoke about visitation rights and the impact of isolation on nursing home residents, as well as a bill she introduced, the Essential Support Persons Act, which recently passed in Illinois, thanks to her relentless efforts.

The Unity series kicked off in May, with an introduction by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Anne Montgomery, independent analyst and policy expert; and Alice Bonner, chair of the Moving Forward Coalition; in addition to Rick Mountcastle and Susie Singer, co-producers of a documentary titled “No Country for Old People.”

The June webinar featured Carrie and Mary Nichol of the Texas Caregivers for Compromise, who explained how they got the Essential Caregivers Bill passed in their states and assisted with the federal bill, which will be reintroduced this fall.

For the July webinar in the Unity series, GPNYC was honored to share a clip of “Fire Through Dry Grass,” a documentary, created by residents of the Coler Rehab facility on Roosevelt Island in New York City, that recounts their harrowing experience during the pandemic. (The film aired on PBS’s POV series on Oct. 30, 2023.)

Our series concluded in August with Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association; Shari Ling, MD, chief medical officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; and Susan Ryan, CEO of the Center for Innovation. 

In September, we introduced the Above & Beyond awards, granted to outstanding staff members who carried out their duties during and despite the pandemic, while going above and beyond in amazing ways to care for the residents they cared for.

Over the two-plus year Transformation Tuesday series, GPNYC has partnered with many groups working toward the same goal of nursing home transformation and reform, including the Center for Innovation, the American Health Care Association, the National Association of Health Care Assistants, the Moving Forward Coalition, the Live Oak Project, the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, One Voice, and others, to find synergies and common ground so that we can improve care for residents and improve job quality for direct care workers.

Although we recognize that among these groups there is not and will not be complete consensus, our message is this: When we come together to dialog in peace and keep open minds, we can find ways to work together to break free from the status quo and improve care for older adults in nursing homes so that they will never be dangerous places to live and work in again — and instead become homes where residents thrive and staff are empowered to make this happen.

Please join us at www.graypanthersnyc.org

Michelle Arnot is VP (president-elect 2024) with GPNYC, a nonprofit organization that believes active engagement, civic participation and responsibility are fundamental to achieving social and economic justice and peace. The Gray Panthers are a series of multi-generational local advocacy networks in the United States that confront ageism and many other social justice issues. The organization was formed by Maggie Kuhn in response to her forced retirement from the Presbyterian Church at the age of 65 in 1970.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

Have a column idea? See our submission guidelines here.