When Susan Hildebrandt discusses the challenges facing many working parents in the long-term care workforce, empathy comes up a lot.
“I was a single mother for a long time, and I needed to be able to control my schedule,” she shares. “I am so fortunate compared to the vast majority of single mothers, but, yeah, I completely get it. The biggest challenge was being a single mother for so long and finding a job that filled me creatively and intellectually, while also being a good mom.”
Hildebrandt joined LeadingAge at the end of 2016 as the vice president of workforce initiatives, saying that when she saw the job description, “my heart just stopped. I said, ‘That’s my dream job.’”
“That’s what you always like to hear,” says Katie Smith Sloan, the CEO of LeadingAge, noting that while she didn’t know Hildebrandt personally, she knew of the organization the applicant had worked for, Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
Hildebrandt has a “unique skill set in bringing together diverse stakeholders around a common agenda,” Sloan says.
“Part of what I was looking for was someone who would become steeped in the issue,” Sloan explains. “We’ve been working on workforce issues for years, but having somebody who is dedicated and intentional all day, every day became an imperative.”
LeadingAge’s top exec says Hildebrandt is a “delight to work with” and a “relationship builder. She has a positive, can-do attitude.”
Hildebrandt’s interest in aging issues stems from her parents, who now live in a life plan community: Her mother, who has Parkinson’s, lives in assisted living while her father, a retired University of Michigan business professor, resides in independent living.
Her connection with those treating or undergoing health challenges also stems from when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 25.
“I don’t think about it a whole lot, but in terms of full disclosure and for people out there who have diabetes, it gives you empathy and understanding,” she notes.
Hildebrandt grew up with a sense of global and political awareness. The granddaughter of German immigrants, she attended a German school for six months while her father was on sabbatical. She also completed a semester abroad at Heidelberg University. Although her mother worked in local elections, Hildebrandt says her true political awakening was Watergate.
“I remember when Nixon resigned like it was yesterday,” she says. She moved to Washington, D.C., after graduate school and went to work on Capitol Hill, eventually becoming a legislative assistant.
Always interested in healthcare policy, she worked for almost 20 years at the American Academy of Family Physicians. During this time, she also was raising her son, Conor, who is now 22 and about to graduate from American University. She remarried in 2007, and her family today includes two stepsons, Bob and Joe, along with a 10-year-old English cocker spaniel named Murphy.
She and her husband, Jack Spilsbury, plan to visit Rome this summer to celebrate their anniversary.
In addition to a zeal for reading, the 56-year-old also enjoys yoga and gardening.
“Gardening is my greatest passion,” she says. “I think of it as creative. I’m drawn to creative and complicated challenges.”
That includes tackling the issues regarding the aging service workforce.
“Over the long term, I think we need to think about how we talk about working and aging services. These are the jobs of the future,” she notes. “This field is really built on people.”