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If you work in the field of aging services and ever wonder whether you’re really making a difference, this story is for you.

A few weeks ago, a team of amazing people from Presbyterian Homes & Services joined hundreds of Aging Services members for three days of face-to-face advocacy at the State Capitol in St. Paul.

Brandi Barthel, Care Center Administrator at The Gables of Waverly Gardens, shared this moving story about the connection her team shared during their time at the Capitol. It is a powerful reminder of what it means to care for another person’s loved one – the gratitude that people have for this important and honorable work.

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Brandi writes:

It starts with a connection.

As we were waiting for our appointment with Senator Goodwin, her Legislative Assistant Billie Ball approached me and said “Bambi?” I looked at her with a moment of confusion.  It was then I remembered she was a family member of a past resident that resided at our Johanna Shores Memory Care Household.

I stood with excitement as the tears flowed down her face.  We shared the memories of her father who had passed away two years ago. She went back to her desk to grab a picture of her father dressed in his Sunday best wearing a hat and a big smile on his face.

This picture was taken during the “glamour shots” activity that we hosted while he lived at Johanna Shores. She said it was one of her favorite pictures of her dad and had it proudly displayed on her desk.

She stopped to show others who walked by the picture of her loving and happy father who embraced the staff of Johanna Shores as family just as we embraced him as our family.  And as families do, we continued to reminisce about everything that made him unique and special.

One of her other fond memories was the “beer and the boys” activity that was inspired and requested by her father. We laughed about how her dad insisted we serve “the real stuff” and how even living in our community he was still the “patriarch of our family.”

You can imagine how this inspired us as we were waiting to speak with Senator Goodwin about the much needed funding for our long term care employees and residents.

When our appointment time arrived, she introduced us to Senator Goodwin as the team that cared for her father and she was so grateful for what we do.  As we met with the Senator, we shared this story and she was compassionate towards our efforts to increase Long Term Care funding.

It was because of the caring staff at Johanna Shores and many other facilities that lovingly embrace the residents that make the positive lasting impressions on families that choose to place their loved ones in our care.

Reminiscing on those times that he shared with us at Johanna Shores reminds us why we have devoted our lives to this industry.  Our nursing assistants and nurses make that happen each day for very little more than a thank you followed by a sincere smile from those that we care for.

But unfortunately this is not enough to pay the bills for these special staff.  The time has come that we must re-invest in the staff that care and make a difference to the parents and loved ones that supported us through our lives.

Our mission says we take in and love the most frail of our people.  It is up to us to ensure the staff that we count on to make these memories can afford to continue to serve, because we cannot afford to lose them.

That is why we stressed to Senator Goodwin not to forget Long Term Care in the Legislative session this year.  It is our front line care givers that need this funding to continue the loving support of our residents and families. Support us in making memories in years to come.

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Thank you, Brandi, for sharing this story. Because of your work, one more lawmaker knows just how important it is to support the caregivers who serve our loved ones.

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This week, hundreds of caregivers, volunteers and aging services professionals will visit the State Capitol for a week of face-to-face meetings with lawmakers.

The goal of these meetings is simple: to share stories about the changing faces and places of senior care in Minnesota, and urge lawmakers to make this issue a top priority.

Gayle Kvenvold, president and CEO of Aging Services of Minnesota, set the stage for this week’s meetings:

“Someone will always say there isn’t enough money. This is about priorities. Minnesota seniors and caregivers should be among our top priorities – they deserve our support and investment.”

When advocates and caregivers meet with their elected officials this week, they will highlight five key ways to strengthen senior care and prepare Minnesota for the future:

1.      Invest in Caregivers

  • Provide wages that attract and retain the very best caregivers, paying them adequately for the demanding work they do on behalf of Minnesota seniors.
  • Protect the more than 112,600 MN jobs that senior care generates across the state.

 2.      Invest in the Places Where Senior Care is Delivered

  • Fund infrastructure improvements in senior care buildings and communities that will increase the quality of life for residents and allow caregivers to deliver the best possible care.

3.      Invest in Quality 

  • Senior care is so much more than nursing homes. We must invest in new models and innovation that will continue to improve quality, while offering seniors the care/services they need and want.

4.      Create Financial Stability for Seniors, Families and Providers

  • People who can afford it should plan and pay for the cost of long-term care, and we should create tools to help them do that; and
  • Low income seniors should still have access to a safety net and the right level of services for their unique needs. Funding for home and community based service must be adequate to pay for what consumers need.

5.      Invest in the Future

  • Fund technology that improves how we care for seniors, and find ways to truly integrate long-term care services and supports with the rest of the health care world.

Advocates also will share with lawmakers the results of a recent public opinion survey conducted by the Long-Term Care Imperative. Key findings of that survey include:

  • 85 percent of Minnesota voters support increasing funding for in-home and community based care to make it easier for seniors to stay independent longer.
  • 77 percent said they support increasing funding for nursing homes to improve overall quality.
  • 75 percent support allowing individuals to cash in their life insurance in order to pay for long-term care.
  • And finally, 64 percent of voters are willing to pay more in taxes to improve long-term care in Minnesota.

Will you be at the Capitol this week? What will you advocate for? Take a few minutes to visit the Stars Among Us online gallery, where hundreds of senior caregivers have shared what they want lawmakers to know about the important work they do.

The Stars Among Us campaign is an initiative of Aging Services of Minnesota. Our goal is to recognize and celebrate the individual caregivers and aging services professionals who dedicate their lives and careers to serving older adults. They are the backbone of our senior care system. Their stories don’t often make headlines, but they are changing lives every day.

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Today, we’re shining a light on Katie Kopher, Assisted Living Program Coordinator at Jones-Harrison in Minneapolis:

What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
The stories I’ve have heard, the lessons I’ve learned, the tears I’ve shared and the happiness brought to my heart to know such a wonderful generation! I wake up every morning excited to go to what some may call work, I call an energizing community. I can thank my mother for being an Activities Director at a nursing home when I was born. She continues to work in therapeutic recreation.

My mom taught me that it isn’t about “me”. I plan to pass the same passion and spirit on to my daughter as my mother did with me. It’s being supportive and having compassion no matter who you work with. There are tough days. I keep a picture of my papa on my desk and when it is tough I look at it and say “What next papa?” I then remember that there is a reason for life’s events and to keep painting the fence or the paint will dry!


What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging part?
I learn something new every day. It is about finding a way to reach the person who no longer comes out of their room because the sun came up that day. To talk to family and friends to get stories and odd information that may mean nothing to someone else. I strive to make the quality of life for each individual fulfilling for residents and their family.

The biggest reward is that I get to be a part of someone’s memories, stories…life. I love when they smile and the not so happy person says “Thank you.” The most challenging part is to try to be there for everyone all at the same time.

What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?
I am a big advocate that people cannot be stressed and relaxed at the same time. It just isn’t possible. That is why my co-worker and I work in getting as many folks involved in our senior community as possible. Trying new activities at 100 is better than not trying it at all. I want policy makers to know that people in Therapeutic Recreation are here and here to stay. Baby boomers are coming and they will need places to go and MANY activities to do. I value my job. I wish that we had a little more money for the hard work we do. Policy makers need to remember that it is us that will be organizing their leisure pursuits in the future.

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Thank you, Katie, for all you do. You are a great example of the dedicated, talented people who serve Minnesota seniors each day.

Congratulations to Lisa Kalla, administrator at Johanna Shores – a Presbyterian Homes & Services community in Arden Hills. Lisa was one of nearly 150 amazing caregivers who submitted their stories to the Stars Among Us campaign during the 2012 Aging Services of Minnesota Institute. She is also the lucky winner of an iPad2!

Here’s what Lisa shared about why she is driven to serve Minnesota seniors:

What inspires you to serve?
What inspires me to serve older adults is truly the mutual satisfaction of helping someone. It sounds like a cliche but when you hold the hand of the dementia resident who is scared and see their fear dissolve, you really see you are more than anything a mission statement can describe, you are everything to that person.

Sometimes when we focus on the regulations and reimbursement, it is easy to get discouraged but then you think about how important you are to that one person you may have touched today and it inspires you to go on, to try to change systems, to get back to the reason you entered into this job and be with the residents and realize you being there is what matters most to them…that is what inspires me.

What does a career in older adult services mean to you?
A career serving older adults to me is a career of change. You change with resident acuity, you change with business needs, you change with the uniqueness each resident brings. I love working for a Christian organization that focuses on the residents needs and individual differences.

The most rewarding part of my job is figuring out how to balance excellent care, budget and resident individuality. Learning about resident likes, wants and hobbies and then implementing programs to really enrich the lives of the residents we serve. The most challenging is to see the residents we grow to love decline physically and mentally.

Take a few minutes to read the inspiring stories of caregivers who have dedicated their lives and careers to serving Minnesota’s seniors. These people are changing lives every day and we are so grateful they’ve chosen to share their talent and passion in the field of older adult services.

Submit Your Story Today!
We are still collecting Stars Among Us stories and displaying them in our online gallery – will you add yours to the collection? Aging Services will share these stories with lawmakers, community leaders and other organizations who are working together to support senior care in Minnesota.

Why do you serve older adults?

We all know them – people who go above and beyond. They don’t just do their jobs, they seem to really like their jobs. They go out of their way to make someone else’s day better.

In the field of older adult services, these are not the faces and stories that make the front page of the newspaper – but they should.

So here at Aging Services, we’re trying something new. We created the Stars Among Us campaign to shine a light on the people who are the backbone of our support system for seniors. We want to celebrate the difference you make in the lives of those you serve and the contributions you make in your community.

To participate in the Stars Among Us campaign, simply tell us:

  • What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
  • What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
  • What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?

Here’s a sneak peak at what we’ve already heard from some amazing caregivers:

  • Georgia Morphew at Northfield Hospital Long-Term Care Center says, “It’s one of those jobs where you need to bring not only your skills, but patience, empathy, kindness, respect, and love. So when they tell you they love your care, you know that is the greatest compliment.”
  • Valerie Heintz at Valley View Healthcare and Rehab says, “Their life stories are history books in the making. I get great pleasure out of learning about our folks, their past lives including the struggles and accomplishments. I find out about them as a person and not just a resident in a bed.”
  • Jenny Weber at Friendship Village in Bloomington says, “Do something that matters. Believe in the future by creating it first.”

If you work in the field of aging in Minnesota – whether you’re a nursing assistant, dietary specialist, housing manager, marketing specialist, administrator, director of nursing, housekeeping specialist – you are a Star Among Us.

The Stars Among Us campaign is for anyone and everyone who has dedicated their career to serving older adults. You do not need to work for an Aging Services of Minnesota member, you just need to proudly serve Minnesota seniors.

For a little added fun, all Stars Among Us entries received by February 10th will be eligible to win a FREE iPad2.

Tell us your story today – and please spread the word.

The Stars Among Us deserve to be in the spotlight, don’t you agree?

In honor of Labor Day this week, it’s only fitting to take a few moments to acknowledge the men and women who dedicate their lives and careers to caring for older adults – those who choose this path as a profession, and those who are called to become caregivers when their loved ones need them.

It’s also fitting that this week a nationwide report gave Minnesota high marks as a leader in providing care and services for older adults. A lot of factors must be in place to ensure a strong system of care and support for seniors – good information, access to a range of support services and care settings, flexibility and innovation in how services are delivered and public policies and investments to keep our system strong.

However, even with all of these elements in place, there is one thing that rises to the very top: the front-line caregivers – paid and unpaid – who provide daily care and support for our loved ones.

For those who are not direct caregivers, it’s easy to lose sight of what it really means to care for someone who can no longer take care of themselves. What it means to help with the most intimate daily activities of bathing, dressing and eating, or tending to complex medical needs. It’s physically demanding. It’s emotionally draining. It can be very stressful and sometimes frustrating.

And yet – it’s one of the most rewarding and honorable positions in our health care system. Despite the demands of this role, I’ve heard countless caregivers say the reason they’ve built a career in this field is because it is an honor to be there for someone when they really need it. To provide encouragement and empowerment to help someone else achieve their goals and truly live their life to the very end.

At the Aging Services board meeting earlier this summer, Dan Dixon, president and CEO of Guardian Angels of Elk River, provided a reflection that opened up our first day of work. He talked of volunteering in his own hospice program. One day, after visiting the same man for many weeks, something happened – as Dan was leaving the room after a short visit, the man called out to him. He asked if Dan would sit and say a prayer with him. In that moment near the end of this man’s life, Dan said he was reminded of the powerful impact caregivers have on those they serve.

In some of the most challenging times of our lives, caregivers have the honor of providing support, encouragement, comfort and happiness. This week, we honor those people and thank you for the difference you make every day!

Is there a caregiver you’d like to honor? Tell us about them in the comments section. Better yet – nominate them for an Aging Services Award!

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Aging matters to all of us.

This blog will address the issues, questions, challenges and opportunities that surface as we work to meet the demands of an aging population.

It’s also a place to highlight the people and organizations whose passion, creativity and commitment are shaping the future of older adult services in Minnesota.

Everyone has a story about how aging impacts their life – we hope you’ll join the conversation and share your story.

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