A new perspective

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Alice Hedt
Alice Hedt
When an association looks for a leader, it often prefers someone who can take a broad view. Someone who has been on the front lines yet can quickly process from a bird's-eye perch what is happening on the ground.

By all accounts it would appear that NCCNHR (“the national consumer voice for long-term care”) has done just that with Executive Director Alice Hedt.

It has earned her praise from an industry she frequently seems to tweak. 

“Alice has the unusual ability to be hard-nosed about what she represents, and fair and collaborative,” says Larry Minnix, president and CEO of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. “Based on comments others have made and my reading of the tea leaves, she is one of those people who has paid a price within her own organization from some who think she has gone too far with working with the provider community,” Minnix adds, noting she is “every bit as strong on principles as her predecessors.”

Others have called her driven, compassionate and observant.

Even if she often ends up on the other side of the negotiating table, Hedt does not allow NCCNHR and providers to be depicted as enemies. She says it only leads to avoidance of resident-centered issues NCCNHR raises.

“We've come to accept a level of mediocrity in long-term care,” she says. She estimates that “only about 15%—if that” of U.S. nursing homes are providing “quality” care. 

Hedt is, by all indications, open-minded. She honed a sense of independence while growing up in Longmont, CO, a town of about 15,000 at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. 

Spurred on by a high school speech and drama teacher, the voracious reader joined the debate team and polished her speaking skills. And she watched television.

“I was very influenced by television because our world was very suburban Colorado,” says the mother of three and grandmother of one. “It was very sort of vanilla. Through television, I learned about the wider world out there. I have very clear memories of watching Martin Luther King Jr. and [President] Kennedy speak. It just went right to my heart and I knew right away there was a bigger world out there.”
“My family always wondered, ‘Where did she get this wanderlust and interest of things outside our town and community?'”

After high school, there was first an eye-opening train trip to Concordia College in Ann Arbor, MI. At the school, she met her husband-to-be, Fred, now a Lutheran minister. 

Five months on the open seas with the “World Campus Afloat,” a special program affiliated with Chapman College in California, further expanded her horizons. Hundreds of students filled a cruise liner and studied various cultures with guest educators. They enhanced their studies by meeting with leaders at sea and on the ground in Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Kenya, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Portugal and other countries.

Today, having visited “30 or 35” countries (Namibia is her favorite), the wanderlust remains as strong as ever, says Hedt, who turns 60 in August. She also is a singer, piano player and movie buff.

“She has very strong management skills and high expectations, but at the same time is very kind and forgiving,” says a Hedt mentor, NCCNHR Founder Elma Holder. “She's soft-spoken but strong-willed. She doesn't have a mean bone in her body.”

For those interested, yes, she has had a parent  and grandparent reside in nursing homes and assisted living. Clearly not all caregiving was equal, but she prefers to discuss only the places where the care was actually “very good.”

“It would be an easy thing for me to work to get negative stories about nursing homes in the newspaper,” she observes. “But that's a flash in the pan. We have to do the very hard work to bring about change in policies and practices–for the residents.”

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