Penny Cook

In 1997, a group of 32 people gathered in Rochester, New York, with a belief that the world of nursing homes should and could be different.

They decided to formalize their gathering, named themselves the Nursing Home Pioneers (now Pioneer Network) and set their sights on developing a movement to transform nursing homes to places where people want to live and work based on a set of values and principles that revolved around relationships, growth and well-being. They didn’t know if there would be interest from others, but their enthusiasm, passion and connection to one another led them to move forward. 

In 1999, when they held their first conference in upstate New York, they took a chance; they hoped people would come. And people did.  A total of 365 interested people were driven to attend not just because of their curiosity to find out who these people were and what they were doing, but because they were longing for that same connection to like-minded people that drove the founding group.

Unlike other conferences, attendees wore name tags with only their first names — no titles or positions. A CNA, a dining assistant, a CEO and a nurse all sat at the same table participating equally in a discussion. Just like in 1997, the first official conference gave people an opportunity to connect, learn from each other, and come away with the inspiration and energy to start the culture change movement. 

Over the past five months, we have been challenged like never before in senior living and care communities. Trying to ensure that residents, team members and their families and friends remain healthy — physically, mentally, socially and spiritually — has been a daunting task. And events like conferences, trainings and meetings that used to physically bring us together to share stories, learn from each other, brainstorm and discuss our successes and challenges with others across the country have not been able to happen.  We haven’t had a break, which means the rejuvenation we all need has escaped us, at a time when we need it the most. The ways we connect have changed.

Technology, which is sometimes seen as a blessing and curse, has helped us to weather the crisis of distance and literally, bridge the divide. Imagine what this time would have been like 30 years ago, or even 10. We now have the means to meet virtually so the task at hand becomes how to make your next Zoom meeting engaging; how to create connection between your team members; and how to develop relationships and learn from people outside of your internal community. We have seen Facebook groups blossom, the development of Apps that facilitate networking, and companies that assist us with our technology needs explode with demand. 

We don’t know how long our current state of distancing, and limited travel is going to last, so we need to be intentional in finding ways to refill our cups, gather inspiration and re-energize both personally and professionally for the months ahead. Take a lesson from those early Pioneers — take a chance and do something different. Connect with colleagues from communities across the country; find a webinar about something you’ve wanted to learn about; join a professional Facebook or LinkedIn group; or attend a virtual conference. Time is limited, I know. However, as compassionate, caring people we need to connect with others to feed our soul. Now is the time!

Penny Cook is president and CEO of the Pioneer Network.