The McKnight’s brands honored dozens of dedicated caregivers, industry trailblazers and a veritable Who’s Who list of influential veterans as part of their third annual Women of Distinction event.

Over two days of virtual festivities, attendees from across the country feted the 2021 class of honorees with a celebrity-filled awards show and educational panels on a range of timely topics.

“We just want to give a huge congratulations to all those nurses and nursing homes doing it through the pandemic, through all of the struggles,” said Devin and Jason McCourty, twins who played defensive back for the New England Patriots for the last three years, during the May 18 online awards presentation. “All of the sacrifices you’re making, just the things that you’re doing to help others, it is just tremendous. Keep up the good work and keep it going.” 

This year’s distinguished class included 19 Hall of Honor inductees, 17 Rising Stars and, in a new category, 15 Veteran VIPs. Winners were nominated by their peers and selected by a national panel of judges comprising skilled nursing and senior living  stakeholders.

“We congratulate these truly deserving industry veterans,” said McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor. “Their hard work and unrelenting dedication has helped make life better for countless residents. They are an inspiration to us all.”

Many of this year’s nomination forms — as well as speakers who later praised the winners — honed in on valuable contributions the industry’s female leaders made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Thank you for your tireless work to provide our loved ones in long-term care facilities with high-quality care,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), chairman of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging. “Despite so much loss, women working in senior living and care communities will help us bring light to the darkness of the past 14 months, so I thank you for that good work.”

Honor of a lifetime

Mary Ousley, RN, chief strategy officer for long-term care giant PruittHealth and a past chair of the American Health Care Association, was named the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award winner. The award recognizes her contributions to skilled nursing and senior care over the course of a remarkable, decades-long career.

Ousley is a former facility owner and the namesake of AHCA’s Mary K. Ousley Champion of Quality Award. She has held top management positions at several care chains and was an architect of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, the landmark nursing home reform law.

“Beyond her decades of experience and accomplishments, what makes her such a phenomenal leader is her compassion, intellect and charisma,” PruittHealth President and CEO Neil Pruitt Jr. said. “She has the unique ability to take very complex business problems and break them down to understandable steps to a clear solution.”

Ousley is seen as a firm uniter. She is credited with getting AHCA and an alliance of secession-minded chains to continue as one, and with unifying providers and governing regulators to form new quality initiatives.

“She has not only led the sector in our quality efforts; she has often pulled us to places we needed to be but were reluctant to go,” said AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson. “Her work has benefited millions of staff and residents, and providers have learned that great quality is also great business.”

In accepting her award, Ousley said she was “almost speechless” as she reflected on how fast the years in senior care had passed.

“I thought that perhaps they have gone so fast because,
with very few exceptions, I
have enjoyed every day of
being a part of the post-acute and the long-term care profession,” she explained.

Expert guidance

Ousley was one of several winners to take part in a series of educational webinars on Day Two of the Women of Distinction Event. She joined four other industry leaders in sharing “Secrets to career success.” 

In a wide-ranging conversation, the women offered personal stories and tips for success, ranging from mentorship to succession planning and establishing organizational culture.

Being a risk-taker, critical thinker and someone who values evidence are keys to success, said Robyn Stone, Dr.PH., LeadingAge’s senior vice president of research.

“To my mind, critical thinking around every process that you are engaged in is really important,” Stone said. “We are in a world where we need to be able to differentiate between homegrown things that get pulled out of the ear and processes that really have an evidence base and strong data and knowledge behind them.”

In another session, providers shared how they’ve launched successful diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, addressing a key cultural awakening that has affected skilled nursing and senior care providers, their staff members and residents.

Finally, notable senior living and skilled nursing executives presented “Addressing pandemic challenges with success,” during which they provided a top-level view of how their organizations have met COVID-19-related hardships and shared best practices.

David Pomeranz, chief operating officer of RiverSpring Living noted the challenge of adapting to ever-changing guidance, protocols and expectations.

Losing workers to quarantine requirements presented a major challenge that required constant communication.

“It was the moment your worst fears were realized,” Pomeranz said. “We had a daily huddle to see who we had and figure out what everyone could do that day.”

This year’s Women of Distinction event was supported by Diamond sponsor PointClickCare and Paycor, which hosted additional sessions on workforce development and raising up the next generation of female leaders.

During the PointClickCare session, speakers emphasized the need for role models, as well as sustained mentoring relationships that encourage other women to stay in the industry. 

Denise Chadwick Wright, CEO of Birmingham Green, a skilled nursing and assisted living community in Manassas, VA, said reorganizing leadership at her facilities helped speed up decision-making processes during COVID and is shedding light on a path forward.

“The COVID pandemic has really been like a rebirth, a new mindset,” said Chadwick Wright, a 2021 Hall of Honor inductee. “When we think about leadership, it’s a journey: Doing the right thing centered on values, on culture, setting people up for success and creating clarity around purpose as well as desired outcomes.” 

The McKnight’s Women of Distinction program is jointly administered by McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Senior Living. The program’s Diamond sponsor is PointClickCare, and the Roundtable Sponsor is Paycor.