Sharing lessons from the pandemic – Content of the magazine edition

Brookdale Senior Living President and CEO Lucinda “Cindy” Baier recently discussed her new book, “Heroes Work Here: An Extraordinary Story of Courage, Resilience and Hope from the Front Lines of COVID-19,” at a McKnight Senior Living News Makers Podcast. Proceeds from the book benefit the Associate Compassion Fund of Brookdale. Here is an excerpt.

Q: How and why did you decide to share your and Brookdale’s experiences in a book?

A: By sharing our information behind the scenes, we can help others learn from our experience. This is especially helpful for leaders who are navigating uncharted waters and trying to bring out the best in their teams for their companies or for society at large. And furthermore, this is truly both a keepsake for those who stepped up when it mattered most, and a guide to inspire other leaders to overcome whatever challenges they may face.

Q: Could you share some of the challenges you write about Brookdale that you experienced during the pandemic and how the company dealt with them?

A: What we learned, and what we knew, is that everyone had an important role to play in the crisis and beyond. We also learned that great ideas come from all levels of the organization. And as an organization, we are stronger together, working closely together to focus on what matters most.

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Q: How did your life and career before Brookdale prepare you for the pandemic?

A: I was raised by a single mother, and grew up very poor. After my mother was in a near-fatal car accident, before I entered high school, I learned exactly what it meant to become a caregiver. I became the caretaker almost overnight. So the experience that I had with my mom, thankfully, she recovered, it really gave me a deep appreciation for the work that we do. And it’s really fundamental to the person I am today.

And I also learned that there are times in life when you have to overcome incredibly difficult challenges. Supporting my mom gave me resilience and a work ethic that was critically important during the pandemic.

I also learned that if you focus on what you can do, pretty much anything is possible.

Q: What changes do you see extending beyond the pandemic in Brookdale?

A: One of the things that excites me the most is telehealth and the opportunity to serve seniors where they live, which is in our communities. Health care has changed tremendously during the pandemic. Providing as many health care services as possible at home is something that will continue. That is an expectation of residents today, which is very helpful.

Technology also provided significant opportunities to connect with family and friends and pursue life’s passions. We saw residents join a grandson’s wedding during the pandemic through technology. That’s something I don’t think we’d seen that much of before. And that’s something that I think will always be part of our business going forward. But perhaps most importantly, be very intentional about the personal connections that mean the most to resident engagement. I think our business is even more personal today than it was before the pandemic.

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Q: What other lessons have you learned that will be useful to leaders in the senior housing industry?

A: Focusing on mission is vital – giving people a sense of purpose and creating a culture that people want to be a part of. I think everyone wants to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. We have learned that if there is a negative emotion, that really drains energy, while positivity creates energy.

It is important to lead by example, encourage gratitude, empathy and active listening. We’ve worked to do that as an industry, but we need to make sure we make ourselves even more attractive for associates to grow, fulfill their purpose, earn competitive compensation and benefits, and grow professionally.

I also think there’s more work we can do to highlight what’s unique about this industry, something I call the second paycheck, which is the benefit you get from interacting with residents of our communities. That’s really what makes our industry special, and I don’t think enough people outside of our industry really understand how wonderful it is.

From the June 2022 issue of McKnight’s Senior Living