August 10, 2022

Sharing lessons from the pandemic – Magazine Issue Content

Lucinda “Cindy” Baier, President and CEO of Brookdale Senior Living, recently spoke about her new book, “Heroes Work Here: An Extraordinary Story of Courage, Resilience and Hope from the Front Lines of COVID-19,” in a McKnight Senior Residence News podcast. Proceeds from the book benefit Brookdale’s Associate Compassion Fund. Here is an exerpt.

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

A: By sharing our insights behind the scenes, we can help others learn from our experience. This is especially useful 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 what’s more, it truly is both a keepsake for those who stepped up when it mattered most, as well as a guide to inspire other leaders to overcome whatever challenges they might face.

Q: Could you share some of the challenges you write about Brookdale faced during the pandemic and how the company has overcome those challenges?

A: What we learned and what we knew was that everyone had an important role to play in the crisis and beyond. We also learned that good 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.

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 in poverty. After my mom was in a near-fatal car accident before I started high school, I learned exactly what it meant to be a nurse’s aide. I became the caregiver almost overnight. And so the experience that I had with my mother – luckily she recovered – really gave me a deep appreciation for the work that we do. And that’s really at the heart of who I am today.

And I also really learned that there are times in life when you have to overcome incredibly difficult challenges. Taking over from my mother has given me a resilience and work ethic that has been critically important during the pandemic.

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

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

A: One of the things I’m most excited about is telehealth and the ability to serve seniors where they live, which is in our communities. Health care has changed dramatically during the pandemic. Providing as many home health services as possible is something that will continue. It is an expectation of residents today, which is very useful.

Technology also offered meaningful opportunities to engage with family and friends and pursue life’s passions. We have seen residents joining a grandchild’s wedding during the pandemic through technology. It’s something I don’t think we would have seen so much before. And that’s something that I think will always be part of our business in the future. But perhaps most important is to be very intentional about the personal relationships that matter most to resident engagement. I think our business is even more personal today than it was before the pandemic.

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

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

It is important to lead by example, to encourage gratitude, empathy and active listening. We’ve worked to do this as an industry, but we need to make sure we become 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 that is.

Excerpt from the June 2022 issue of McKnight’s Senior Living