The 2017 recipients of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) annual awards will be recognized during the AHCA/NCAL 68th Annual Convention & Expo this month. What follows are their stories of compassion and leadership in the long term and post-acute care profession.



NCAL Administrator of the Year

Erin JonesErin Jones has delivered transformative leadership to Emerson House in Portland, Ore. Since taking the helm four years ago as executive director, Jones has steered this 55-bed memory care community to cultivate a culture of trust, empathy, and encouragement.

Working in long term care since high school, Jones quickly climbed her way up the management ladder. Now, more than 20 years later, her experience and dedication are revolutionizing Emerson House.

Her focus on accountability and superior care enabled Emerson House to pass its state survey with flying colors. She strongly supports her staff’s professional growth while fostering a spirit of teamwork, recognizing that in doing so, the residents and organization will thrive.

Jones continually goes above and beyond to help others. She has been known to provide fellow employees a ride to work or pitch in with managing payroll or writing care plans.

Her compassion can be seen in her interactions with residents and their family members. She seeks out the personal details and experiences from each resident to ensure their needs are individually satisfied.

The Oregon Health Care Association honored her efforts by naming her Administrator of the Year for Community-Based Care in 2016.

Jones has also expanded Emerson House’s professional network, by hosting medical residents from Oregon Health Sciences University through their Learning Collaborative on Cognitive Impairment program. The program teaches doctors how to recognize the early signs of dementia and understand the needs of those living with the disease.

One of the program designers described Jones as “a natural in terms of engaging student interest and compassion.”  



Jan Thayer Pioneer Award

Robert Van DykFor a quarter of a century, Bob Van Dyk has been a national advocate, industry trailblazer, and steadfast champion of the senior living profession. Through his vision and prudent leadership, long term care providers have come together in breaking down barriers, celebrating their diversity, and developing solutions for quality care.

Van Dyk’s passion for caring for seniors and individuals with disabilities was the family way. His grandfather founded Van Dyk Health Care in New Jersey in 1953. Van Dyk assumed the role of president and chief executive officer (CEO) four decades later and has taken this award-winning company to extraordinary heights.

Van Dyk employs a five-star hospitality mindset and emphasizes the Disney management principles: staff loyalty, customer loyalty, recruitment, and retention. Early on, he determined that taking care of frontline staff would drive success in delivering quality care. Additionally, he promoted “person-centered care” long before it became widely practiced by the profession.

Van Dyk was also instrumental in charting the course for New Jersey’s future providers, by helping state officials create the first set of regulations for assisted living.

His impact expanded beyond the Garden State when he elected to serve the profession at the national level. He, along with Jan Thayer and Bob Lohr, created a voice for assisted living providers by transforming the Residential Health Care Committee of AHCA into the National Center for Assisted Living. Van Dyk then traveled around the country, convincing state affiliates to represent and serve these providers at the local level as well.

Van Dyk’s national service continued for more than 20 years, including as NCAL’s second chairman (succeeding Jan Thayer) and as chairman of AHCA. During his record tenure, he consistently advocated to put the residents first, unify the profession, and look toward the future. 


Adult Volunteer of the Year

Mike HowardMike Howard has been volunteering at Harlan Health and Rehabilitation Center in Harlan, Ky., for 38 years. He is known and admired by every resident and staff member. He visits twice a week, on Wednesday to spend time with residents and ask if they would like anything special for his Sunday visit. Residents look forward to Howard’s Sunday visits, where he brings over 100 treats each week such as ice cream and fruit.

Howard’s gifts are not just physical treats. He brings compassion to residents and makes “each one feel like a personal friend. He is a hero in my eyes and the eyes of most every resident in this county,” said Activity Director Deanie Rigney.

One resident said, “I have seen him sit in rooms with residents and their families during their most difficult times, offering comforting words and heartfelt gestures.”

Additionally, Howard volunteers with the local hospital and the jail and provides gifts to underprivileged children during the holidays. Howard was diagnosed with cancer, but has continued his visits and his mission.



ID/DD Hero of the Year

Cathy Gray has been at Cedar­crest Center for Children with Diabilities in Keene, N.H., for 22 years. She goes above and beyond the 40-hour work week, spending many holidays and weekends at the center. As the president and CEO of the nonprofit facility, Gray led an effort to eliminate fundraising events that children and families could not attend. By making fundraising events accessible to residents and families, donors and the community are able to better appreciate who they are helping. 

She involves the community in the children’s lives, and the children often participate in local events. Gray spearheaded an effort to connect Cedarcrest with its local hospital and the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, which is over two hours away, a trip that can be taxing on the fragile residents of Cedarcrest. The new telehealth program has eliminated some of these difficult trips.

The program has also allowed for discharge of neonatal patients to Cedarcrest for their care until they are healthy enough to return home, reducing the cost of caring for these fragile newborns and placing them and their families in a supportive environment.

“As Cathy tours visitors around Cedarcrest, it is obvious that this isn’t a job for her, it is a calling,” said New Hampshire Health Care Association President and CEO Brendan Williams. “She knows each child and what will bring a smile to their face.” 


Mary K. Ousley Champion of Quality Award

Maryruth ButlerMaryruth Butler is known in the long term and post-acute care communities for her commitment to excellence and innovation in quality. 

Since 2001, Butler has served as the executive director of Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation - Mountain Valley in Kellogg, Idaho. After being introduced to the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework through AHCA/NCAL’s National Quality Award program in 2005, Butler helped the organization drive improvement by building a culture that thrived on new ideas.

As a result of Butler’s leadership, Mountain Valley has been recognized with all three levels of the AHCA/NCAL National Quality Awards—Bronze, Silver, and Gold. The center has also received an overall Five-Star rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Five-Star Quality Rating System for eight consecutive years. In 2016, Mountain Valley was the first skilled nursing center to receive the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Butler’s passion for quality pushed her to take on a larger role in the AHCA Quality Award process. She became a Quality Award Senior Examiner in 2012 and served as a Master Examiner in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Butler was recognized for her dedication to caring for her patients and residents and was named Kindred’s 2015 Northwest District Executive Director of the Year.

Currently, Butler presents all over the country on topics such as the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework and quality improvement. Furthermore, as a licensed residential care administrator, she teaches a residential care/assisted living administrator course through the Idaho Health Care Association.
AHCA/NCAL presents the Mary K. Ousley Cham­pion of Quality Award to an individual or organization that has made a significant national contribution to advancing quality performance in the long term care field.


Young Adult Volunteer of the Year

Lukas FlippoLukas Flippo is very active in his community of Amory, Miss., with a variety of church, sports, and volunteering commitments. He walked into Diversicare of Amory two years ago and asked if he could be of service, noting that he wanted to spend time with some of the “guys.” 

Flippo is a natural conversationalist, and as Admissions Director Kathy Parks put it, “He has the gift of gab... he will talk to toddlers and 95-year-olds and every age in between. When conversing, Lukas makes a person feel as if they are the most important.” 

Flippo has made many friends at Diversicare. He sits on the porch and plays checkers. Activity Director Diane Wilemon wrote, “He has helped combat loneliness without realizing it. [Their friendship] melts away the obstacles of age, differences, and levels of independence.”


NCAL Noble Caregiver of the Year

Lauri MorrisAt Prestige Assisted Living at Kalispell in Kalispell, Mont., Life Enrichment Director Lauri Morris is known as a rock star—someone who exceeds all expectations and inspires all those in her path.

An example of her exceptional service is the program she created to foster sharing among residents. Dubbed “Celebrate your Neighbor,” the initiative features a resident each month, selected by Morris.
Together, they identify a significant, personal memory to share. Then Morris, as she puts it, “turns into the FBI,” and tracks down family members, friends, or old co-workers to help bring their story to life.

On celebration day, the resident takes the floor, relating their experience and answering questions. Meanwhile, Morris has been known to surprise presenters with guests who are connected to their story.
Morris brings this type of commitment to each activity she leads. She teaches herself new arts and crafts techniques, so that she can properly instruct residents. She has made giving back to the community a standard practice, with a monthly volunteer activity. And her weekly happy hour is the community’s most popular event. 

Morris has also integrated technology into Prestige Assisted Living at Kalispell with a program called “Linked Senior.” It offers residents engaging content accessible on a tablet device or a computer. “Linked Senior” has proven to be very useful, especially among those living with dementia. The program is a perfect fit for Morris, who was recently certified as a cognitive stimulation instructor.


NCAL Nurse of the Year

Esther NederhoodAs a registered nurse, health care educator, elder care advocate, and business owner, Esther Nederhood is an inspiration to the nursing profession. For more than 40 years, she has championed person-centered care by treating those she serves with love and respect. 

The pinnacle of her career came in 2003, after she recognized a need for assisted living in her Lake City, Mich., community. Inspired to effect change, she founded Belle Oakes Living Center. Since its opening, Nederhood’s mission has been to make everyone she works with and cares for feel like family.

She has even coined her own care model. E.S.T.H.E.R. teaches staff to provide Enthusiastic, Spiritual, Trusting, Healthy, Emotional, and Respectful care. She makes herself available 24/7, attends residents’ physician appointments, and then personalizes their subsequent care plans. Nederhood demands high standards by emphasizing the importance of continuing education. All personnel are required to complete a dementia care training and become cardiopulmonary resuscitation/first aid-certified. Nederhood has personally embraced professional growth by becoming a certified gerontological nurse specialist, assisted living director, and assisted living nurse.

Under Nederhood’s leadership, Belle Oakes has earned myriad honors, including an AHCA/NCAL Bronze Quality Award in 2012. This year, the community progressed to earn a Silver Quality Award, joining 26 other assisted living communities around the country. Individually, Nederhood was the first recipient of the American Assisted Living Nursing Association’s Ethel Mitty Scholarship, or “national nurse of the year.”


Not for Profit Program of the Year

Trinity Oaks Health and Rehab Life Enrichment program in Salisbury, N.C. offers residents programs and outings that are often not available to skilled nursing care center residents who have encountered a debilitating event or illness. The best example of these highly unusual trips is the twice-yearly trip to the beach for several days. Administrator Bill Johnson said, “There is no logistical challenge too great for the staff to create meaning­-ful and joyful experiences for residents.” 

If the beach trip is too much for a resident, the Life Enrichment program has many other offerings, including a visit to a local farm to spend time with horses, or a day trip to the mountains.

Interaction with the local community is important. Every fall the Harvest Moon Ball is a highlight, attended by residents and their families. A local swing band plays music, and dozens of local college students help organize and attend the festivities. 

Currently four board members of Lutheran Services Carolinas, the parent company, have relatives living at Trinity Oaks and are emotionally invested in ensuring excellent person-centered care. They also donate to the nonprofit center and volunteer their time. In fact, the success of the life enrichment program is built on the can-do attitude of the staff and the village of volunteers they cultivated. 


Not for Profit Trustee of the Year

Peter MiesburgerPeter Miesburger retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1974 and has been a strong advocate for veterans for 40 years. He served as the State Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National VFW Chief of Staff. In 1990, he was instrumental in the opening of his hometown Maine Veterans’ Home (MVH) Caribou facility. He began his service on the MVH Board of Trustees in 1991, having been appointed by Maine Gov. John McKernan.

As a board member, Miesburger helped guide the organization to open additional facilities in Bangor, South Paris, and Machias, including close to $100 million in new construction, renovation, and life-safety upgrade projects. MVH has a staff of 1,100 and a tremendous economic impact on rural communities throughout the state. MVH is known for high-quality, compassionate care. All six MVH facilities have attained AHCA/NCAL’s Silver National Quality Award, and last year MVH Scarborough earned a Gold award. 

Miesburger is well known in the MVH Caribou facility. As MVH CEO Kelley Kash put it, he is “their biggest cheerleader and advocate in the community; his knowledge and networking have opened doors and opportunities. He is always available and willing to attend events and lend assistance where needed.”