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Episode 47 of the Senior Care Industry Netcast is live!

We were fortunate enough to have Ellen Belk, CDP, https://keepinmindinc.com/ , on our show and she offered some great insight and #advice for other #seniorcare and #healthcare providers.

About This Episode:

Meet the Silver Living Strategist Ellen Belk, CDP

https://keepinmindinc.com/

EP 47: The Senior Care Industry Netcast with Ellen Belk - Keep in Mind 2
Ellen Belk

SILVER LIVING STRATEGIES

Ellen is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. And holds these additional licenses and certifications:

  • Universal Design/Build Specialist
  • Leadership in Dementia Special Care Units
  • Best Friends Master Trainer
  • MEPAP – Activity Director
  • Caregiver Support Group Facilitator

She entered the Senior Living sector as an Activity Assistant in a skilled nursing setting. Within four months she was the Director of a new build Adult Day Service program. This transition into a Sales and Operations role had a great impact on her professional growth.

Throughout her 20 year career, Ellen has held Director level positions at the local, Divisional and National levels as well as a Senior Vice President title and Founder.

Full Transcript:

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

This is Valerie VanBooven with the Senior Care Industry Netcast, where leaders with three or more years in the senior care industry share their advice, so let’s get to it.

In a few sentences, tell us who you are and what you do?

Ellen Belk:

Hey. Well, thanks for having me, by the way. My name is Ellen Belk. I am the founder of a company called Keep In Mind. It’s a consulting company. I originally founded Keep In Mind in 2011 until one of my clients who, I’ll explain who my clients are in a second, hired me full-time in the year 2017. So I worked with that organization for a little over three years, and Valerie, in the midst of a pandemic, on April 24th, I stepped aside from my senior vice president role with that organization and I’ve reopened Keep In Mind. So I’m newly launched. I’m a Silver Living strategist.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yay! That’s good.

Ellen Belk:

We offer Silver Living solutions. I have a 20 year expertise in dementia, most notably, but I will say that I also work with product developers, people who are trying to get their technology, or their service, or their products into the senior space. I often consult with those type of people who are trying to navigate our industry, the senior living industry. And of course, most notably, the bulk of my consulting work is with actual senior living providers themselves, owners, developers, because I do work with the folks pre-construction when they need some guidance and some help in planning a dementia space in a professional setting. So, that’s me in a nutshell.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Awesome. Well, I’m glad you’ve relaunched, and I didn’t know all of that, but I am so glad because we need all the help we can get out here, right?

Ellen Belk:

Amen. It’s a good time to be in my end of the market for sure.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Absolutely. Everybody’s rethinking. Everybody’s re-strategizing. Whether you’re a consumer of an adult child or you’re a provider of services, everybody’s wondering, okay, what are we going to do next.

Ellen Belk:

Right.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Because it’s a challenging time for all of us. All right. So what is the best thing… And I usually ask about serving seniors in their families, but you also serve professionals.

So what’s the best thing about what you do?

Ellen Belk:

Well, I will tell you, I’ve already alluded that I’ve been at this about almost 20 years. I’m tickling 20 years. And I will say, and I’ve said it, my husband, God love him, he’s heard me say it a million times, the smartest people, the greatest people that I get to interact with across this country, I’ve held national roles. I’ve supported people in Seattle and New Jersey, and all the way through the middle of the country, in my different roles throughout my career before starting my own company. And it’s the smartest, most lovely people I interact with are the residents. My friends with dementia. I have always wished… I came up through the industry as an activity professional. And in my senior leadership roles, dementia operations, but also resident engagement as well.

Ellen Belk:

And I will tell you, I have so often wanted, throughout my career when I was at the local level, to have one of those GoPros on my head as I was delivering care, or interacting with, or having a lovely moment with a resident, because I have been a personal witness to so much amazing stuff that they say or do, advice. I hear it and I love it and I absorb it, but I wish the whole world could have those moments with our elders that I’ve been blessed to have. So by far and away, I tolerate the C-suite. I tolerate all the long conference calls and now the Zoom calls.

I tolerate that, because I know my end game is to be impacting and working with our friends who live in our communities in a professional setting. And then, of course, I always love motivating and training. I do a lot of staff training, and I like to help them to be able to help, again, my end user. So I never forget who my end user is, and it is those that we’re privileged to serve.

Ellen Belk:

It’s been my mission throughout my career to enable us, professionals, or be an influencer, to always make sure we’re bringing our A game to every day that we’re in the midst of those that we’re serving.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

And that’s awesome because I’ll tell you, I always say this, I use this as an example, my father has dementia, and he is in a care facility. He has vascular dementia. He’s young. He’s 71, I guess 72 coming up next year. The activities and the interaction… And I can tell from this pandemic, the isolation has taken a bit of a toll, but I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the folks that are doing the best they can right now and every day to provide all those residents with stimulation and activity and opportunities to interact with each other or, whatever, and get outside or do whatever they do. It’s so important. And it is true, to some other stuff. Sitting and having lunch in a skilled facility, or a nursing home, or assisted living, or wherever you are, and just sitting and having lunch with some of those residents is the most rewarding experience ever. You don’t have to work there to really get a kick out of listening.

Ellen Belk:

Yeah.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

It’s just amazing. They’re so interactive, and they’re so kind, and they’re so brave. I love what you do.

Ellen Belk:

The life, the experience, and I’m a huge supporter of intergenerational programming because when those two worlds, when young and young at heart come together, it is incredibly magical, and it impacts positively every part of the equation, everybody involved in the equation. So you’ll often sometimes have that high school aged group that are more worried about what their hair looks like and if their shoes are cute enough or whatever. But when that breaks down and then they’re in an environment where all of a sudden they’re laughing, and they’re sharing, and they’re listening to someone, an elder with aged experience who can also be funny and say cute things, I mean, it is, again, when I observe all that, which I’ve had so many amazing opportunities to do, and create, because as a activity professional, I loved. That was always a go-to for me to bring the generations together, because it’s magical and it’s good for the heart and soul for everybody involved.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Absolutely. Absolutely. All right. We’re going to switch gears for a second and talk about online marketing. I always ask this question. I hear from other providers that online marketing can be challenging. It’s ever changing. You’ve reintroduced yourself and re-upped on your experience before having all this other stuff that you’ve done so amazingly over the years. So what is your experience? What are your thoughts?

How are you getting the word out there via online marketing?

Ellen Belk:

Yeah. Well, that is a great question because it’s a moving target. It’s interesting you even asked that because I’m in the midst of evaluating how our… Now I need clients, so hello. But I have a couple right now, but obviously as a consultant, you’re only as good as those that you’re serving and working with. So I need more, but it’s interesting. As my husband, who’s my business partner, is we’re evaluating where do our dollars go. I have, of course, saved all my files from when we launched in 2011. Oh my gosh, girl, we did these… And I loved them at the time, but yeah, in 2011, which seems like a hundred years ago, but we did a lot of oversized, odd-shaped postcards that were vibrant. I had an awesome designer at the time, and they were two sided and they were just quick and easy, and I mailed them in a cool envelope. So I was using visuals to try to entice people to open the envelope and learn about us.

Ellen Belk:

Fast forward to now, oh, it’s a game changer. I mean, this, obviously I’m doing a lot of this type of stuff, which is helpful. And so thank you, and I always am grateful when people ask me to share my story. I’m writing, I’ve always been a writer, so I’m doing video. Again, if anyone follows me on LinkedIn, I post video. I’m tweaking and pushing the envelope a little bit with operators in senior living, because I am starting to challenge them to the new normal. I know we’re all saying that, but quite frankly and I may take some digs from people in the world on this, from an activity and from a senior living perspective, I have to say that, I always am a person that tries to lead with positivity, and of course, this pandemic is game changing, life changing, life ending, but I will say the senior living industry needed something to reevaluate who and what they are.

Ellen Belk:

And I hate that this is how it happened, and I want to make that very clear, but oh my gosh, they are reevaluating, they are messaging, how they operate. And I’m right there, now in the wings with my own voice. I don’t have to worry about who I bother at the conference table of my employer, and I always have had great employers, don’t get me wrong, but you know how it is. You always have to dial- [crosstalk 00:10:17].

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

You don’t have to worry about who your… I get it.

Ellen Belk:

And I’m a big personality. I’m sure that’s hard to ascertain in this video, but I am able now to use my voice as a person that’s been on the inside at high levels, and now I’m tweaking them a little bit and saying, Hey, what about this? Because now I can actually use that voice. And if somebody wants to work with me because they like what I’m saying, now I’m attracting people that are open to the message. So video is working for me from a marketing perspective, writing. And like I said, telling the story, just being able to share my story with you. One thing that we did do, and I thoughtfully did this, when we launched our new website, which just went live a few weeks ago. You know how the about me, everyone tells our story. I did video for that, because again, I have some copy around it, but I can tell my story. And I wanted people to get the flavor of who I am and what I would be like to work with.

Ellen Belk:

So anyway, I made that conscious choice as well to not just have static content to describe me. I wanted to describe myself and how I came to be.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah, I think that a video is probably, I mean, obviously it’s taken off and everybody’s got their own way and opinion and skill level with video, but I will say the short descriptions and the short videos, like we try to keep this… You and I could probably sit here and talk for an hour about all the- [crosstalk 00:11:52].

Ellen Belk:

Easily.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

… Yeah. All day. And we’ve always said this is going to be nine minutes, and the reason we said that, it’s never nine minutes by the way, but when said that originally is because LinkedIn will allow you to put a 10 minute video up. Right? And that’s the max, for most people, unless you’re an influencer or something. So you keep it to 10 minutes or less, but then I found, you know what? When it’s a great interview, who cares how long it goes, but still keeping it within that 20 minute, 15 minute timeframe, people really like this in the podcast version of this. We do the video, but we also have it on podcast. So people listen all the time, and I am always amazed. And I look at where they’re coming from. I wonder who these people are, that downloaded this on their Apple watch. Hello people.

Ellen Belk:

Wow. That’s amazing.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Just weird stuff like that. I’m like, Oh, they must be going for a run, or I don’t know. I’m imagining why? Because I’m not that tech savvy. So, I think you’re doing the right thing. And I think that if people get a little bit… Just get comfortable. You don’t have to look like a rock star to get on this video. Nobody cares right now, this is a fake background. If I turn it off- [crosstalk 00:13:12].

Ellen Belk:

I can’t read that book on the third shelf?

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Right? No. Local life. Yeah. Local life over here, over here. No you can’t really read those, but I don’t even know what some of them say, but if I turned it off, it’d be a big, giant green screen behind me- [crosstalk 00:13:27].

Ellen Belk:

Nice. Well, that’s a great idea.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

If I turn it around, you’d see a messy house. So, nobody really cares that much. We care a little bit, but just get comfortable with it. It’s not that bad. And people will love it. People love to see what you have to say and hear your voice.

Ellen Belk:

And I think authenticity is the key. Listen, I’m no supermodel. Lord knows. This is the most, I actually put a little makeup on, some lipstick. Literally 45 minutes ago, I was still in my jammies, but yeah, again, I have a big voice as you can hear and see, and I have a big personality and I have been an outlier, most of my… I’m that quirky girl, and I’m over 50 now, so I’m still quirky, but I’m who I am, and it’s worked for me. And so I’m with you. I don’t get too overly stressed, but I will say this, when I do watch stuff back, we are our worst critic.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Ellen Belk:

Like, Oh my gosh, Oh, look at this. Whatever. There comes a point where, what are you going to do?

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah, no. It’s not that big of a deal. Yeah. But I think you’re doing the right thing. I think getting into video, getting your message out in writing and in video is what it’s all about. So good for you and keep going down that road. I think it’ll pay off heavily. So. Okay. All right. So there are probably in all these years, successful organizations, leaders, people that have been mentor to you, or been just an inspiration where you think, Hey, that organization just does a really great job.

Is there anybody who I can give a shout out to?

Ellen Belk:

Well, I will say that, again. I was an industry outsider just as a sidebar and I do encourage people to go read my website, because in that little two minute clip, I talk about how I came into senior living. I was not a native, I come in from a broadcasting background. So that’s another reason this environment, I’ve used my voice to speak for my entire career, whether it be broadcasting or now, or in public speaking and training. But I will say this, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, when I first got into the industry. I was a warm body that got hired into a skilled nursing setting as an activity assistant. And I didn’t even know how to spell Alzheimer’s back in those days. So very early on, there was a boss of mine, my second boss in the industry named Jennifer Noahak.

Ellen Belk:

And she was a disciple at that time, if you will, of the best friends approach to dementia care, it’s a philosophy. There’s many. And so I was introduced to that and bought into it a hundred percent, because the whole philosophy of the best friends approach to dementia care is to treat everyone you’re serving as if they’re your friend, and the care and the work and both sides of the equation, it works out much better when you’re delivering care through a place of friendship.

Fast forward years later, I actually got to meet and work with David Troxell, who is one of the co-founders of that philosophy, the best friends approach, he and Virginia Bell have written multiple books on it. I then went on to become a master trainer in the best friends. When I met David Troxell at first, it was like I was meeting a dementia rock star. You know what I mean?

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah.

Ellen Belk:

And to this day, especially now, he consults as well. I’ve leaned on him several ways throughout my professional journey, since I know him now. And he’s been fabulous. He’s so gentle and I love his philosophy. And so I have nothing but kind words to say about him. In regards to organization, I got to tell you, like I already said in this interview, we got work to do. But when I knew that question was coming, there are two organizations, and interestingly enough, although I’m connected with them socially on LinkedIn, I don’t know these people personally, I’ve never sat and had a conversation with them, or a cup of coffee or whatever, but I will say that Dwayne Clark, who is the founder and leader of Aegis senior living out of… He’s on the West coast side of Washington State, I’m intrigued by his innovative.

Ellen Belk:

I have a guess, if he sees this, I hope he’s not insulted. I think he’s a little quirky too. So I think maybe I’m drawn to that, just because he’s not your typical stuffed suit that… I hear good things about the organization. So I keep my eye on Aegis. I keep my eye on them only because I do believe they are a trend-setting leader, in the senior living space. The other group that I actually did try to get as a client when I opened my company in 2011 is Thrive Senior Living out of Atlanta, Jeramy Ragsdale, again, don’t know him personally, but I have paid attention to that company going all the way back to my first time in the consulting world. And fast forward to now, he’s just young. He seems fearless. He’s not your typical, again, not your typical stuffed suit. Definitely willing, Thrive Senior Living out of Atlanta, from what I can tell and what I’m seeing, and what I’m watching as I pay attention to their growth, they also are not afraid to try new things. They’re just not the same old, same old.

Ellen Belk:

They seem to have a very good culture of how they care for their, not only their residents, of course, but their employees. I’m intrigued and I’m impressed. And I’m always going to keep my eye on those two organizations.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Well, thank you. And you know what? I have a connection here in St. Louis with Aegis, and have always been impressed with them. And I’m not in necessarily senior living space, but I also watch them from a innovative perspective. So, that really resonates with me too. Thank you for turning us on to those folks, because I would love to see who out there is really making a difference in being fearless, and especially in this environment, because we could all learn a little bit from all the steps they’re taking ahead of everybody else.

Ellen Belk:

Definitely. And both of them are unique in different ways. I will say. It’s not uncommon. It’s not uncommon for senior living operators to not be flush with cash, even though they charge people to live there. There’s either too much overhead. There’s too much heaviness at the top levels. Aegis has, again, and obviously they were near where… They were only 30, 40 miles away. Their headquarters from where this all the COVID all began, remember how the Seattle market got kicked in the head pretty hard. But they were very quick to spend money to ensure safety and security for their employees and everybody else. He created a grocery store, so that the care staff can not go to the grocery store, but they could shop for their essentials and foodstuffs at their job.

Ellen Belk:

So, again, it’s that type of concern. Listen, because I’m a firm believer. I have a team approach to dementia care. And my challenge is to get people to seek championship level outcomes. But what I can see with Aegis and definitely also with Thrive as well, when you treat the people well, who are the employees, it just naturally floods over to the care that they deliver to those most vulnerable of our population. It makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t happen across the board. And so I, again, kudos to these groups that you can definitely see. They couldn’t be faking it for this long, you know what I mean? So there is a culture in these two organizations, in my opinion, that is worth watching and taking note of.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Nice. Very nice. Yeah. We will keep an eye on those folks. Maybe we can get them on the show to talk more about their philosophy, that would be awesome.

Ellen Belk:

Yeah. They’d be great interviews for sure.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. All right. Well, what piece of advice, because you are flushed with great advice.

So what piece of advice would you give to senior care providers out there?

Ellen Belk:

Yeah. I have so many things I’d like to say, but if I would truthfully to use a word I’ve already used in this interview is authenticity. I think my advice to the senior living providers is, and I do a presentation on this when I’m… I have a presentation when I’m working with leadership people and organizations. And I put on the screen like the Boeing company logo, WeightWatchers, Nike. And why do I put those up? Those are just a few, there could be many others, but these are brands, they’re iconic, obviously Nike, remember Nike used to have just a little white shoe with a red stripe on it. Well look at it now, Oh my gosh. And so they’ve evolved as their consumer has evolved, as the demand, all of these organizations, WeightWatchers, hello, now it’s WW. We don’t even say WeightWatchers.

Ellen Belk:

They’re listening to the drum beat of what’s going on, and they’re evolving it operationally, brand-wise, to meet the new and changing demands of their consumer. Senior living doesn’t like to do that. Like I told you, I’m 20 years into this and yeah, the playbook hasn’t really changed, and the bingo and whatever. I could literally go on and on, and for lack of gravity, I won’t, but I actually did write. I have a trademarked 360 system that is a operational tool for professional providers that I do sell that does come with consulting.

And it is based on my team approach and my team philosophy. The idea being for senior living providers, my advice is, welcome to the 21st century. We’d love to have you, especially, Valerie, as we are very quickly ushering in an entirely new generation in the boomers, who are vastly different than their greatest generation parents. Not good or bad, just different. The current population that we have, if we say, this is your soup, you get this cup of soup, they’re rule followers, let’s be honest. The great generation have survived it all.

Ellen Belk:

And they are rule followers, not so much with our friends, the boomers, which by the way, I’m excited about that because they, as they have throughout their entire generational life, they will be pushing the boundaries, and they already are, of senior living. Gosh, we could look at an entire menu just like we would, if we go to any restaurant USA and we get to pick, wouldn’t that be fabulous.

Giving people choice. And yeah, there’s going to be some operational logistics that have to go along with it. But what you want is happy people living with you, who stay your residents longer. We’re going to absolutely have to up our game from a programming perspective, from an activity programming, God, I cannot wait to the day when we don’t say bingo anymore, I’m going to be the happiest person on the planet.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Oh yeah. No more bingo. Do you think, and this is not on my questions list, but my perception in some cases, and this is more on the 24 hour care level, not so much on the assisted living, maybe, maybe a little bit, but do you think that senior living, senior housing, when you get down to that level, they’re so regulated and so scared to break a rule that, that’s part of the issue behind some of this not being innovative?

Ellen Belk:

I do. I do. They’re incredibly risk… Yeah, I do think that, Valerie. They’re incredibly risk adverse. They can be, again, I’ve named two groups though. I’ve named two companies that they have work arounds. Now when I say all this, and especially in a skilled setting, Oh yeah, they are burdened by regulation and you have to do everything in triplicate. It really does. It’s supervising sick care. It’s not healthcare.

And even in the senior living industry, assisted living, it’ll be interesting to see what happens on the other side of the COVID experience because longterm living is getting a little kick in the head also based on some of the things that are… it has, again, back to the COVID experience, it has shined lights on where there are grave opportunities for improvement in any longterm living setting.

Ellen Belk:

And I, again, I’m that girl that is like finally, because I’ve been a lone voice often. Again, I’m your reverend, I tell it like it is, I don’t have big language that you need a textbook to figure out what I’m saying. I just am a realist. I always have been. And that’s not welcome often in the senior living space, they don’t want… Just like all those other organizations that have had to reevaluate. They don’t want re-evaluation in senior living, this is what we’ve always do.

This is what works. But again, that’s all being blown out the door. Not only because of COVID, and now the new expectations of what happens if something like that happens again, how are you prepared? How are you going to keep people safe? But also with this new generation of, and the expectations that will come along with, what does senior living look like for a boomer group that quite frankly doesn’t want to live in senior living.

Ellen Belk:

So we got to mold and flex, and I’m excited about that. And there is some real cool stuff going on behind the scenes that I’m excited to pay attention to, and it’s all because a new mousetrap needs to be built at this point. We’re a little late, quite frankly, Valerie, Australia is a country, and even in Japan, in Asian countries, and obviously Europe has, they do think… The UK has done some really great stuff for making age in place, cities and towns, that the UK, I know their prime minister gave, years ago, this is old news, but had given tax breaks to businesses and organizations who dementia friendlied up their grocery store, and trained their people so that those who were on the front end of their dementia journey, who could still navigate and live at home, they knew that that was a safe place where I could go and buy a couple of pieces of fruit and some bread, and the person there can help me navigate that. So that’s really innovative and that goes back years.

Ellen Belk:

So America, as great as we are, and as great as we think we are, and we are fabulous, we’re behind in terms of our aging innovation in the aging space. Fingers crossed, that’s going to start to really change rapidly and for the good.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes, but we need to put some energy behind it because it definitely needs some change. I think we all know that. And hopefully this is a bit of a catalyst, I can definitely attest to that, needs to happen. So, okay. When you have a win in life, and this could just be anything, it doesn’t have to be business, it could be personal. Maybe you have a new marriage in the family, a new baby, a graduation, or you get a new client or whatever it is.

How do you like to celebrate? We always ask that fun question.

Ellen Belk:

It’s so funny. I read that question and I’m like, I sleep late the next day. Especially when you work for yourself, you’re humping it all the time. I took a client call on a Saturday and he thanked me, and I was traveling. I was on the road on a Saturday and he thanked me and thanked me, I’m like, dude, I own my own business. I answer the phone all the time. So, I just want to sleep. I long for more than eight hours. I’m a girl that loves to sleep, and I don’t get a lot. I know that sounds really weird, and I do some self care.

How I celebrate is I… And again, I talk a lot, but actually, no one who knows me probably believes this. I do like to just be quiet, go for a walk let’s disengage, because when you’re on all the time, which I often have to be, for many, many, many hours throughout the day, every single day, I just need to not be on.

Ellen Belk:

So I want to sleep late and probably nest at home and have hallmark channels on in the background. That’s a good day for me because I can just reboot, so that when the next day comes along… obviously marriages and weddings, I’m all in. And then I definitely need to sleep the next day, because I’ve probably overindulged in happy juice at the wedding, but if it’s just day to day stuff that I’m celebrating in terms of getting a new client or whatever, it is just some self care weaved in, and, and it just helps me recharge my batteries to keep on keeping on.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

My gosh, sleeping late, on a Saturday or a Sunday, now that my kids are 13, there are three of them, triplets, and they’re 13, and they don’t wake me up. It’s the best thing ever to recharge.

Ellen Belk:

That’s amazing to have triplets. Oh my gosh.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Oh, yeah. Another story, but they’re great. And they’re at that age where they’re not going to, until they’re hungry, they’re probably not going to wake me up. They’re self sufficient, but people letting me sleep on a weekend is just amazing.

Ellen Belk:

Yeah, it’s gold. It’s gold.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Once a while during the week, but, yeah it is. All right. Well, thank you so much, Ellen, you have really, you’ve done a great job. We love learning about you, your business, and your hope for innovation and you’re charged to help others understand more about what we can do differently. So thank you for that.

Ellen Belk:

Well, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

All right. Thank you.