The next generation of long term care leaders may already be in the nursing homes.
It’s not just that most administrators seem to be second-career professionals. It may also be that children of long term care employees are more open to a career in the field.
A recent study from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) found that young students were more open to a career in long term care if they had some kind of link to it. Elaine Eshbaugh, an associate professor of gerontology at UNI, knows of what she speaks.

‘I Was The Activity’

“I grew up in a nursing home, and I’m very comfortable in that environment,” she says.

Eshbaugh’s mom, Sue Dwyer, was an activities director in several nursing homes.

“I was the activity,” Eshbaugh recalls. “It was me doing fashion shows, it was me singing. My mom says I have a fantastically inflated ego because all the residents thought I was terrific. And I wasn’t.”

She’s not the only one who grew up in the industry. David Kyllo, executive director of the National Center for Assisted Living, is a self-described “nursing home brat.”

His mom worked in a nursing home, and, one fine pheasant season when he was about seven years old, he had a choice between going to work with mom and going hunting with dad. “It was too cold for pheasant hunting,” Kyllo recalls.

He was hooked, and he thinks that getting other kids into long term care settings might help plant some seeds. “Intergenerational programs can break down the distance between being young and old,” he says.

A Perfect Fit

That certainly was the case for Rebecca Veniscofsky, an administrator at Apple Rehab in Watertown, Conn. She took a Girl Scouts trip to a nursing home one afternoon to play Bingo.

“As silly as it sounds, I remember going home and writing a journal entry about the lady I played Bingo with,” Veniscofsky says. “Her name was Mrs. Hunter. After playing Bingo, I wheeled her back to her room, and I felt so sad.”

The lesson from that day has stayed with Veniscofsky. “I make it a point to know all of my residents,” she says. “It makes me feel like I’m succeeding, like I’m making a difference in their life.”

Stories like these may be essential to recruiting the next generation of long term care leaders, says Randy Lindner, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Examiners of Long Term Care Administrators. It’s not just that they give recruits a personal connection to the industry, it may also help other recruits who don’t have those connections to overcome their fears of long term care careers, Lindner says.

People who don’t already have experience caring for the elderly—relatives, mostly—“are reluctant to enter into a profession caring for the elderly, because they don’t understand” how the industry works, Lindner says.

‘Isn’t He Cute?’

Scott Allen is a rare case in long term care. Now president of the Florida Health Care Association, Allen started his career at 23, right out of college. His mom was a cardiac nurse, and he was interested in following her into a hospital career.

“I was fascinated by the equipment, the energy of the nurses and the doctors, and everything that was going on,” Allen says.

But he wasn’t a committed student.

“My parents gave me a life-check in that they yanked me out of college and said, ‘Okay, mister, you’re on your own for a year,’” he says.

“After a year working two part-time jobs, my folks said, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ And my mom floated the idea of health care administration.”

He tried to enroll in a New York technical school, but his grades were so poor that officials would only let him take one class.

“And to add insult to injury, my mom took the class with me,” Allen recalls. “She walked into this crowded classroom and she said, ‘Hey everybody, my name is Gaylene and this is my son, Scott. Isn’t he cute?’”
Allen survived the ignominy (and had a measure of revenge on his mother. “I got an A. She got a C,” he says).

Right out of college, he was offered a paid internship with a long term care company in Florida.
“I could buy groceries,” he says. “It was awesome.”

That was 18 years ago. He worked his way up and spent years as an administrator. He’s now an executive with Health Care Navigator. But he also works with colleges in Florida to build up what he calls long term care’s “farm team.”

He has served as a preceptor for seven would-be administrators—five of whom work for his company now.

Bill Myers