Dee Pekruhn brings years of experience with LeadingAge and 3 of its member communities to her new position as the new Director of Life Plan Communities Services & Policy.

Prior to joining LeadingAge, Pekruhn was independent living administrator at Westminster at Lake Ridge, a Virginia-based life plan community that is part Ingleside. She also has served as director of resident services at both Westminster and at Goodwin House, a life plan community in Alexandria, VA.

Pekruhn, a 2014 graduate of the LeadingAge Leadership Academy, spoke recently about her career in aging services and her vision for her new position at LeadingAge.

How did you get involved in aging services?

From a very young age, I’ve had a passion for working with older adults. My father was a public school teacher, but he also ran a very small rural apartment building in Pennsylvania. Almost all of the tenants were older adults. So, I grew up feeling like I had 4 extra sets of grandparents. And I loved it.

I volunteered in nursing homes all through grade school and college, and afterwards, I worked as an activity assistant at Patriot’s Colony at Williamsburg. That’s how I discovered that there was this whole field out there that I absolutely love. This work became my calling. This is what I am here to do, and I love it.

You credit LeadingAge and its members with helping you advance in the field of aging services. Can you explain?

One of the inspiring aspects of working for provider organizations like Goodwin House and Ingleside is that they believe in—and put serious resources into—staff education and leadership development.

Goodwin House encouraged me to finish my MBA, to get my nursing home administrator’s license, and to participate in the 2014 Leadership Academy. Ingleside helped me to get my LEAN Bronze certification, to take SAGE training, and to become a CARF surveyor-intern. Almost every year, both organizations sent me to LeadingAge conferences.

I am immeasurably grateful to Goodwin House and Ingleside. If it weren’t for them, I might be telling a very different story about my career. LeadingAge has been a big part of that story, through the Leadership Academy, LeadingAge Virginia, and annual meetings. So, for me, it is a natural and really exciting progression to be working in this role.

How do you think your experience in provider organizations will influence your work at LeadingAge?

I’m interested in finding ways that LeadingAge can do even more to support providers as our field evolves. I know how policy, regulations, and the changing consumer environment that we’re working in affects providers in a very real, very day-to-day way.

I know from experience that ageism is one paramount reason why many older adults don’t want to move through the continuum. One of my jobs as independent living administrator was to work with residents who were struggling in different ways with the realities of aging, and to try to convince them to move to assisted living. When it comes time to make the move, many of these residents don’t want to go, and ageism is one of the big reasons. I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say, “I’m not that old,” or “I don’t want to go live with those old people.”

It might seem as if ageism is unrelated to our daily operations, but ageism actually has an immediate connection to what we do. That’s why it’s so important that LeadingAge is not afraid to take on this issue head-on and call it out.

How do you envision your role as director of life plan community services & policy at LeadingAge?

One leader in one multisite organization can have an incredible impact on the day-to-day operations and the people we serve. But just imagine what kind of impact we can have if we work together, collaborate with others, and do more collectively?

LeadingAge provides the platform, the leadership, and the educational materials for this collaboration, but it is the providers getting up and taking action as voters, as members, as constituents, that can really affect change. Part of my mission will be to inspire members to be more fully engaged. What are the issues that you care about? How can we work together to transform the field? And the biggest question: how can we find time in our busy days to participate in such activities?

What issues would you like providers to tackle together?

I know from talking with many colleagues and looking at market share, that the for-profits are zooming ahead on senior housing, while the nonprofits are dropping behind in terms of presence in the market. So that’s one big issue. Fair housing. Middle markets. The list goes on. We have to ask whether we as providers can afford to offer nursing services through Medicare and Medicaid. What is our obligation? How do we do that? And where does home care fit within the life plan community financial model?

As our consumer profiles diverge and change, how do we continue to engage residents and consumers? They are voters and constituents. They have a huge vested interest in what happens with the life plan community model. And, they are LeadingAge members.

How do you plan to spend your first few months on the job?

I know what it is like coming from a provider in Virginia; I don’t exactly know what it’s like in Iowa, for example, in terms of the day-to-day realities of the job. So, my first goal is to connect with members and find out the issues you are facing, and how I help can you get more out of your LeadingAge membership.

I believe the best way to start a new role is to ask questions, get to know folks, and learn what I don’t know. What do you need that I can find for you, create for you, connect you with? These are the questions I’ll be asking.