The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) pay tribute to the best and brightest in long term and post-acute care. Individuals and groups honored with awards will be recognized during the 70th AHCA/NCAL Convention & Expo this month in Orlando, Fla.

Richard Cole
Adult Volunteer of the Year

Richard ColeThe first time Richard Cole walked into LACOBA Homes’ facility in Monett, Mo., he felt he had a calling to serve.

Although not a clergyman, Cole provides spiritual counsel to residents, even sensing when some are nearing the end of life.

Cole also provides gifts at Christmastime, distributes quilts with personal messages, and buys and delivers candy on all holidays and celebrations to residents. Even when residents have been discharged from the
facility, some request that Cole visit them in their home, and he happily accepts.

Staff at LACOBA have remarked that even when they feel discouraged or emotionally drained, Cole’s support helps them regain the strength to keep going, and every interaction with him lightens their hearts and lifts their spirits.

In addition to volunteering at LACOBA Homes, he has developed a volunteer program that includes three other long term care facilities and has more than 15 volunteers to provide ongoing extra activities for the residents of these facilities as well.

Good Samaritan Society - Ambassador
Not for Profit Program of the Year

The Adopt an Elder program is an intergenerational craft-exchange activity that connects elders who live at Good Samaritan Society (GSS) - Ambassador and children at Bright Beginnings Learning Center, a daycare center in Maple Grove, Minn. It is the culmination of resident-expressed interest, high-quality patient care, interdisciplinary brainstorming, and collaboration with locally owned businesses in the community.

Since the fall of 2017, on alternating weeks, the two groups take turns creating small crafts for the other that is then hand-delivered by GSS - Ambassador’s director of social services.

The intent of this program is not simply to provide residents with busy work, but rather to create a program that provides a sense of purpose and nurtures feelings of accomplishment in the participating elders. 

When asked their thoughts about the Adopt an Elder program, some of the residents shared that every time they work on these projects, they smile, and that the children are their sunshine.

The most astonishing impact is the measurable decrease in self-identified depression symptoms among the participating elders, with a 38 percent decrease in self-identified feelings of little interest or pleasure in doing things they enjoy; a 13 percent decrease in self-identified feelings of being down, depressed, or hopeless; and an 8 percent decrease in cumulative Minimum Data Set PHQ-9 mood assessment scores.

The success of the program is built on the supportive staff who not only listen to the residents but put their ideas into action.


Railey Conner
Young Adult Volunteer of the Year

Railey ConnerAt just age 11, Railey Conner found her passion for volunteering in long term care. She wanted to bring joy to residents by providing Christmas gifts. What began eight years ago as an act of kindness developed into continuous acts of love and lasting relationships with more than 200 residents across five Crestview Health & Rehabilitation centers in Crestview, Fla.

To coincide with her December birthday, Railey started her Annual Birthday Project/Remembering Our Elderly in Nursing Homes. She takes time to get to know the residents’ hobbies, interests, and life stories so that she can pick out special gifts tailored to what they like. She’s able to do this by raising money from local churches and other organizations.

After learning that one resident spoke Spanish, Railey enlisted her high school Spanish teacher to begin visiting this resident so that she could speak her native language, further demonstrating her willingness to
go that extra mile for residents.

Dave Gessel
Not for Profit Trustee

Dave GesselDave Gessel has served on the West Valley City, Utah-based Mission Health Services (MHS) board for the past 15 years. During his tenure, MHS has received the Best of State Award for Skilled Nursing five of the last eight years, approved charitable care for more than $30 million to the elderly and vulnerable adults throughout Utah and Wyoming, and received many other awards and recognitions. 

Gessel is committed to replacing an institutional culture with surroundings that foster warm, personal relationships and help attain autonomy. He has a genuine responsibility to serve beyond MHS’ care communities and has advised MHS to seek social accountability, opportunities, and measures to identify and exercise leadership in meeting local needs. 

Through his leadership, MHS has opened its care communities to other nonprofit organizations by sharing their strategies of positive achievement.

Barbara Smith
ID/DD Hero of the Year

Barbara SmithBarbara Smith embodies and executes Valley Village’s mission to protect, foster, develop, and advance the rights and interests of individuals with developmental disabilities, and strongly represents Valley Village with skill, expertise, compassion, and fortitude. 

She has been part of Valley Village in Winnetka, Calif., for 25 years, and since 2008, she has served as residential program director. In 2001, Smith provided oversight for a pilot program to establish a new intermediate care facility type for residents with developmental disabilities with continuous nursing needs.

More recently, Smith opened and designed the program for a five-bed adult residential facility for persons with special health care needs for individuals who were transitioned from closures of California developmental centers.

Smith has collaborated with the California Association of Health Facilities to provide educational opportunities for providers of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
(ID/DD) for federal compliance standards. She is an advocate for residents and their families by providing a greater understanding of services, supports, programs, consents, and protection of rights and freedoms, assuring them that they have someone in their corner.

Stone Hearth Estates
National Assisted Living Week® Program of the Year

The staff members of Stone Hearth Estates in Gothenburg, Neb., put together an engaging National Assisted Living Week (NALW) program for its residents in September 2018. The community embodied last year’s theme, “Capture the Moment,” by offering a photo booth with local celebrities, a caricature artist who drew residents’ portraits, and an exhibit of American photos from the Library of Congress.

Stone Hearth Estates also helped residents reminisce as hundreds of community pictures from over the years were hung in one of the building’s hallways. 

One of the major projects the rural Nebraska community executed was dubbed Grandma on a Stick. Prior to NALW, residents’ family members were sent a picture of their loved one held up by a stick and then asked to take a photograph in an everyday setting. 

On the first day of NALW and National Grandparents’ Day, each resident was surprised with a package of printed photos their family members had taken with their image.

Elizabeth Blankenship
Jan Thayer Pioneer Award

Elizabeth BlankenshipDuring her more than 40-year career in senior living, Elizabeth Blankenship, RN, former owner and operator of assisted living communities in Arkansas, has championed common-sense state regulation, quality measurement and improvement, and a positive workplace environment. 

“As a nurse who worked her way up to soon run her own long term care communities, Liz is an inspiration to the profession,” said Scott Tittle, NCAL executive director. “Her story is remarkable, but it was her involvement at the state and national levels that make her worthy of this award. After finding effective ways to improve the lives of her residents and employees, Liz committed to sharing that success with her fellow providers to lift up the entire sector.”

Now retired, Blankenship previously owned and operated Southridge Village Assisted Living, a company consisting of four assisted living and continuing care retirement communities throughout Arkansas.

She designed and built some of the first private apartments for assisted living residents in the state, dubbed Homestyle Cottages, that maximized independence in a homelike environment. 

When the Arkansas Legislature established the licensure of assisted living in 2001, Blankenship served on the committee that helped draft the regulations for the sector. She continued to serve the state on numerous committees, task forces, and boards. 

At the national level, Blankenship was one of the first NCAL State Leaders representing Arkansas. Additionally, she served on the NCAL Quality Committee, and her clinical expertise and workforce innovations made her a sought-out speaker at multiple national conferences. 

Blankenship earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Texas at Arlington. She later became certified as a geriatric nurse through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. 

The Jan Thayer Pioneer Award recognizes individuals who have moved the senior care profession forward, positively affecting the lives of those served and those who serve. Recipients must demonstrate dedication, leadership, and considerable contributions to the profession.

Shirley Perdue
NCAL Noble Caregiver of the Year

Shirley Perdue has served the residents of Richland Place Senior Living in Portland, Tenn., for the past nine years as a resident aide. However, her co-workers credit her with assisting wherever help is needed, whether in housekeeping, maintenance, dietary, activities, or administration.

At 73 years old, Perdue is known for her amazing energy and perfect attendance, serving as a role model to the entire staff. When inclement weather is in the forecast, she is known to bring a sleeping bag to work and prepares to spend as many nights as necessary to ensure residents are cared for and safe. 

Perdue’s leadership skills are evident as she provides orientation to all new second-shift employees and helped Richland Place implement a community integration plan. Beyond her daily tasks, Perdue often spends her personal time and money buying residents items they need, as well as holiday gifts.

Jaclyn O’Keefe
NCAL Administrator of the Year

Jaclyn O'KeefeDuring her nearly four years as administrator of Heritage Woods of Rockford, in Rockford, Ill., Jaclyn O’Keefe has helped the assisted living community measurably improve in several areas, including staff retention, annual surveys, and resident satisfaction. These efforts, among others, helped the community earn the Bronze - Commitment to Quality Award through the AHCA/NCAL National Quality Award program in 2019.

O’Keefe is known as a strong leader, constantly empowering her employees to seek professional development while fostering a teamwork atmosphere. The residents of Heritage Woods regularly give back to the larger Rockford community through book drives, holiday donations, and fundraisers for veterans and students, frequently organized by O’Keefe.

She is a tireless advocate for residents and the profession; she recently led an effort in which hundreds of residents, families, and staff wrote letters to their state legislators encouraging appropriate Medicaid funding. 

Friends of Good Samaritan Society - Scotland
Group Volunteer of the Year

Good Samaritan SocietyFor the past 13 years, members of Friends of Good Samaritan Society - Scotland in Scotland, S.D., interact with residents on a daily basis in a variety of ways. They range from helping with resident activities, reading personal mail for residents who are unable to do so, to sitting and being with someone nearing the end of life.

With “fun” identified as part of the group’s mission, they organize and host events to raise funds in order to take residents on field trips, purchase and wrap individual Christmas gifts for each resident, bring a flower and card on residents’ birthdays, and help host various events and activities at the facility. 

However, their work is not just about sharing sweet treats, but rather about building relationships, excitement, and joy. As members of their small town, the group speaks at various community events and places articles in the local paper and church bulletins to promote involvement with their group. 

Janet Snipes
Mary K. Ousley Champion of Quality Award

Janet Snipes, executive director of Holly Heights Nursing Center, in Denver, is the 2019 recipient of the Mary K. Ousley Champion of Quality Award. Snipes is recognized for her outstanding contributions to quality in long term and post-acute care.

“Janet’s work with federal regulators, payers, and providers to improve quality outcomes in this profession has made a national impact,” says Mary Ousley, AHCA Quality Cabinet co-chair and namesake of the award. “This award recognizes individuals who embrace quality as a central focus of their work, and Janet does just that. It’s an honor to recognize her for her commitment and dedication.”

For more than 30 years, Snipes’ entire career has been devoted to driving quality improvements and reshaping federal policy to improve national quality outcomes. Snipes was an early champion of the pursuit of quality outcomes and is known statewide for mentoring others to do the same. In 2018, under Snipes’ leadership, Holly Heights earned the Gold – Excellence in Quality Award through the AHCA/NCAL National Quality Award  program.

As chair of the Colorado Health Care Association Board of Directors, Snipes was a pivotal part of creating a Pay for Performance model, which incentivizes providers to lean toward quality outcomes to meet and exceed national quality goals. Sharing the success of the Colorado model nationally helped encourage other states to adopt similar structures.

Her national commitment to quality has shown through her contribution of time, serving as a member of the AHCA Survey Regulatory Reform Workgroup, chair of the AHCA Survey & Regulatory Committee, chair of the Quality Improvement Committee, co-chair of the Quality Cabinet, and a member of the AHCA Board of Governors.

Each year, AHCA/NCAL presents the Mary K. Ousley Champion of Quality Award to an individual who has made significant national contributions 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 outcomes.

John Walters
NCAL Assisted Living Nurse of the Year

As a nurse supervisor, John Walters oversees the clinical needs of the 65 residents at Dominican Village in Amityville, N.Y. The center is a 2019 recipient of the Silver – Achievement in Quality Award through the AHCA/NCAL National Quality Award program.

Walters seeks to improve the quality of care residents receive at this Long Island assisted living community by working closely with case managers to develop care plans, setting goals for his Wellness Department team, and serving as a strong team leader. He is known for going above and beyond the call of duty, often working overtime or checking in on residents, especially those on hospice.

His knowledge of and passion for quality end-of-life care means he is frequently consulted and readily offers additional education and support. Additionally, Walters facilitates a support group for families and caregivers, discussing ways to handle stress, among other topics.