Marilynn Duker speaking

Dozens of skilled nursing, senior living and home care leaders and frontline workers became celebrities for a few hours Monday night in Chicago, where they were feted as the 2023 McKnight’s Women of Distinction.

The fifth annual celebration of the sector’s best and brightest female leaders kicked off with two educational panels and rolled into a fun-filled cocktail reception and dinner. Each honoree in attendance was presented with an engraved trophy marking their accomplishments.

Fifty of this year’s 59 winners attended the live gala, where coworkers, loved ones and peers from across the country gathered to network and pay homage to those making a mark on long-term care. Recognition as a McKnight’s Woman of Distinction has quickly become a coveted title since the program launched in 2019.

Marilynn Duker, co-chair of Baltimore-based Brightview Senior Living, was named the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree.

She has been with Brightview and its predecessor, The Shelter Group, a privately held real estate development and property management firm, since 1982. She was The Shelter Group’s second employee and has been involved in every phase of the company’s operations and growth. A little more than a decade after joining, she helped found Brightview, where she is one of six partners.

“These last 40 years have wildly exceeded my expectations,” Duker told the crowd. “I would never think you go somewhere and you take a job when you’re 26 years old that you can end up the same place 40 years later in a completely transformed organization. … I couldn’t feel better about what we have all accomplished.”

Women of Distinction candidates are nominated in four categories. They include Hall of Honor, for senior-level professionals in the C-suite or at a level equivalent to vice president; Veteran VIPs, with more than 15 years of experience making an impact in long-term care but still at a level lower than vice president or its equivalent; and Rising Stars, candidates 40 and younger (or with fewer than 15 years of experience in the profession) who have quickly demonstrated an exceptional commitment to the industry.

Congratulations to these notable women who are leading the way. They have distinguished themselves — and us — by showing how it’s done,” said John O’Connor, McKnight’s editorial director, vice president and associate publisher.

“This year’s event in Chicago was truly a cause for celebration. These honorees truly are women of distinction.”

The McKnight’s Spirit Award, added in 2022, recognizes inspiring caregiving and service to patients and communities. The stories of this year’s Spirit award winners provided some of the most tender moments of the evening, with the crowd warmly applauding feats such as organizing hurricane evacuations and administering life-saving CPR off the job.

Another stirring moment came as the entire crowd gave a standing ovation in honor of Genevieve Gipson, director and founder of the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants based in Ohio. Gipson died after she’d been selected as a Hall of Honor class member; a colleague picked up a posthumous award on her behalf Monday.

To learn more about all of this year’s honorees, flip through the commemorative booklet from the 2023 event.

Several of this year’s winners and a few notable previous honorees helped round out the day by participating in two roundtables on leadership. Stay tuned to later this week for coverage of “Traits of a successful long-term care leader” and “A lifetime of lessons from the C-suite.”

You can keep up to date with the entire McKnight’s Women of Distinction program and watch for details on next year’s entry period on the McKnight’s Long-Term Care website. For more inspiration, browse a list of previously honored women by year and category.

PointClickCare is the Diamond sponsor of this year’s program. PharMerica is the Silver sponsor. Additional sponsors include Healthcare Services Group, Omnicare, Sentrics and ShiftKey.