The 2018 recipients of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) annual awards will be recognized during the AHCA/NCAL 69th National Convention & Expo this month. Here are their stories of leadership and compassion in long term and post-acute care.

Joe Howard

Adult Volunteer of the Year

Rev. Joe HowardRev. Joe Howard has been volunteering at Harlan Health and Rehabilitation Center in Harlan, Ky., for 21 years. He visits every Monday to lead church services and visit residents. Howard makes himself available to provide support and spiritual guidance when residents and their families go through difficult times. Many staff members have his phone number. He also visits residents in the hospital.

Rachel Eubank, MD, an attending physician at the center, says, “Rev. Howard’s service to our community is unparalleled.” His presence is felt throughout the town by community members of all ages, she says. He organizes two summer Bible camp getaways for the youth in the community.

Howard goes out of his way to make residents feel cared for. He buys flowers for every mother in the nursing center on Mother’s Day, officiates baptisms, funerals, and recently a wedding between two residents who fell in love. Howard is not just a minister to residents, but a friend who provides comfort and joy.

Sahar Edalati

NCAL Administrator of the Year

Sahar EdalatiSahar Edalati earned his Bachelor’s degree in aging and a Master’s degree in gerontology from the University of Southern California. During his practicum, he lived in an assisted living community where he was known as “the youngest resident.” Now, as one of the youngest executive directors at Sunrise Senior Living, Edalati has led Sunrise Villa Culver City, Calif., in attaining high employee engagement scores, as well as the Bronze—Commitment to Quality Award through the AHCA/NCAL National Quality Award Program.

Beyond improving the residents’ quality of life, Edalati contributes to the community’s social activities with a monthly poetry class for residents. He also expanded Sunrise Villa Culver City’s efforts to offer affordable housing to eligible seniors in the larger community as part of a joint partnership with the Culver City Housing Division.

Elizabeth Eubank

Young Adult Volunteer of the Year

Elizabeth EubankElizabeth Eubank is a busy 18 year old. She is active in her church, the local Kiwanis club, and school activities, but she finds time to volunteer at Diversicare of Amory in Amory, Miss. She even came to visit on the day of her high school graduation.

Activity Director Dian Wilemon, who nominated Eubank, says, “When Elizabeth meets a resident, they become immediate friends. She will rarely visit our home without checking on a resident she has met.”

Eubank finds a way to connect with residents, whether by initiating a craft activity for reticent residents or painting their fingernails. She made a special effort to help a blind resident reorganize her closet, helping her be more independent in finding her clothing and shoes. As one resident says, “There is no task too big or too small for her.”

The Chelsea at Fanwood

National Assisted Living Week® Program of the Year

The Chelsea at FanwoodStaff members of The Chelsea at Fanwood in Fanwood, N.J., put together an enriching National Assisted Living Week (NALW) program for residents in September 2017.

The community embodied the year’s theme, Family is Forever, by holding a unique family barbeque on Grandparent’s Day, painting an outdoor family tree mural, hosting a family talent show, and creating a cookbook with passed-down family recipes.

The Chelsea at Fanwood also embraced community involvement by holding fundraisers for the Fanwood Fire Department and Rescue Squad and the Alzheimer’s Association of New Jersey.

Additionally, children from a local daycare/preschool visited to participate in a scavenger hunt to unearth inspirational messages from one generation to another. 

Linda Kluge

Mary K. Ousley Champion of Quality Award

Linda Kluge
Linda Kluge, an executive director at Alliant Quality, a Quality Innovation Network – Quality Improvement Organization for Georgia and North Carolina, is recognized for her contributions to quality in long term and post-acute care.

For more than 40 years, Kluge worked to advance quality performance in the profession. As part of a national effort to encourage patient-centered care, she co-founded the Culture Change Network of Georgia, a group focused on promoting and fostering culture change to improve the quality of life for older Georgians. Under her leadership, a Georgia coalition and advisory board were formed that played a role in the safe reduction of antipsychotic usage in skilled nursing centers throughout the state.

She also championed the development of an educational toolkit used by nursing centers nationwide through the initiative, Interventions to Reduce Acute Care Transfers (INTERACT®), to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital readmissions. Kluge received the Distinguished Service Award from Aging Services of Georgia in 2010 and was the recipient of the President’s Mentor Award from the Florida Dietetic Association.

AHCA/NCAL presents the Mary K. Ousley Champion of Quality Award to an individual who has made a significant national contribution to advancing quality performance in long term and post-acute care.

Recipients display leadership in the development, promotion, and implementation of quality improvement initiatives that have resulted in measurable improvements in the quality of care and quality of life for individuals in long term care.

Exceptional Care for Children Magical Journey

Not for Profit Program of the Year

Exceptional Care for Children (ECC) in Newark, Del., is the first and only pediatric skilled nursing center in Delaware. It is a residential health care facility serving technology-dependent children and their families. A
motto at the facility is, “Where superpowers are used every day & nothing is impossible!”

ECC was nominated for the Not for Profit Program of the Year award for its Magical Journey program. Over the past seven years, ECC has completed three trips to Walt Disney World and plans to continue the “Magical Journey” as residents present as appropriate and tolerant for the trip. The program was started by a request from a member of the board of directors, and both the board and donors continue to be supportive.

More than 40 caregivers accompany the children, with some traveling in advance to prepare the housing.

The trip presents logistical challenges, but as one staff member says, “Basic needs are met every day at ECC; fulfillment of the heart, too, is our routine. Watching a child’s face light up at the sight of a magical place like Walt Disney World is priceless.” 

Steven Craig

Not for Profit Trustee of the Year

Steven Craig has been connected with the Chaparral House in Berkeley, Calif., since it opened 40 years ago. His mother, Leela Craig, MD, was the Chaparral House’s founding medical director. He has served on the board periodically for 20 years in many capacities, including a number of years as treasurer. He has also generously given over 5,200 hours of volunteer time.

His experience on other boards allows him to lend his expertise and business acumen to the Chaparral House. But his service goes beyond that. Craig has caregiver experience with both of his parents, so he is able to understand the wants and needs of families and residents.

His leadership and support help Chaparral House deliver a homelike environment and provide programming that meets the social and emotional needs of residents.

One of Craig’s greatest contributions has been managing the facility’s extensive gardens, remapping the landscaping irrigation, and reducing water usage by over 50 percent.

Vice President of the California Association of Health Facilities Rita Chen Fujisawa says, “The world needs to see more role models like Mr. Craig, who probably does not even realize that his long-time involvement has found numerous and invaluable ways to positively impact the residents around him.” 

Amanda Garcia, RN

NCAL Assisted Living Nurse of the Year

Amanda Garcia has been a registered nurse and wellness coordinator at the Fort Madison, Iowa-based The Kensington for the past eight years. She is tireless in furthering her education in long term care and then sharing her knowledge with others.

When Iowa created a model of the National POLST (Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) Paradigm, Garcia was the first in the county to become a facilitator and instructor to help ensure residents’ end-of-life choices were being honored.

As a Virtual Dementia Tour® facilitator and certified dementia care practitioner, she helped train staff at the local hospital and Iowa State Penitentiary.

In 2017, The Kensington earned the Silver—Achievement in Quality Award through the AHCA/NCAL National Quality Award Program, and Garcia received the Distinguished Director of Nursing in Leadership Award from the Iowa Center for Assisted Living. She is the current president of the Iowa Council of Nurse Leaders. 

Laura Horan

ID/DD Hero of the Year

Laura Horan
Recreation Director Laura Horan has worked at Mission at West Jordan Care Center (WJCC) in West Jordan, Utah, for 11 years. This intermediate care facility cares for 78 individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities.

WJCC embraces the Eden Alternative program to improve the quality of life for individuals in long term care. Horan was integral in WJCC’s Eden journey and serves as the Eden chair.

Horan has a strong work ethic that is fueled by her compassion for the individuals at WJCC. Her positive attitude and smile are always on display.

As recreation director, she works closely with the resident council to implement their ideas. For example, she worked with individuals to share their talent with a small class in areas such as karate, book club, and arts and crafts.

Horan is very resourceful and constantly thinks of new ideas to improve the lives of WJCC residents, including bringing them to community events and fairs, river rafting trips, encouraging volunteers, and involving residents in showing gratitude for community officials like firefighters and police officers.

Loretta Kaes, RN

Jan Thayer Pioneer Award

Loretta KaesA pioneer isn’t just someone who breaks new ground or charts new territory. It is an individual who also creates a path for others to follow. NCAL’s 2018 Pioneer Award recipient, Loretta Kaes, creates that path and then shows emerging caregivers how to follow. A nearly 25-year veteran, Kaes is a nurse, administrator, and educator who has made it her life’s work to improve the lives of the elderly by her steadfast commitment to edification, leadership, and quality.

For more than 20 years, she worked at Chelsea Senior Living where she oversaw nursing operations in 18 different assisted living and residential care communities in three different states. As the current director of quality improvement and clinical services for the Health Care Association of New Jersey, Kaes provides clinical and quality guidance to all long term and post-acute care centers in the state.

She developed the curriculum for the association’s two “Top Gun” schools for skilled and assisted living nurses. She works closely with Rutgers University to encourage new nurse graduates to work in long term care, even participating in their orientation programs.

Kaes founded the New Jersey Chapter of the American Assisted Living Nurses Association. And as past chair and current member of NCAL’s Quality Committee, she helped establish critical, data-driven measures in the crucial areas of rehospitalization and off-label antipsychotic medication use. This valuable work ensures quality improvement can be better identified and continuous quality improvement realized at the provider level.

Tieszen Memorial Home Auxiliary

Group Volunteer of the Year

The Tieszen Memorial Home Auxiliary of Marion, S.D., formed in 1973. Its members’ first undertaking was to plan and throw a Fall Open House, inviting the outside community to the nursing center for coffee and cookies. Since then, the auxiliary has taken on much more and recruited new volunteers, and some of the same volunteers from 1973 are still volunteering today.

The group helps Tieszen Memorial Home accommodate extra guests for a monthly Friends and Family meal that residents look forward to all month. Auxiliary members also host a biweekly Bingo party, the most-requested activity by residents.

The members display an unwaveringly positive attitude, which encourages residents and staff to improve the quality of life for the elderly and individuals with disabilities in their center. Their enthusiasm inspires the center to provide more activities and special outings for residents, including fishing and visits to the county fair. 

Margaret Morton

NCAL Noble Caregiver of the Year

Margaret MortonMargaret Morton is credited in developing a unique activities program to maximize socialization, independence, functionality, and quality of life for the residents of Trezevant Episcopal Home, Memphis, Tenn. Specifically, she organized a 10-week equine therapy program for five residents from the memory care unit at a local equine therapy center.

While equine therapy primarily serves children and teens with intellectual or developmental disabilities, Morton showed it could also be beneficial to older adults, and the five residents living with dementia saw noticeable improvements in their strength, gait, and speech.

She also introduced art classes, sewing classes, and family support groups for loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Additionally, Trezevant Episcopal Home is certified as a MUSIC & MEMORY® location, thanks to Morton.