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

CW Ep. 45: All Host Takeover

Contributor Wednesday hosts David Hopkins, Cara Silletto, Jerald Cosey, and Christy Cunningham take over the 5th Wednesday show to discuss their passion for the senior living industry, innovation and changes they are tracking, and opportunities to leverage skills and talents to be a part of a greater career calling.

 


David:
Welcome to Bridge The Gap Contributor Wednesday, you have all four of us today on this episode, I’m David Hopkins.

Cara:
I’m Cara Silletto.

Jerald:
I’m Jerald Cosey.

Christy:
And I’m Christy Cunningham.

David:
So all four of us on one episode, this is four times the impact and four times the fun. So hang onto your hat for the next few minutes, because we’re going to talk about senior living in a way you’ve never seen it before. So just to give you a little background, if this is your first episode, listening to the Wednesday Contributor podcast, all four of us are in senior living and in different parts of that. So for me, I’m an operator, I’m an executive director, associate executive director, running assisted living, independent living, and memory care. I reside just outside of Orlando, Florida. I’ve been doing it for about five years and been in healthcare for over 15. Previously, I came from Walt Disney World. So I have a lot of fun stories that intermingle Disney operations and senior living. So I’ll kick it over to my friend, Cara, and she can tell you a little bit about herself.
Cara:
Awesome. Thanks, David. So my name is Cara Silletto. I’m the president and founder of Magnet Culture, which is an organization that focuses on reducing unnecessary employee turnover. And I started my career at one of the long-term care associations, which is where I fell in love with senior care and senior living. And now I work with organizations coast to coast to create better bosses and better cultures. So how about you, Jerald?
Jerald:
Thank you. Cara. I’m Jerald Cosey. I am the executive director of a 166-community, skilled nursing community. I’m also a senior health care empowerment speaker. And I tell you what, this industry has been through so much, and we’ve got so many great things to share with you all today. So listen in! And with that, I’m going to turn it over last, but not least to miss Christy.

Christy:
Thanks, Jerald. I’m Christy Cunningham. I’m the president and founder of Gusto Consulting, specializing in sales, marketing, and talent development consulting in the senior living space. I’ve worked for many different organizations and communities across the country and in my 13 years in the senior living industry. I am a young professional in the industry who is very passionate about what I do, and I love sharing that with others. So this is an episode that really excites me and I’m really excited to get this kicked off. So David, back to you, what are we going to talk about today?
David:
So guys today I thought, what we’d talk about is how did we get into senior living? Why is senior living just such a, to use a Jerald Cosey term, “sexy, sexy career path?” Jerald soon will be nominated as the people’s most sexist, sexiest man alive. So look for him. And I think that’ll bring a lot more notoriety to senior living. I myself did the family journey five times. So I had four grandparents. My dad and assisted living progressed through dementia, had to remove life support. And the family journey was very arduous. And every time I did it, it was a different path. So there’s not one set path in this environment as a family member when you go through it. And having been in healthcare, I said, I’d never work in senior living. God’s always got a funny way of saying that’s exactly where I’m going to put you. So five years later here, here I am loving it. It fits my culture. It fits my leadership style. I’m ADD, I come in with a plan for the day, my calendar looks nice and sometimes I walk out and a not checkmark has been done on there.

David:
So that’s been kind of my story of getting into it, but I wouldn’t change it. This industry is so needing of leaders that are passionate and want to drive change and create a new culture. Gone are the days of nursing homes, where we have green linoleum walls and hospital beds. And, you know, a picture that somebody picked up at a thrift shop to donate and make the room feel homey, right? Our residents want iPads and wireless internet, and what do you mean you don’t have 5G? That’s been kind of my story of how I got into this Cara, what was yours?
Cara:
Yeah. So as I mentioned, I started at a long-term care association and I am the only person in the Contributor Wednesday group I think that has never worked at a community. But I have worked within the industry at, you know, going to the statehouse and trying to advocate for more Medicaid dollars and really trying to get people more involved in this field. As a retention expert, I see people leave the field more so is what I’m usually talking to companies about. But also about that recruiting side, how do we make this field sexier and draw folks in. Some of the coolest things I think about this profession is one, you can move into leadership at a very young age. So I see a lot of assisted living and nursing home leaders in their twenties that are running the building. You know, they are the top dog, you know, big man on campus kind of thing at such a young age that you wouldn’t be able to do in the hospital world, for example.
Cara:
So if you’re looking at a healthcare administration, it is a great field to get into. As David had said too, it’s fast-paced. It’s moving all the time. It is a challenging industry. It’s a complex regulatory and reimbursement environment. And that excites me, that excites me that while I’m there talking about workforce, I know they have other challenges that they can’t just focus on retention. And so I have to help them put all the pieces together and prioritize and understand any kind of domino effect that’s going to happen from a change because you can’t just be focused on one thing. So I say that as a really great thing for this profession because you can have your hand in a lot of different solutions and be able to come in and really make a difference. I mean, come on, we have the sexiest mission out there of helping the greatest generations of our world, of our country, of our time, of helping them have a great life.

Cara:
I would also really encourage folks if anybody has stumbled upon this podcast, maybe it was shared to you as a potential career path and you haven’t been in a building, you haven’t been on campus for senior living and senior care ever, or in a long time, it is a whole new world. So I really encourage you to go visit. Of course, you know, I don’t know if you’re listening to this during COVID times or not. And things in different regions are still shut down, but as we open up our country again, I encourage you to get back involved and go find some organizations within your town, your county to go visit and really see what it’s all about. It’s amazing, Jerald?

Jerald:
Well, you know, care team. I started through volunteer work. Our church had a focus on isolation, isolation in the world, and we started focusing on senior isolation and that’s something that I had always been called to. And it was through an opportunity to serve and create a ministry where we visited in a nursing home every Saturday. And that eventually evolved into me bringing a group once a month, plus me visiting two guys every Saturday. And then about eight years ago, I got sick with what’s called ulcerative colitis Crohn’s disease. And after about 35 hours of surgery, four different stays, I decided it was time for me to do something significant with the second half of my career. To serve others the way I had been served by the nurses within the hospital, by the culinary team within the hospital, by the social services team within the hospital, by every professional within the hospital, had an impact on my life.
Jerald:
And so I decided to take on the administrator and training program. And Mr. David, I used to visit with him every week for about five years. He’d say you’re a better man than me, Jerald. And what I loved about it was, Mr. David was a Caucasian gentleman. He was a senior. He grew up in small-town in Kentucky, and here I am, an African-American guy. I grew up in Chicago. I was a lot younger than him. And we had an engagement. We had a relationship and that was something that was so special. It just changed my mind and said, well, look, what’s possible when you share love with each other. Look what is possible when you make something about more than just you. And so as a senior healthcare professional, and as a leader of a community, we use a great deal of emotional energy. Period. And I often reflect on Mr. David and the early stages when things were real simple. And it was simply about minimizing isolation, one graceful moment at a time. So be careful what you do volunteering because it can end up transitioning over to a career and a career where you’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Caring for people’s most cherished loved ones. There’s no room for error, but it is such a rewarding career. It’s Christy turning it over to you.
Christy:
Jerald, you gave me the chills. Like I just relate so much to what you just said about that caring for others and just how fulfilling that is. It’s almost addicting, like this idea that you can really make a difference in someone’s day, in someone’s hour, in someone’s life. Like, incredible! And I came into this industry really young. I grew up in a town in the middle of nowhere Nevada. So all you, small-town people out there are trying to figure out how you’re going to get out of your small towns, that’s exactly where I was coming out of high school. And I was fortunate enough to have a school district nurse who had this vision of a high school medical track program that would give students certifications and skills that they could go out for college or into trade schools with something more than just slinging lattes. And I somehow got into that program. I have no idea how, because I had no real aspiration of being a nurse or a doctor. And the first year of that program, we got certified as nursing assistants. Again, I was not someone who imagined myself in a healthcare world. I just was looking for a way to get out of my town and support myself in college, truly. And had the opportunity to work, you know, summers, in our local like senior community and that’s when I started to make these amazing connections with people. And felt like with the people that I was serving every day, I felt this huge sense of how do I say it? Like I was meant to be there in those moments. Like I just had compatibilities or things in common with people, or I understood what someone who couldn’t speak was meeting and I just got him or her and was able to help.
Christy:
And it really was so, so neat. But again, I had no desire to be in healthcare. So when I went off to college, I thought, okay, this will be really great. I’ll be able to earn more than minimum wage while I put myself through college, but eventually, I’m going to have to go get a real career. Right? So I’m going through college working and working in home care at the time because I needed all that flexibility I could get. So I could go to class and then to try to be a decent student and ended up having some opportunities to take on some training positions for training other CNAs. In Nevada, which was the state I lived in at the time was just having state oversight of the home care industry, non-medical home care. So that training and making sure everybody had certain documentation was a big part of that moment.
Christy:
And so I helped support an organization while they did that and started to get more exposure in my local community where people started to recognize maybe my communications, which was what I studied in college. So they recognized some of those skills and started asking me to do a presentation to professionals here or there. Or, “Hey, can you help represent us at this event?” And I hated sales. I thought salespeople were skeezy. I didn’t want to be a part of that at all. Again, in my mind, I’m still waiting for my real job. I’m just doing this in my mind. Like this is super fulfilling. I love it, but I’m just doing it to kind of keep myself through school. And eventually made a move into a sales position at a senior living community for an executive director who was phenomenal.
Christy:
And I probably wouldn’t have made that jump for anybody else, because again, I didn’t think of myself as a salesperson or in healthcare. And so all of these steps are like, kind of in denial of I’m waiting for my life to start. I still hadn’t graduated college yet, or it’s just at the very end of graduating college. And then like this miraculous thing happened. I was in my community, I was working really hard. It was hard work, especially in those days. I mean, I was on call. I was working weekends. Like I was just doing everything it took to be successful in that role. Again, thinking someday I’m going to quit everything and go into the Peace Corps, or I’m going to go do something else. This is not going to be it. And, you know, I think David says, you know, God has this weird way sometimes of working.

Christy:
And I got sent to this training, and that was my first time that I had this aha moment about senior living that I now share with everybody. Which is that often you see communities at like at the very local level, like you see one community on a street corner. And many people will drive by that community and not even recognize what it is, not even really look at the sign or understand it as senior living. Or if they do, they just sort of imagine it as this like single building. And what blew my mind when I went to this training, was all of a sudden I recognized all the different facets of professionalism within senior living and all the layers of senior living. That it’s not just always a single building, but that single building might be connected to a network of buildings or a corporation of buildings.
Christy:
Same with home care. I mean, there are these larger entities that really need sales, communications, marketing people, you know, from my realm, but also real estate folks and finance folks and people who really want to be businessmen and women in a corporate way, like all of a sudden this world opened up where I realized, gosh, not everything is the nurse, the social worker and the administrator that I had seen in the buildings that are so critical and so important to what we do. But for someone like me that really saw myself going in a different direction, that was a really important moment to realize I have a future possibly here and that I could grow. And so I’ve spent the last decade more, than a decade then doing exactly what you said, Cara, which is taking advantage of the opportunities, the amazing people in this industry who are so supportive and who want to see people grow and be successful.
Christy:
And I’ve had many of those people in my life who really made a difference in helping me recognize some strengths and figure out how I can continue to be better at my craft and find new opportunities to grow. So here I am in my thirties and I’ve had already an amazing 13 year career in senior living and I’ve got 30 more or 30 and more hopefully to go. But for young people like me like this, I think that was an aha moment that a lot of folks who aren’t in the industry or who don’t like peel back that first layer of you don’t really understand the greater opportunities that exist. Yeah.
Cara:
It’s a whole business. It is. I mean, any job that you can think of in business sales, marketing, operations, finance, accounting, and there’s the clinical side, like you said, and then at each community, there’s typically the housekeeping, environmental services, there’s also maintenance, facility maintenance, and things like that. The dietary jobs and the dietary leaders and all of that stuff. So, yes, I think it’s amazing the opportunities, not just at an individual community, like Christy said, but within the corporate, and when we say corporate, it’s not just for-profit, there’s a ton of non-profit organizations that are multi-location, multi businesses, multi States and things like that. So, yes, absolutely.
Jerald:
You know, it’s interesting that you, you bring that up. Most of my career was in pharmaceutical sales.
Most of that time with Pfizer. And I remember putting in my notice and resigning and folks looked at me like I was this Jesus freak. Like what’s going on this guy’s going to leave to go to skilled nursing? And then when I got over, I remember calling up my buddies because I was a sales manager and saying, man, this industry, you may not really know what’s over here. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was a small business owner without the franchisee fees if that makes sense. So now it was more than just selling and advancing healthcare, it was about me managing revenue, managing expenses. And then within a three month period, I went from corporate America to earning my CNA license and seeing like, wow, I just went from the boardroom to the shower room, if you will. And a enlightenment that came from that. So yes, the skill sets that we develop outside of this world prior to coming into this space are the skill sets needed to blossom and grow within this industry.
David:
I would venture to say in senior living, there’s not a career path that you can’t have. From maintenance and housekeeping, like you said, somebody who’s really good at painting, Oh my God, my building’s almost 200,000 square feet. I got plenty of painting and that’s a full-time job in some of these buildings and others. They’re just looking for somebody with the passion to come in and lead their seniors in activities. And the thing I think that sets senior living apart is our, our clients or our residents, right? Because most of these have had a long career they’re in their twilight years, and what’s important in life, and I think we’ve seen, this is the family, the friends, and the connections. We’ve all said it. Everything has always come back to that connection in our industry. And when you have people who are pseudo grandparents or pseudo-great-grandparents, you know, there’s plenty of times I’ll be working late on a report and somebody will come by my door and go, what are you still doing here? You have a family go home, it’ll be here tomorrow. Trust me. And that’s, you know, 50, 40 years of outside work experience telling you to go home. Never in any other industry, are you going to have a client go, Hey, you’re working too hard. Maybe you should stop.
Cara:
Yeah. I think compared to almost every other profession in healthcare also, so let’s talk to our healthcare calling friends that really want to be caregivers and want to be in healthcare. We have a unique customer base in that they live on our campuses. They are long-term residents and you do get to know them. Versus most hospital units that you’re only going to see them after their surgery or during that short stay. And won’t actually build that relationship. So I love that. And another quick story for you, speaking of just how you said, you could almost find any profession and put it into senior living, which I totally forgot to mention my HR friends, but you can make that your career as well. But I had a buddy who was a chef, an amazing chef, just outside of Indianapolis. And once he had kids, he loved being a chef, but he hated working nights and weekends all the time.
Cara:
And one of his friends worked at a local skilled nursing location and said, “Hey, why don’t you come be my dietary director? You can work Monday to Friday nine to five, come up with all of our recipes, lead the whole cook team, of all the cooks on all the different shifts and the dietary staff.” And it was perfect for him because he still got to use his talents and his interests and passion. But yet he was able to shift that actually to a nine to five, which you really can’t do in the restaurant and hospitality world in that space. So it opens up other opportunities as well for your lifestyle and schedule, but you may not have thought of absolutely.
Jerald:
You remind me when I hear stories. So this pandemic, we’re not going to exit this time together without talking about it. Multiple times, during this pandemic I thought so this is why, when you were in a hospital, you made the decision to serve people for senior living. This was part of the plan. And I say that because we had a CNA, her name was Nikki, and she had this energy that is unmatched. She was feisty too, but she loved hard. And one day we had a conversation right around the early parts of the pandemic. And she said, Jerald, I have to bring extra love to work because our residents can’t see their families. So I make sure every day that I bring a little bit more to the community and I thought to myself, wow, that that is incredible.
Jerald:
I mean, we talked about the different areas that we all work in, but there’s no one more important than the building. So whether you’re in housekeeping, whether you’re in dietary, whether you’re the executive director, whether you’re the CEO of the organization, there’s no one bigger than the community and everybody has a role. And so when you have a world that’s frightened by this pandemic and you have a healthcare professional, who’s saying I’m showing up to work with extra love today, come on y’all! How much more rewarding can it be than to use your gifts to bless and serve others? There’s nothing more honorable than placing the needs of someone else before their very own. I’m drinking coffee. I’m going to stop. I’m going to pass it on.
Christy:
Well, and I love what you said there about, there’s nothing more important than the building. And I think as what I’ve recognized is that, for myself, because I know that there are going to be people out there who are kind of like me in that, they want to serve but there are some of us who don’t need the long-term relationships with people. Who, I can make a connection and I can share and be absolutely devoted to the service of others. And then happily hand that relationship off to my team who are going to take it from there. And I know that it’s not just people in sales who have that capability, but you know, some of the people who are working on like the acute side of the industry, meaning that, they might just be involved with patients for a short time and then they’re passing them on to other levels of care.
Christy:
If you’re someone that has that ability to really give that love and then move on, that’s a gift that you can leverage in senior living, but no matter what you do and if you are, maybe not going to be starting your career in a community. And so you aren’t going to have those direct relationships every day that, you know, David and Jerald are talking about, the fact that you can do anything… like you can make a social media post and just imagine that on the other side of it, there’s an adult child who’s struggling with how to help their mom who might run across that post and be inspired to do some research about what other options might exist out there. The fact that everything that you do can really make a difference is just incredible. And with COVID, I was in a communications role in a corporate role with an organization all of last year. And it was the first time in a really, really long time that I had this electricity of service through me, where my job was to send out communications and to keep people informed about what was happening in our communities related to COVID.
Christy:
And, case activity, and policy changes because gosh, it was changing almost every day. And I could imagine the children who don’t live near their parents and who were relying on the emails and the social media and the website to help them feel reassured that their parents were okay. And they were in a great place. So even those of us who are removed, I think can really recognize that everything that we do, everything we touch, whether you’re in construction, whether you’re an interior designer, you’re in HR, you’re in training, you’re on real estate, you’re in business… you’re in any of these places that aren’t in a physical building, I know that what you do is going to touch somebody’s life in some way. speaking My gosh. It’s incredible!
David:
Christy just took us to church.
Christy:
You know what Jerald? do you just, if it’s me coming after Jerald, that’s what it is.

Cara:
Can you guys tell if you’re listening right now, can you tell that we are passionate about what we do? All of us are completely devoted to what we do and who we serve and to the mission, to the cause. It’s just amazing. So I wanted to say, as my closing thought here, that I have never seen a more all hands on deck profession and an all hands on deck kind of world. Particularly going through, the difficult situation of COVID, that hit our profession really hard if not the harvest across our country and our world. That it’s just amazing to be a part of such a collaborative group that is so all hands on deck is kind of just the way that I think about it, that we all just stepped up. Everybody I saw in this field stepped up, did what they had to do before the pandemic, during the pandemic. And I know they’re going to keep doing it. That’s what this world is all about. So, so excited to share this with you. And if you have any questions about getting into senior living, you do not hesitate to reach out to any of us, anybody on the Bridge The Gap team. And definitely give it a shot.
David:
Jerald, you got a final thought for us?

Jerald:
You know, I do. And that is, there’s something in you the listener that is unique. There’s a gift, a skillset, an experience, and this industry can use you. There are so many times in our lives where we’re wondering, how can I make a living? How can my lifestyle align with my career choice? And it became very clear during this pandemic that my career choice became a career duty and it’s very rewarding. So I would encourage you to reach out to the Bridge The Gap team. I would encourage you to start following this podcast because every, week the Bridge The Gap team is bringing specific senior healthcare messages to the marketplace in a language that we all understand. Every Wednesday, we have our Contributor Wednesdays, and we’re giving you something from our perspective. And so my goal is to honor and inspire senior healthcare professionals to the best of my ability every third Wednesday of the month.
David:
Awesome. Christy final thought for us?

Christy:
Okay. I’ve got two, I had to take some notes because we’ve talked a lot about kind of that, that purpose driven side, like that emotional appeal of why you should come into senior living. But for those that are more logical or linear in your thinking, I also want to challenge you to go do some research, because if you look at senior living as like a credible industry, go look at how long senior living has been around in its current form. All the different dimensions of assisted living, independent living, and memory care – this is not just nursing homes. Despite what the news says there is a lot of different types of products out there, and we’ve been around for a long time. You can also do some digging into the growth that’s projected in the service of older adults and recognize that we haven’t even started to really experience the wave of the generations over the next 20 years that are going to need us.
Speaker 1
So if you think that there’s a lot of senior living communities or home care communities, or you’re hearing a lot of advertisements right now, just imagine what it’s going to be in 20 years. Once you look at those numbers, because they’re pretty, pretty jarring. And then for those that are kind of saying, okay, yeah, I see it’s booming. I hear that this is super purposeful. There’s also like the logical side that we kind of touched on, which is there is progression. There is growth here. Because of the growth in population, there is also going to be a lot of innovation. So we need young people. We need people who think different. We need people from outside of the industry who are coming in. So if you don’t have that background in healthcare, that doesn’t matter.
Christy:
We need you. Some come. If you are just starting off your career, come here, because you’ve got a track of 30 years, 50 years ahead of you as a young professional, that you’re going to be able to work in this industry and not get bored because it’s not just going to be the same business that we see even today. 20 years from now, it’s going to look even more different. So you have the chance to be in that startup mode, be in that innovation mode, if that’s kind of where you gravitate to, and build careers that can be very lucrative. So you have the opportunity to really leverage your skills, leverage your talents, grow, innovate, be a part of something really neat and make a great living, pay off those student loans.
Christy:
So from a logical perspective, it’s like man, to have opportunities almost in any city in the country, to have opportunities to live. If you work on kind of the corporate side, you might have a chance to work remotely. Especially with COVID, I think there are more and more organizations that are just looking for exceptional talent, no matter where they’re physically located. So that’s huge! And a lot of senior living corporations are located in awesome cities. So if you did have to relocate, there’s some pretty cool places that you might get to go. So Florida, Texas, Colorado, Washington State, like there’s some really neat corporate offices, so I put that out to try to balance the conversation because I think some of that credibility, some of that logic to this profession or these professions sometimes gets lost when we’re just talking about the purpose side. So imagine if you have the like trifecta of everything, you’ve got a good career move, in a credible industry, where everything you touch makes a difference. Like why aren’t you here? Drop the mic.
David:
Christy on fire again. Excellent. So just to kind of wrap up this Bridge The Gap Contributor Wednesday with all four of us on here. So to my friends in assisted living, senior living, skilled nursing, healthcare, that just listen in for different tips and tricks from our sales guru, from our HR, from operations. Here’s what I want you to do, take this podcast, and I want you to send it to two new grads that are getting ready to graduate college. They need to listen to this and they might pass it on. But those people that you’re trying to get back into senior living or recruit them because you know, they’re amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I passed on a Bridge The Gap podcast to a Chick-fil-A person because I want somebody who says my pleasure every time I say, thank you. Those are the people that we need in senior living, and you know who they are because you see them every day.
David:
When you go to get your coffee, when you go to pick up dry cleaning, these are the people that have new and inspirational ideas that they can bring to senior living. So connect with us on Bridge The Gap podcast. You can go to our website, we’re all on LinkedIn, seek out Josh and Lucas, and Sara. The information is overwhelming and I can speak for all four of us. If you have a question, call us, text us, email, send a smoke signal. We’re going to answer because we are so passionate about senior living. We want you to be part of it too. Absolutely. So on behalf of Jerald Cosey, Cara Silletto, Christy Cunningham, and David Hopkins, we want to thank you so much for joining us on this Bridge The Gap Wednesday Contributor podcasts. Thank you all and have a great week. Bye.

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CW Ep. 45: All Host Takeover