Federal lawmakers often seem to look down on aging care professionals, but it might not be long before they’re looking up to them to learn how to get things done.

While bickering, cheap-shotting and political gridlock continue to pervade the nation’s capital, a vaunted roster of seniors housing and healthcare leaders has quietly been meeting this year to create a broader education track to enrich the leadership ranks.

The goal is to create a national strategy to expand university-based programs in senior care leadership. If all goes according to plan, it should be in place by May, says Doug Olson, Ph.D., MBA, NHA, FACHCA, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty member and the director of the school’s Center for Health Administration and Aging Services Excellence (CHAASE), which he founded 14 years ago.

“If anybody thinks we have an ample supply of programs across the country raising the next generation of leaders, they’re sadly mistaken,” Olson told me Tuesday. “We’re not even close to the numbers of programs and emerging professionals we need.”

That reality is so widely recognized, a virtual Who’s Who of long-term care and aging services providers has volunteered to sit on the group’s steering committee (*see list below). It will meet for the fourth time next month. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is interested in the campaign as are 15 other top stakeholder groups, including the American Health Care Association, LeadingAge, the American College of Health Care Administrators, the National Association of Long Term Care Administrators Boards (NAB), Argentum and the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, as well as educators, vendor leaders and accreditors.

“We think it needs to be a collective effort,” said Olson, who humbly describes himself as “a person leading part” of a “sabbatical project” supported by a variety of stakeholders. “Nobody’s going to solve the problem by themselves.”

He has been on leave from regular teaching since September and been meeting with various stakeholders. Well over 200 have expressed interest or been interviewed, with more outreach on the way, he noted. His sabbatical is being supported by the UW System, UW-Eau Claire, CHAASE and the NAB Foundation.

The goal is to have a strategic plan endorsed by all the participating organizations by May. The end of Phase I (research) is in sight, which will give way to Phase II (prioritization of objectives) and then Phase III (getting the word out).

A final report, complete with specific recommendations and action steps, is expected to be unveiled at the National Emerging Leadership Summit in June.

“We want to let people know that the conversation is going on,” Olson said. “The inquiry is well underway.”

While many of the stakeholders might have competing interests at some level, their overriding belief is that it’s in everyone’s best interest to groom more seniors healthcare and service administrators as soon as possible. There are more licensed professionals leaving the profession than entering, a spiral that needs to be reversed.

“Developing leadership talent for the next generation is within every one of those organization’s interests, so it’s kind of nice. We can create a common agenda that doesn’t create as many challenges and it adds an inspiring collaborative spirit to the effort,” Olson said.

Employers are among the eager participants in this executive administrative leadership training quest. The focus is to spread the wealth, so to speak — and that includes beyond just nursing home administration, Olson emphasized as the field has broadened both its scope and reach.

“CMS is interested because they know if they can do something to help leadership stability in the field, the outcomes will be better,” he explained. “At the end of the day, if you have turnover and not enough people to lead an organization, it doesn’t matter what the program is, it just won’t go forward and be sustained.”

Currently, there are only 11 programs of varying size accredited by the National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards, which is one of the indicators of the problem. Olson’s hope is that 20 or more strong university programs soon can be spreading top senior care leadership talent throughout the country. They would attract students regionally, he says, adding that there are more than enough potential students for interested schools and educators with the right approach and tools. He also noted that some of those right approaches, along with high-impact practices, are already in place at some universities across the country.

He acknowledged that no two programs will be identical, though they ideally may share common characteristics. The program he oversees with colleagues at UW-Eau Claire currently graduates approximately 60 students a year. Some are assisting in this project. Virtually all have a chance at immediate employment.

“That’s one of the things we undersell in this profession — the career opportunities are strong,” he pointed out. “A lot of people are sure there are not enough talented people to fill the needs of the next 10 to 20 years.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the project can email Olson at olsondou (at) uwec.edu.

* The steering committee consists of:

•  Randy Lindner, CEO, NAB Foundation

•  David Gifford, M.D., Senior VP of Quality, AHCA

•  Chris Mason, AHCA/NCAL Board

•  Robyn Stone, Ph.D., Executive Director, LeadingAge Center for Applied Research

•  Cecilia Sepp, President and CEO, ACHCA

•  Robert Kramer, CEO, National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care

•  Anne Montgomery, Senior Policy Analyst, Altarum Institute

•  Steve Chies, Principal Consultant, Care Paradigm

•  Julianne Williams, CEO, Dycora

•  Otis Woods, Wisconsin Dept of Health Services and CMS representative

•  Nicholas Castle, Ph.D., Professor, University of Pittsburgh

•  Robert Burke, Ph.D., Professor, The George Washington University

•  Jennifer Johs-Artisensi, Ph.D., Professor, UW-Eau Claire

•  Diane Hoadley, Ph.D., Emeritus Dean of the UW-Eau Claire College of Business

•  Mike Schanke, the Vice Convener of CHAASE and President of Oakridge Gardens  


Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.