It’s been a pivotal time for people of color in long-term care. The pandemic has had an outsize impact on both minority workers and residents. And racial unrest has revealed the delicate state of race relations in the United States.
Deke Cateau, who serves as the chief executive officer of A.G. Rhodes, a nonprofit long-term care organization with three facilities in Georgia, is not afraid to speak up on both of these topics. An immigrant and person of color, he has a unique perspective.
He tries to let staff know that the organization is “committed to dispelling some of these issues that we have in society in our own little way, that we can be as equal and egalitarian as we can,” says Cateau, 46, a native of Trinidad, an island off of Venezuela in the Caribbean.
As part of this effort to walk the talk, Cateau himself recently returned to facilities to do one-on-one meetings with staff. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, he also has personally delivered personal protective equipment to facilities.
The personal touch shows.
Anita Gafford, staffing coordinator at the facility in Marietta and longtime employee, says she has never seen a CEO “do the footwork.” Cateau has influenced the organization in other ways, such as introducing the Eden Alternative, which has changed the way she thinks about aging. He also created the Equity and Inclusion Committee, on which she serves. This past summer, the organization made Juneteenth, an African-American holiday, a company holiday.
Having a person of color as CEO may be indirectly affecting other staff, as well. As an example, Gafford says she sees more caregivers going back to school to become RNs and LPNs.
“I see more people aspiring to be more,” she says.
Cateau’s peers also feel that he is an asset to the organzation. He “combines intelligence with humility,” states Harve Bauguess, a former CEO of A.G. Rhodes.
Cateau did not set out to work in long-term care. When he came to the United States with his wife, Keya, whom he met at the University of the West Indies, he planned to pursue finance. But Keya, a renal dietitian, introduced him to the field. One day, when Cateau picked her up at a nursing home where she was working, he ended up chatting with the administrator and business office manager. He left with a job offer.
The rest, as they say, is history. He rose through that organization, Five Star Quality Care, and received his administrator’s license. A.G. Rhodes then plucked him to be administrator at its flagship facility in Atlanta.
While he fell into long-term care by accident, Cateau has always had an appreciation for seniors. He grew up “with a sort of reverence for the elderly and aging,” he says. Much of that can be attributed to his grandmother, who took care of him and his two siblings.
When he is not working, you might find Cateau cooking at home, where Caribbean music is blaring, or watching his talented son, Jeremiah, 14, play soccer. (A gifted athlete in his own right, Cateau played soccer in college.) He also has two other children,
Danyel, 20; Kiana, 17.
Nothing would be possible without God, he says. Also precious to him is affecting care for residents and helping to inspire direct-care staff.
“My being in this position definitely serves as a beacon to them, an example to them about what can happen,” he says.
Resume: 1997, Graduates with a B.A. in history from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, West Indies; 1998, Receives a Graduate Diploma in international relations from the University of the West Indies; 2001, Takes position as assistant administrator, Autumn Breeze Health Care Center, Marietta, GA; 2005, Hired as administrator, College Park Health Care Center, College Park, GA; 2009, Becomes administrator at A.G. Rhodes’ flagship location in Atlanta; 2016. Appointed COO of A.G. Rhodes; 2018, Named CEO of A.G. Rhodes.