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

CW Ep. 33: David Hopkins

David Hopkins kicks off the new Contributor Wednesday series with Leadership Lessons for Community Administrators. He encourages leaders to not be afraid to question the standards or what is normally done in an effort to come up with new and improved ways of actions in your community.

Welcome to Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday, I’m David Hopkins, I’ll be your host. I hope that we get to share a lot of things together. I have a bunch of stories I’d love to tell you; some will make you laugh, some will make you cry. And who knows along the way, maybe I can teach something. When thinking about what would I talk about on my very first podcast, I was sitting here thinking, how did I get here? Do you think that’s a story worth telling? I thought it might be kind of interesting. So that way you got an interesting perspective on who I am and how I got here. Originally I said I would never work in senior living. After doing this family journey five times as an adult, child and making decisions I said I would never work in senior care. God has a funny way of tapping you on the shoulder and saying, remember what you just said, that’s exactly where I’m going to put you.
I originally started my career at Walt Disney world in Orlando, Florida; having a great time. Once I graduated college, I moved into acute care and hospital settings, large physician practices, and then eventually found an opportunity to come into senior care. When I put in my application, I wasn’t quite sure this was the role that I wanted to do, but it looked like I could handle it. And there were some things that I thought I could bring to the table that might be a little different. Like I said, having walked this family journey, you get a different perspective when you’re on the other side of the desk. My past five years in senior living have been ones of ups and downs, laughing and crying, jokes, tears, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As one of our former Contributor Wednesdays, James Lee said it’s a financial business with a heart emotion.
So when I think about how I actually got into an executive director chair, I thought about all the people who had an impact along the way and how that has driven me to be where I’m at. I thought about the phrase flipping tables. It just kind of kept popping over and over in my head. It comes from a Bible verse when Jesus walks into the temple and sees tax collectors, collecting in the temple, and he’s very upset and he flips the tables over and says, this is not what my father’s house has meant for. It’s something that has always stuck with me and I keep going back to flipping tables. What does it mean to flip tables in senior living? I think about when I first started as an executive director and the things that I seem to do naturally seemed unorthodox in senior care. The first thing I was told was you must treat all your residents with respect. They must be addressed as Mr and Mrs.
Well, my grandparents weren’t Mr and Mrs. My dad certainly wasn’t a Mr or Mrs. As I got to know my residents, most of them ended up developing nicknames and they never wanted to be called Mr. or Mrs. Smith. They wanted maddog who was part of a biker gang in Long Island, New York. And I wouldn’t mess with her as she shuffles down the hallway in her wheelchair. I think about flipping tables and senior care that we as employees and staff members don’t really get to the level that we need to, to understand what our residents need and want. How many times have you been pushed around or tried to shuffle your way around in a wheelchair in your building? Is there that abnormal light switch that’s out of reach? Is there an elevator button that’s too high? Is there a fire door that just doesn’t stay propped open long enough for you to get through? When you look at things from a different perspective versus just walking around and zipping through while you’re sending a couple texts or email on your phone, as you get to your next meeting. We miss those opportunities for flipping the table. On my first day at my new location, I was greeted with a laptop computer and promptly shown how to get onto their computerized training program. 52 hours later, I finally clicked through my last slide, three days of classroom training and then here’s your desk and your keys. As I sat down behind the desk and I looked at that computer with dread because I just spent 52 hours with it, clicking through slide after slide to learn everything that was going to teach me to be an exceptional executive director. I quickly realized none of that had prepared me. Sure that justified all my requirements for government agencies and local health departments and fire marshals and other training programs.
But when my first resident walked through the door with a complaint, there wasn’t a slide for that. And that’s where the real work got going. Once I started flipping tables and taking one piece at a time, one bite at a time, it really started to find my groove as an executive director. I served alongside my care staff. I worked with my housekeeping staff, teaching them how to make hospital corners on beds and the proper way to clean windows. For those of you who don’t know that, that’s a little water and vinegar, a nice scrub and drying them with either brown paper towels or coffee filters, it’ll leave a shine and a clearness through the glass that even the birds will mistake.
As I encountered and reached out to other locations in the local community that were senior livings, they were quite stunned that I was calling to reach out to partner with them. This was something I had learned at Disney. Something to find mentors, find collaborators, because you can’t do it alone. Being a team is what it’s all about. I’m reminded of a story that when Walt Disney was down building Walt Disney World, he’d fly in from Anaheim, California, and land and inspect all the processes going on at Magic Kingdom and the Contemporary Resort and Polynesian. And finally, when they were about six months from opening, Walt looked around and said, “Hey, wait a minute, where’s my campground?” Now you have to understand while Disney World was way over budget at this point in time, they were trying to get everything done for opening day. And the thought of building a campground at this point in time did not excite the staff. I got to hear this story firsthand from one of the cast members that came over from Disneyland to help. And as I sat around looking, Walt said to them, “I stated in a press conference, we were going to have luxury accommodations all the way down to a campground. You all better figure out how to deliver that.” When, while Disney left that night, they were sitting around, they ended up climbing the fence into the construction site, borrowing a few chainsaws, rakes and cutters and saws. And they went over on the other side of the Lake from Contemporary Resort and started cutting out paths. They created little niches and a road that came all the way in from the main road that they were bringing in supplies to. This was the first development of Fort Wilderness on Walt Disney World property. They created about 40 different camp sites, put up a little cottage store and called it Fort Wilderness. On opening day the reviews for Fort Wilderness were over the top. People coming in that had made reservations for the Walt Disney World campground were so excited. Review comments stated ‘it was like were sleeping into the real wilderness. These little niches carved out of wilderness. We were braving it.’ Little did they know? Six months earlier that wasn’t a campground. The ingenuity and insight of the cast members that were there to borrow a few tools and carve out what was promised and delivered to not only meet the guest expectations, but to also exceed it was phenomenal.
They treat people differently at Disney. We need to treat people differently in senior living. It comes down to that training. Think about your first day when you walked in, were you greeted warmly? Was your name tag there? Did you have your computer log-in set? If you have email, was that set up? Was there a plan and an intentional purpose around when you showed up? I have a friend who’s an F16 fighter pilot for the Navy. Constantly he is telling me, ‘David training allows winning before conflict.’ And I’m like, what does that really mean? So when he broke it down to me; the way you train, the way you train your employees, the way you train your fighter pilots or your cast members is how you win. How many times do we hire a new caregiver and put them in front of a computer to meet their legal and governmental requirements, yet we never talk to them about how we want you to talk to our residents. What happens if you have a problem? ‘It always comes back to the mission’, my friend the captain says. We are on a mission and senior care. We have to change the world.
My friend, the captain, has a Navy seal friend who says, ‘if you want to change the world, you start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud,’ this is one of those things that can transcend any career path out there. How many times do you feel like you’re overwhelmed in senior care; running down a hallway, trying to respond to a call pending, delivering food, moving on to the next room, helping somebody with a shower. You are up to your neck in mud. It’s at this time, we need to start singing, it’s at this time, we as leaders need to step up and say, we’re going to be happy. We’re going to sing even if I’ve got the worst voice in the world, singing makes people happy. We are living in a crazy chaos time here during 2020. Going into 2021, we have to look for the opportunities to start singing, just start changing and to start flipping the tables and senior care so that we, as leaders in senior care are setting a new standard.
Gone are the days of bingo and cookies and punch. Now it’s iPads and wine clubs and mystery theater tours. We have to start questioning why. Why do we do that? Why is that our staffing ratio? Who set those goals? Why are those goals set? For those of you who have kids, you know, there’s a part in their life that the only word they seem to know is why. And you have a certain threshold as a parent of you’ll answer six, seven, maybe even eight questions. And then the temper starts to boil in you. How many times have you answered, ‘because I said’? How many times as a leader have we said that without explaining why. My son is notorious for asking why, he will question everything; it’s exhausting. But when he finally understands it, he’s off like a rocket, much like our staff members, once they understand the why of what we’re doing, the how becomes much easier.
If we’re here to take care of our residents and treat them with family love, it’s time that we start flipping the tables. We have to demonstrate the love and compassion that our residents and clients need. We have to start looking at things differently. We have to create an environment in which our employees excel to the highest standards. We have to question why do we need all of these governmental regulations? Does that make you a better caregiver?
So my challenge for you today is to find one thing and just ask the simple question why. It might be something that you’ve done for the past 10 years of your life. This report is always due on Thursday. Why? Why does it have to be done? Why does it have to be done on Thursday? Why not Tuesday? Ask the questions and I think your answers are going to be somewhere along the lines of, well we’ve always done it this way, or I’m not quite sure.
You’ve all seen those posts and those memes that say the greatest curse you can have in a business is we’ve always done it that way. At Disney, you were taught to ask questions and question the standard. If you didn’t think something was right, there was always an opportunity as a frontline cast member to measure it, figure out why it was happening and then report your results. And you know, most of the time they were right. There was something different that could have been done. There were cost savings and there were revenue generating ideas that helped soar to new heights. We need to foster that communication and that culture within senior care. Most of the time it was because I said so, or this is how we’ve always done it. It’s our time in 2021, flying cars aren’t coming so we better try for something a little bit more lofty with a goal. Won’t you join me this year, 2021, and focusing on elevating our resident care, how we do things and questioning the standard. Thanks for listening this week to BTG’s Contributor Wednesday, please connect with me on BTGvoice.com. I look forward to talking to you again soon.

CW Ep. 33: David Hopkins