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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

194: Nathan Jones

From the football field to senior living advocate, Nathan Jones, VP of Sales at Senior Living Transparency Council, shares his passion for seniors and the pathway to shaping the perception of the industry.

Listen to Ep. 139 with Francis from Cameroon.

Learn about the Telethon To Support CDVTA Cameroon and donate here

Lucas 

Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We got a great guest and a great friend on the show today. We want to welcome the VP of Sales at Senior Living Transparency Council, Nathan Jones. Welcome to the show.

Nathan 

Thanks for having me guys. Good to see you guys.

Lucas 

Very good to see you. This has been a long time coming. We’re surprised that you haven’t been on the show already. There’s so many synergies here. We have very similar mindsets about how the Bridge the Gap mission is laid out and how your personal passions intersect with seniors in senior housing. You are now starting this new senior living transparency council to basically further that mission to change perceptions of what senior living is and to develop trust and build change. So Nathan, talk to us first of starting your young career in senior living. How did that happen?

Nathan 

Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I wish I could say that I grew up wanting to work in senior living because now knowing what I do, I would probably….as a kid, I loved hanging out with my grandma and, and that was like the highlight of my day. And I probably would have chosen senior living if I knew anything about it. But I actually was coaching football at the University of Georgia, got out of it. It was my dream as a kid to coach there and it happened a little bit differently than I thought it would. But when coach Rick left there was a player on the team that was actually starting a company using Fitbit data to monitor athletes, monitor their sleep and activity. And I was actually up at the ACC basketball tournament back in 2014…no 2016

Nathan 

I was in the ACC basketball tournament and met a guy named John Glass who’s working at Thrive Senior Living, now he’s become a dear friend of mine. But I was still telling him what I was doing with college athletes and he’s like, “man, we want to monitor our residents and create competition and walking clubs and things like that, similar to what college coaches are doing with their athletes.” I was like, “senior living communities, like a nursing home I went to when I was a kid? Kinda didn’t smell too great, sang Christmas Carols, wanting to get out as quickly as possible.” He’s like, “no, it’s, it’s changed a lot in 20 years. I think you’ll be surprised, come to a grand opening.” And so I flew up to Virginia. 

Nathan 

I was working on a college budget, so I slept in the airport, covered up with my tuxedo that I wore to the to the grand opening, but absolutely fell in love with the industry, met the iN2L team where I worked for last four years and just was blown away with the people there, the residents there. I talked to a lady who visited her old home and started telling stories about it. And so then for the next year as I was working for this old company I just would go and have happy hours at four o’clock a couple of times a week local Atlanta communities. Rebecca Sturtz was filling in for an ED at the time and she’d let me come anytime I wanted, sit around and just listen to stories. And if you ever needed a confidence booster, you just go to a senior living community and they’ll tell you everything you want to hear.

Nathan 

And they all have a granddaughter or a daughter that they want to introduce you to, which is always funny. But yeah, I just fell in love with it, started going, and then got a job at iN2L and here I am. This is become a passion of mine.   I’m very, very thankful that God led me this way and having no idea what I was going to do out of college and getting out of coaching. I was kind of lost for a year on a career path and thank God that I stumbled into it  through John Glass and, and  some great people. So here I am. It’s been about five years of, of knowing, being aware of senior living. And I feel like I learned something new every day.

Josh 

Well, I love your story. I know I can speak for me and Lucas. We have really enjoyed getting to know you, spending time together over the last several years. Gosh, not only at events, but Braves games and all over the place, it’s been a lot of fun. I’m ashamed that we have not had you on our show yet. I’ve shared this with you. I remember one of the things that sticks out about our kind of getting to know each other relationship. We were at an event in Atlanta and I had just come off of some panel. I was speaking at, and I think we were talking about marketing or sales or something like that. And it got into talking about the older and the younger generations and millennials and what millennials think and their perception of senior living.

Josh 

And I felt really good about the conversation we had on the stage until I came off and talked to you. And, and you’re like, “hey, Josh,  I think it’s kind of interesting that you guys are always talking about what the younger generation thinks, but you never have any of the younger generation on your panel and just ask them what they think.” And I remember thinking, “I don’t know whether to be offended or just tell you that’s the greatest question ever and smack myself,” but I so appreciate it and that stuck with me about just how common sense, what a great question and you as, as a young leader at that time not being afraid to ask the somewhat what should be obvious question, and it challenged me to really start doing that. And I’ve so appreciated you, but to kind of dovetail off that, I mean, what do you think as you’re looking. Now, you’re no longer a new executive, a new leader, you’re a seasoned leader in senior living and helping to launch a new company. What, as you look at our landscape of our industry, what is it that from your lens, you feel like our industry really needs to do better?

Nathan 

Yeah, that’s a good question. Because I mean, at the end of the day, millennials, if you look at studies on millennials, millennials value purpose and mission driven fields more than anything else. I mean, more than even salary in a lot of cases. And senior living brings that mission driven field that so many people are looking for with an opportunity to grow quickly in your career. I mean, there’s so much opportunity in senior living and if you combine that with the mission side, it is the most attractive industry that no one knows about. And so I always asked that question. You have to ask that question to yourself every month is, how are people consuming content? What are people looking at? What am I looking at when I’m scrolling through a feed?

Nathan 

And my iPhone tells me that I’ve spent an hour and a half on social media today, whether it’s LinkedIn, Instagram. What am I spending my time on? What are other spending their time on? When a commercial comes on television and someone’s charging a hundred thousand dollars for that commercial. Well, I just look at my phone and I go on Instagram and LinkedIn. So understanding where people’s attention at, sharing those good stories, sharing that message of opportunity for growth and a mission oriented industry. I think that senior living has that, we have that type of industry. We just haven’t updated the way that we share that messaging. We haven’t, I was sitting at a conference when we met like three years ago, a month before I was at a conference, it was a long session.

Nathan 

And I asked people, I was like, “do you guys have Instagram?” No one had an Instagram at the time. And I was like, well, they were like “our, our clients aren’t on Instagram. The people that we’re trying to reach aren’t on Instagram.” I was like, “well, their grandkids are, and that’s where they’re posting pictures of their kids.” And I was like, “so if they’re posting, if that’s only where they’re posting their pictures, who do you think is going to download Instagram when they can’t see pictures of their grandkids anymore?” It’s your target market? And so I actually went and created an awards count that five years ago called Southern Senior Living Awards. And it got 12 or 13,000 followers pretty quickly, and it was just sharing good news of senior living. And so I think as an industry as a whole, we have all these stories in our belt, but we don’t ever share them with the rest of the world. We kind of keep them closed hearted for whatever reason. But I think that the more we can share those stories and share why we love our jobs and why others should work in senior living and let residents tell the story, and what other staff people tell the story. I think that authentic type of content can really change the perception of senior living.

Josh 

So you touched on a couple of things. I think it was the different channels maybe and the different types of content. What are some of the initiatives? Cause you, you said something and I think what you said was not too many people know about senior living. I would also add to that. I think a lot of people think they know about senior living and that’s the perception piece. That’s just not accurate because I’ve heard, you’ve mentioned specifically some studies that show this idea of the perception being from a lot of people outside of the industry that think they know the industry. It’s a distrust. It’s not trusting our industry with the care that we all know that happens. Like the great care that happens, but maybe the perception outside of the industry is that that doesn’t happen. What are some specific initiatives maybe that you have, are doing or plan to do personally through all of your channels, but also through what your new launch is doing to help, to kind of change that perception? Can you walk our listeners through some of that?

Nathan 

Yeah. So that’s a great point. Some people don’t know anything about senior living, but the ones that do don’t trust senior living communities. So we actually, when I was working at iN2L, like everyone, I was reading story after story, negative story, after story about senior living through different media outlets. One McKnight study said that 49% of baby boomers don’t trust senior living communities to keep their loved ones safe. And so if safety, if I don’t think someone’s going to keep my grandma safe, there’s no way, no matter how good your food is, how many activities you have, she’s not gonna live there. And so how do we fix that? There are some communities that we need to worry about in senior living. I’m not saying everyone is an amazing community and everyone should go live at any community that’s out there. But there are some really, really good communities. Ones that residents are extremely happy.

Nathan

Families are extremely happy. Staff is extremely happy, and they’re not, they don’t have any clinical red flags with the state reporting data, like they’re not abusing residents or anything like that. When we were launching the Senior Living Transparency Council, that’s what we kept going back to. How do we build the trust with that 49% of people that know about senior living, but don’t trust them or don’t trust us? And so we thought that if you could prove that those three people are happy, the residents, the families, and the staff, and show that there’s not any clinical red flags, then we could create a feel or a certification that says, “hey, these are the communities that you can trust. They have proven those people are happy and they don’t have any clinical red flags.”

Nathan 

So when someone earns that, what we call the Clear Seal, we’re going to promote the heck out of them to start working, to change that perception with people who were outside of the senior living industry that frankly, and in a lot of cases need it. I mean the baby boomer generation, most of them have a parent that at some point over the next few years, they’re going to need to shop for senior living communities. And if they don’t trust the senior living industry as a whole, they’re going to do their best to keep their mom or dad at home. And so that’s ultimately why we started to build that trust, a lot of cool benefits outside of that. But just doing things like that. There’s, like I said, there’s so much negativity.

Nathan 

I don’t know if you guys saw that John Oliver episode, back in March, but it’s like an example from 10 years ago that doesn’t really…it’s one snapshot. Here’s his audience, I would say 90% of his audience saw that one snapshot of senior living, made a judgment and probably will never think about senior living again because of what he said. And for us, how do we combat that? We can’t just ignore it. You have to combat that. Like James Lee came out with a great article, “Dear John,” and I highly recommend anyone to go read that. But sharing positive stories, combat that negativity with firsthand stories from the resident or firsthand stories from staff members to really ultimately start changing perception. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Everyone wants a quick fix to, check it off their box and say, “okay, we posted it on Instagram. Now we’re going to change the perception of senior living in our community.” It takes time and patience and recognizing what people engage with and what people don’t engage with, and slowly building that brand of senior living or brand of your communities or your company over time. And there’s not a quick fix to it unfortunately. So that’s where we’re at. 

Josh 

A lot of good stuff that you just unpacked for us there. I love the word “transparency” because you’ve got to have that to build trust. From my viewpoint, I think there’s no doubt all of us, all of our communities, there’s always things we can improve on. Sometimes bad things happen. In our industry, thankfully that the great outweighs the bad, and we do have to be better at sharing those awesome stories and have some unified messaging. But in full transparency, owning the mistakes and owning the areas that you can improve on also helps to build trust. So I love that word transparency. And as we begin to move forward, I love that you guys have a kind of an award seal, a seal of approval, or however you refer to that because I do think at its most organic point, our industry has some opportunities that they can overcome, that we can overcome together because unlike a lot of industries that have layers and layers of federal, national red tape from a regulatory compliance standpoint, that in many, many could argue, I could argue all day that doesn’t really improve necessarily quality.

Josh 

It does increase cost and sometimes reduces access contrary to popular belief. Our industry predominantly is state and at a much more local level regulated. And I think what happens is there’s a ton of great information out there on things like you touched on a community’s deficiency reports. Like, what are they doing well, what are they not doing well, according to their regulatory boards? But because that’s state regulated, if you’re a consumer, it can be very confusing and a little bit vague to know where you find the resources to find how communities rank and what services they offer, because we’re blessed with huge amounts of service offerings that differ from community to community. So what you guys are doing I think is really great, because if we can grow that, if Bridge the Gap can also help you grow that, and our listeners can help grow by subscribing to that program, we can help distribute that hopefully to the folks outside of our industry to help them navigate and define the places that are for sure doing awesome things and build that transparency and trust for the industry.

Josh

So Lucas, you’re sitting there very quiet. For those that can’t see, you’ve got this flame on your head, the Ignite flame and igniting change. So weigh in on this man.

Lucas 

Yeah. Build trust and ignite change. I mean, that’s why we have Nathan on the shows is because these are really in line with all of the missions that Bridge the Gap has had for so long, which is informed, educated, influence, and a byproduct of that is changing perception of what senior living is. And we’re so glad that Nathan is in the fight on the offense. I think it’s time to get off defense and be on the offense when it comes to this. We need to tell the stories and not let and not have the senior living industry chase all the bad stories down. And I think this is a big part of that. And as technology grows and more people enter the space, you’re going to see more of these conversations happening on social, and on all the various different platforms.

Lucas 

And over time, it is going to help paint the picture more accurately about what this industry is. So before we conclude, there’s also a very special, another passion project that you’re very interested in, Nathan, which is Francis from Cameroon. And we were very blessed to have Francis on episode 139. To our listeners. You can go back and listen to that, go to BTGvoice.com and search episode 139 or on your podcast player and listen to Francis. So Nathan, tell us what Francis is doing and tell us about the upcoming telephone to help raise money for the cause.

Nathan 

Yeah, I mean, that gives me the harem arms to stand up a little bit, talking about Francis and just, I got videos from his kids yesterday, drinking the clean water that they had, and they didn’t have to hike miles and miles away to get it because of the telethon last year. So anyway Jack, if you don’t know the story, I’ve tons of videos to tell the story, but Jack met this guy named Francis at a global leading age conference, Jack York. This was like five years ago, donated 500 bucks, wired it over after meeting him for 10 minutes. And with that 500 bucks, Francis set up the Northeast Cameroon Jack York Elderly Women’s Goat Fund, and bought a goat that supported the villages out there. And so out of curiosity Jack and him began a relationship.

Nathan 

Jack went out there. And then last year there in the pandemic Melissa Banko from Banko Design, one of the most amazing women I know, she actually started a water project to start providing clean water for Frances. And so Jacks and Melissa teamed up. I was still at iN2L, throughout the time, I started a little side project where I do video work called Dash Media, all about living your dash and, and it kind of fit the theme. And so I started doing the videos for this telethon because we were all used to those virtual kind of events last year. And so last year, we did the first annual CDVTA, which is an organization out in Cameroon, telethon and raised $50,000. Jack and Melissa were the hosts. Through that we were able to provide clean water to several villages out there.

Nathan 

There’s 14 villages. I think we’re close to halfway, I’ll have to check the numbers on that. But clean water where, if you imagine like, I mean, you go to the refrigerator and sometimes we’re too lazy. We ask whoever’s in the room with us to go grab some water from the fridge, these people have to walk miles and miles and miles to get clean water. And then the girls, we woke up growing up, complaining to our parents that we didn’t want to go to school that day. Some girls out there can’t go to school after they hit puberty because they don’t have bathrooms at their school. And so they have to immediately start working instead of finishing school. And so providing bathrooms for those schools is one of our missions as well. And then obviously there’s a lot of COVID-19 protocol that in America, we politicized and, no matter your opinion on it, that it’s a sensitive topic, but out there, they just, they didn’t want medicine.

Nathan 

They want Ibuprofen, they want things to help them survive. And I think the difference is that what’s so attractive about them, what I’ve learned so much from Francis is it doesn’t matter your material resources that you have, if you have each other and a good spirit and in his case, a connection with the holy spirit, that’s all you need. And the rest kind of takes care of itself. And so on November 11th, this year, our goal is $70,000. I think we’ve already got like, five to $10,000 already raised, but you’ll see some content from me and Jack and Melissa start getting posted on LinkedIn. But you can just go on November 11th. I think it’s at seven o’clock east coast time. I may be wrong on that so check out the website, but just log in from your computer at home.

Nathan 

And it’s going to be, you’re probably going to laugh. You’re probably going to cry. You’re probably going to be motivated. And ultimately we just are trying to make the world a little bit better place than we left it. And this organization with Francis, they support the women and elders and children out in Cameroon. And so, we have some really big goals this year, but we we’re excited of the buy-in that we’ve received from around the country, from people that haven’t even met Francis, or what he he’s doing out and Cameroon to help those people

Lucas 

Totally inspiring. We love that story. We’ve loved following along over the past couple of years, and we love being a part of that here at Bridge the Gap. So very exciting. We hope our listeners are going to be able to tune into that. We’ll put all the information in the show notes. You can go to BTGvoice.com, make sure you connect with Nathan on social media. You’re gonna want to follow his journey. He puts a lot of great content out on LinkedIn, Instagram and other platforms. Make sure you connect to me and Josh, so you can find Lucas and Josh on LinkedIn and other platforms. Again, the mother site, BTGvoice.com for all this information and more,  and thanks again to all of our listeners for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

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194: Nathan Jones