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

Episode 90: GeLynna Shaw

“It’s really about one thing & that’s taking care of people!” –GeLynna Shaw 

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Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. We have an incredible guest on our show today. We’re so excited to sit down with really an industry icon. You must have started when you were five years old, but you have been in this business for a long time. We have GeLynna Shaw of LCS on the show. We are so thankful. Welcome to the show. 

GeLynna: Thank you. I’m glad to be here especially with two super senior living fans to talk about senior living because clearly it’s your passion the same as mine.

Lucas: Absolutely. So GeLynna, you have been in the business since the nineties, and have seen the evolution of our industry during the boom. I mean the nineties were like the mecca. I wish I could go back and get my start at that period. But you were there so tell us about it.

GeLynna: I was there and like most people that have been on your podcast, I fell into it. I’d graduated college in December of 1994, took a job and managed healthcare for Phil Bredesen’s company here in Nashville and two years after that I got a call about joining a start-up assisted living company that Clayton McWhorter had started, LifeTrust America. So if you live in Nashville, you know Clayton McWhorter and the opportunity to start at a startup company, you just had to take it. I really didn’t know what assisted living was, I was just excited for that opportunity, and I was in accounting back then, but when we opened our first community, because it was the boom, and when we opened our first community and I went to Tullahoma, Tennessee to the small assisted living that we had built, it changed my life forever. And from then on I was just dedicated to it and you’re right, I’ve seen it all. From the boom, to the collapse, to the reboom, to the recession and now we’re on the surge again. So it’s very exciting. 

Josh: It’s been really exciting for you I’m sure. I’ve been part of a few startups but nothing at the magnitude that I have heard stories that the company that you joined in during your first little tenure, had that boom and I can tell you those – was at Morningside?

GeLynna: Morningside. 

Josh: That particular building and footprint, I’ve been in so many of those and you can still recognize that, it’s kind of like that iconic senior living community, so many of them still in operation. Many of them have kind of changed names or something like that as they often do, but you’ve got to give us a little bit more scoop on your trajectory. So you started in accounting and then you wound up in operations?

GeLynna: Absolutely. So yeah, I started in accounting, CPA was the controller but from the very beginning and probably because of my experience at LifeTrust when there were less than twenty people in the company, I was the IT person, the accountant, the learning and development trainer for HR. So I was always in the communities, I always had a passion to be in the communities. And when I went to American Retirement Corporation and was overseeing the accounting there, I had the accountants go and be the business office person for a week within their first 90 days and then we would fill in for them after that so that everyone could realize when you’re working in a home office, if you’re not serving a resident, you’re there to serve someone who is. And so I’ve just always been ingrained in accounting. ARC was merged/bought by Brookdale, which everyone knows what happened there and we went from a company of ninety communities to eventually eleven hundred when I left and so I did a lot on mergers and acquisitions and onboarding new communities, training them, really getting them ingrained in the culture and that just led me ultimately to operations where now I’m full-time in operations at LCS and love every minute of it. 

Josh: So that’s a little bit for the audience, there’s obviously a lot of stories there that I wish we had more than a 20-25 minute show to talk about because that’s rich history there. But  you had some experience I think with healthcare, senior care and kind of had a negative perception. We talk about senior care, what people think and the outside world what they think about our industry and you had a kind of similar perception right?

GeLynna: Definitely, and that’s one of the reasons why I love your podcast and love that you two are dedicated to bridging that gap. And also NRC’s focus on the journey to understanding. My mother owned her own hair salon for years and it’s all about people and serving people, which is what senior living is. But when her clients and friends of many years would have to go to the nursing home, “the nursing home”, and it was always in quotes and it would ruin her whole day. She would be so nervous before then and she would be miserable all day and it would take a couple of days afterwards to recover and I remember visiting once and as a child and you’re going through the nursing home of our past, it really had a profound impact. So then when I told her I was working in senior living she was like, “why do you want to work there?” So seeing the journey and bridging that gap from a young girl, to opening my first senior living community, to now and my mother has retired at seventy years old, she is senior living’s biggest advocate. She can’t wait to move into an assisted living community and she says that whichever her daughter tells her will be the best, and anyone else who needs to know wherever they live, that I can refer her to one. And so to see that change and seniors not feeling like they have to be put somewhere and they look forward to it, just from the experiences has made this journey worth it and I just want everyone to feel that. I want everyone’s mother and father to feel at peace about the decision. I definitely want the children to feel at peace because it is the best for them.

Josh: Yeah, well hearing that story and that passion I think that’s one of the great reasons why you’re in the position that you’re in. To help build the culture around that, so I think a lot of what I’ve heard you talk about in your stories, the culture surrounding what you’re doing with operations. Can you kind of take us in your world and like some of your programs and some of your initiatives?

GeLynna: Yeah, well LCS is known for it’s high quality and its culture around the people. It’s all about the people and it was started over fourty-five years ago by a family that was faith-based and when they decided to sell the company, they sold it to the employees and they even gave them the loan to buy the company. So it’s always been about the right people doing the right thing and they’ve been pioneers in the industry from branching out from not-for-profit Christian Bay Senior Living to now into our rental world in different products, and they pride that all on experience. Experience is everything while being pioneers in innovation and so the signature programs that they focus on are not anything on the surface different. It’s about making an extraordinary impression and not just meeting the needs of residents but anticipating those needs. How can you be predictive and anticipate those needs and provide the service that exceeds expectations.

And then heartfelt connections for our memory care residents.  Alzheimer’s is just such a painful thing for so many of us and really getting those daily moments of success and breaking through and a lot of education for the families more so than even the residents. And our navigator program where we’re leading that person through their journey from not just reactive but proactive. How are they well and can live a long and healthy life? So just executing those with some signature style, flair and passion is what makes LCS great and every person that we hire has to be dedicated to that and that’s what we interview for is that passion. We can teach them senior living,we can teach them LCS and signature programs, but we can’t teach the passion and the culture.

Lucas: Yeah, you have a great people working at the business and we’ve spent some time with Chris Byrd and I’ve had recently been introduced to Allison Pendroy through the Future Leaders Council. One of the things that I have been struck by recently is that your company put out a video onto social media about the business and about the people that work in the business. Talk to us about the initiative of that recruiting effort. Josh and I are all about changing the perception of what senior living is and clearly LCS is on that track as well which we champion and honor those efforts, talk to us about that.

GeLynna: Yeah, so LCS, once you’ve been in business for over forty-five years and the company evolves, it was an interesting exercise as Joel Nelson took over the reins from from Ed Kenney on what is LCS. It’s a family of companies there are six families of companies. Really surveying everyone from our residents and our associates of what is LCS and let’s rebrand that if you will and let’s really set our identity for the future so that everyone understands what LCS is. And we’re super excited about the new brand launch and really “Experience is Everything” is our tagline on there. And we do leverage social media to attract new Talent. We recognize everybody that’s on Board-it and on LinkedIn and other social medias. We are fanatical about recruiting at LCS. We want to be recruiting all day everyday. It doesn’t matter if I’m renting a car, I’m at the grocery store, I’m at a hotel, anywhere. We’re looking for that talent that has that passion and we’re leveraging social media to those that don’t know about senior living right, but they do know social media. And you guys know as well as I do senior living is one of the rare careers where it doesn’t matter where you start at. There are stories of servers in the dining room, dishwashers, CNAs, who are now major leaders in senior living organizations and we’re just trying to get that word out earlier and more often. From high schools, colleges, everywhere, to join senior living and join LCS. 

Josh: Well I think you guys are doing a great job of telling that story and I echo what Lucas was saying, I saw just one of your videos, such such high-quality, you could sense the genuineness of that. It was really good. So talk to us a little bit, obviously we’re here at the NRC Symposium. Bridge the Gap, it’s our first time being at this show. It’s really cool to see across the healthcare continuum people coming together talking about all the things that we all use similar language, but we’re just in different sectors of healthcare, and hospitality and senior care.

So what’s it been like for you? Is this your first rodeo with NRC in this symposium or have they been a partner for a while?

GeLynna: It’s definitely my first symposium but I was just so excited when I heard about the symposium. I love that they’ve started a senior living forum track and the visions and missions are so similar and it really is just about the relationship from the general session the future slide of the journey. It’s patient centered this but evolution is relationship-based and now with all the changes in healthcare, reform, etc, we have to be tied at the hip between admissions, readmissions, taking care of of the population. So the fact that this is my first symposium, it’s definitely not going to be my last. I’ll probably be one of those people in the next 25 years that are like oh I was there for the twenty fifth anniversary. But I do love that it’s bringing us all together because it’s really about one thing and that’s taking care of people.

Josh: Yeah. Well, we’re excited just like you are, the senior living track added and hopefully a lot of folks and they’re just in senior living have never heard of the symposium and they’ve been doing this for a long time. They did a really excellent job. Great thought leadership here, great keynotes, great breakout education. We’re actually really super excited, we get to do some storytelling and some things in education this afternoon in a breakout session. So it’s just great collaborative environment. So glad to be here. 


Lucas: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think what people can expect from today’s senior living track is illuminating this narrative, Illuminating everything that you’re talking about. Changing that perception and growing that thought leadership which you have seen evolve over so many years. Talk to us about some of the most important people in your career track as far as mentorship and then you are clearly at the point in your career where your and probably have been for many years, getting back on that mentorship side.

GeLynna: I have been blessed in my career. When I started in senior living, as I said Clayton McWhorter had founded the company, and Carl Johnson was our COO, so those of us from Tennessee definitely know Carl Johnson, he played with Phil Former at UT it so it was a big legend anyway, but to to have him at the helm as our Chief Operating Officer and I still know him to this day. He even worked at ARC a little bit with us before he went to Elmcroft and came back to Brookdale. So I’ve known in my entire life and he really spoke to me at an early age. And then Bill Sheriff, of course, I had the honor and privilege to work under him for thirteen years, and he’s still one of my greatest mentors. I still email him and talk to him on a regular basis and he’s always there for me, not many people can say that. Also with the evolution of Brookdale I ran across a lot of great leaders because so many companies merged; John Rios, Mark Olendorf, Mark Schulte, to be able to be around all those people made a big difference. Andy Smith, I still consider a dear friend. He was with ARC even before CEO for twenty something years. And then now at LCS with Ed Kenney, Joel Nelson, Diane Bridgewater. I just feel like I’ve always gotten to work with the best of the best and it’s just been a blessing and it’s very humbling. 

Josh: It’s an awesome space that we have the opportunity to work in and we’ve talked a little bit, we were just connecting and I haven’t been in the space as long as you have but it’s interesting how even though it’s such a growing industry, it still feels like a small world in how everyone’s connected. It’s kind of like a big family and even in our backgrounds, weaving together some of the relationships, and who we’ve worked with and who we’ve known. And it seems like unlike a lot of industries where people just get in and then bounce out and do something else, although people may gravitate and do a lot of different things, people fall in love with it and want to stay and so they stay in it for years and years and years. And so I think that’s just a testament for anyone that really wants more than a job to come to work everyday, no matter what you’re doing, from a caregiver, to a CEO, CFO, middle manager, it doesn’t matter. It’s such a huge purpose. It’s such a huge Mission and it’s very very rewarding. So for all those that may be listening out there that don’t know that much about senior living, that maybe are just starting to get on their radar like it did with you or me back in the day, what an awesome opportunity to dive in?

Lucas: It is and there’s so much encouragement that needs to be given to the operation side of this business because it’s complicated. And you have just this robust history of getting your hands in the process. There’s high level leaders that are inspiring and have ideas, but they really need people to do the work. Can you talk to the people that are listening right now? That are doing the work and maybe they haven’t been recognized in a while. Or maybe they just don’t feel like they’ve been recognized in a while. Can you talk to those people? 

GeLynna: I sure can. First of all, I just want to say thank you for everything you’re doing everyday. I’ve had the unique opportunity to volunteer my days and time doing every job that I can do in a senior living community, from cleaning the rooms, to helping provide resident care, serving in the dining room, helping do what maintenance I can. Every single one of those times I’m like, wow, this is so hard and it’s so hard and when you’re doing that job and it’s very hard and all you see are  smiles, and I have asked hundreds and thousands of employees how long have you worked here and what keeps you here? And every time it’s the residents and how many times do you get to work with your grandmother, grandfather every day and hearing the wonderful stories, and it’s truly a passion and a calling and so thank you so much for everything you do, if you want to do more talk to your leader, talk to your supervisor or talk to me find me on LinkedIn, find Josh or Lucas on LinkedIn and we’ll help you get there because we want the future leaders of tomorrow and they’re out there today. So if you’re there stay with us, and we’ll get you where you need to go. And if you’re not there then come join us.

Lucas: So awesome.

Josh: Our hashtag, #joinus. That’s right, and I can’t wait for our audience to get connected with you. So we’re going to connect them to you in our show notes, and they need to follow up and need to learn more. 

GeLynna: That’s right. I’m fanatical about new talent. 

Lucas: Absolutely and we are too and I feel encouraged. I feel inspired to continue to go and bring voice to an industry that needs to be heard. And so we hope that you have enjoyed listening while you’re in your travels, working out, walking your dog, whatever you may be doing we would love to connect with you. Like Josh said put in the show notes and thank you for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap. 

Thank you to our supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, ERDMAN, TIS, and Sherpa.

Episode 90: GeLynna Shaw