When Diane Carter was 14 years old, she volunteered as a candy striper at a nursing home near her home in Denver. She loved it, mostly because she enjoyed listening to all the stories the residents shared. It reminded her of afternoons spent with her paternal grandmother, Mary.
“My heart and soul revolved around my Grandma Carter,” recalls Carter, now in her 16th year as Founder and CEO of the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to supporting the work of 14,000 long-term care nurses across the country.
“She was pretty obnoxious, and being politically correct never crossed her mind,” Carter explains. “But — as inconsistent as it sounds — she told everyone that she loved them. She’s the whole reason I’ve been in gerontology my whole life.”
Carter, 62, admits that many of the people who work with her at AANAC would likely say she’s inherited her grandmother’s story-telling tendencies, and often uses them to advocate for long-term care nurses and facilities.
“These facilities are called nursing homes for a reason, and the probability that a physician will be there when a resident’s condition worsens are pretty slim,” Carter says. “If nurses aren’t provided with a staff with the right level of skills and the right amount of time to think critically, it can be life-threatening.”
In 1999, as the Minimum Data Set was first being rolled out, Carter saw an opportunity to provide education and support for nurses in working with this assessment tool, says Anna Bergstrom, who has known her since the 1980s when they worked together at the Center for Health Services Research at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
“When Diane founded AANAC, she wrote in her journal a lot and figured out that this type of an association was what would make the biggest impact, and then worked around the clock to make it happen,” Bergstrom says. “She’s very persistent.”
AANAC’s Vice President of Operations, Susan Turman, credits much of Carter’s passion and persistence to her parents, both teachers.
“Having met her father, I see in him the same dedication and focus that I see in Diane,” she says, noting that she believes Carter would do just about anything she could to improve care for the elderly and provide a positive voice for nurses.
An owner of two dogs, Fred and Maggie, Carter enjoys traveling — particularly abroad — with her husband of nearly 40 years, John Elmblad. They have their sights set on a trip to Asia next, a place neither has been. And in what she calls her “second midlife crisis,” Carter recently purchased a 2000 convertible Honda S2000. (Her first mid-life crisis involved a similar sports car purchase when she turned 50.) She went to the car dealer planning to trade in her 15-year-old car for a new Honda Accord and left instead with the mint-condition, low-mileage used sports car.
“I’m a pretty straightforward and systematic person, but I realized recently that life can’t all be serious and pragmatic,” she says. “I have gotten so much joy out of driving the four miles from my house to work and back with the top down on that car.”
Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Begins work as a research associate in the Center for Health Services Research at UCHSC
Completes a master’s of science in nursing administration from the UCHSC
Joins the Colorado Department of Health as deputy director of its Health Facilities Division
Hired as director of regulatory affairs at the Colorado Health Care Association.
Founds the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination
Inducted as a Fellow into the American Academy of Nursing