The Year in Review at Aging Services: Summing Up 2010, Gearing Up for 2011

Many of you have no doubt read the books Built to Last and Good to Great by Jim Collins. In both, he talks about a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) as “a huge and daunting goal – like a big mountain to climb. It is clear, compelling and people ‘get it’ right away. It serves as a unifying focal point of effort, galvanizing people and creating a team spirit as people strive toward a finish line. It captures the imagination and grabs people in the gut.”

In many respects, 2010 was a year of BHAGs for Aging Services of California. In the face of the worst economic crisis in the United States since the 1930s – a crisis that forced a number of our members to fundamentally transform how they care for the state’s older adults – the association completed a rigorous strategic planning process that outlined our major goals and objectives for the next three years.

As part of this process, the board of directors of Aging Services approved a new vision statement as well as a brand promise: “Inspire, Serve, Advocate.” Both clearly articulate the fundamental purpose of the association. Within this framework, the board adopted a strategic direction organized around four fundamental pillars (see the box on this page).

With these pillars in place, staff began putting together a work plan that truly represents the best of what our association has to offer to its members. In this overview, I’ll not only identify some of the specific action items included in the work plan, but also provide you – our members and partners – a year-end progress report on some of our more significant accomplishments.

Service Excellence
Did you know that less than 5 percent of current nonprofit staff are explicitly being groomed to be their organization’s next executive director? That’s according to Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out, a 2008 report from CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and its partners. The report also found that just a little more than a quarter of the nonprofit workforce have even discussed with their current supervisors the possibility of being an executive director.

These factors, combined with the overall graying of America, prompted our association to partner with Sodexo and the California HealthCare Foundation to launch a yearlong growth and development program for high potential leaders in aging services who seek to transform themselves and their organizations. Known as EMERGE, the program is designed to inspire and prepare a new generation of leaders among our members and associates, advancing participants’ passion and capabilities to lead meaningful change in the field of housing and services for older adults.

The deadline to apply for the 2011 class of EMERGE has just passed, and we are happy to report that we received nearly 40 applications. We were optimistic that our members would welcome the program, but the response outstripped our expectations. The first class of fellows will be selected by mid-December and will begin participating in the program at the Public Policy Meeting in March 2011.

Technology – especially technology targeted at helping older adults maintain their independence– has the potential to fundamentally transform the field of aging services. Exploring the notion of connected independence—where our members can assist elders with safety and security, personal health maintenance, successful management of chronic disease, early detection of illness and prevention of acute episodes— could be a game-changer.

To more thoroughly examine the role technology can play, Aging Services has partnered with the California Association of Health Services at Home to create AgeTech California. The primary mission of this partnership is twofold:
• To advance the use of care-related and assistive technologies by providers of aging and homecare services.
• To become the leading source of information on aging-related technology for providers through the sharing of best practices, funding opportunities and the latest trends in the field.

Through education, technology partnerships, pilot projects and advocacy, AgeTech California is designed to stimulate the use of care technologies in our field. One of AgeTech’s first activities is a Technology Conference scheduled for Feb. 16, 2011, in Pasadena, Calif.

System Change
Aging Services relies on resident engagement as a vital element needed to achieve the association’s advocacy goals. As the late speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Thomas “Tip” O’Neill liked to say, “All politics is local.” Though it has been some 70 years since that line was first quoted, it is just as true today. The ability to have real people – local constituents – reach out to their elected officials is still one of the best ways to move an issue from the proverbial back page to the front.

Quite honestly, there is nothing like a first-hand story from a resident to command the attention and interest of legislators and policymakers. Residents can attest to the ultimate impact of laws and regulations on the services they want and the quality of life they seek in ways that providers simply cannot.

The recent campaign to halt California’s proposed imposition of a quality assurance fee on skilled nursing beds in multi-level retirement communities demonstrated this vividly. Although our efforts were ultimately thwarted at the eleventh hour by party politics, residents flooded the California State Capital with more than 4,000 letters on this issue. No previous advocacy effort in the 50-year history of the association has generated this kind of response. Despite the fact that our bid was not successful, the campaign demonstrated that residents can and will raise their collective voice when we ask them in an effective way.

Member Engagement
Member engagement has become the hot-button issue for associations in recent years: The more engaged members are with the organization, the more value they see in their membership – and by extension, the more engaged the members, the more value they provide to others within the organization. This premise serves as the foundation for the three-deep strategy of Aging Services of California. Between now and 2013, the association will build at least three meaningful relationships with every member community and corporate office. In some respects, this is a play on the old adage, “None of us are as strong as all of us.” By expanding the number of members who are actively engaged in the work of the association, we’ll increase our collective ability to help create the future of aging services.

Looking Back and Looking Ahead
As I look back on our collective wins and losses for 2010, I am reminded of the rich history of this association. Tracing its roots back to the early 1960s where it was born during a discussion in the back seat of a taxi cab, Aging Services of California has become the state’s largest and most progressive association for providers of housing and social services for older adults. What started off as an effort to simply stay better informed about happenings in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., has evolved into a comprehensive network of some 400 nonprofits that meet the needs of more than 100,000 older adults. This is an awesome responsibility – one that will no doubt continue to pose challenges as we enter a new year.

Some of those challenges are known. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office just announced a projected $25 billion budget deficit for 2011-2012. There is very little question that this will be the number-one issue for the newly elected governor and members of the California Legislature when they return to Sacramento in January. Other impending challenges are less clear. How will the National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility Panel’s recommended changes to Social Security, Medicare and tax policy affect our work? How will the change in control of the U.S. House as a result of the recent midterm election affect the future of federal healthcare reform?

Without a doubt, significant challenges lie ahead for our members and the older adults for whom they provide care. As we confront the difficult environment that looms ahead, engagement of residents and of each and every member will be a central focus for Aging Services of California. The ways in which we accomplish our goals will need to change, but the goals themselves – ensuring choice, enhancing dignity and expanding opportunity for older adults – will remain as steadfast as they have for 50 years.

Joanne Handy is president and CEO of Aging Services of California.

Reprinted from


One response to “The Year in Review at Aging Services: Summing Up 2010, Gearing Up for 2011

  1. Pingback: 2010 Legislative Year in Review « Aging Services of California's Blog

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