I loved listening to this week’s podcast, featuring senior director Susan Ryan in conversation with Pat Sprigg, the CEO of Carol Woods, a retirement community in North Carolina.
Referencing Maya Angelou
In 1975, Sprigg began her first job working with elders but entered the job with apprehension – she never saw herself working with elders and wasn’t sure whether she would like it. She was quickly struck by how harsh society’s views were on aging, and this one experience formed the philosophy that has shaped her entire career.
Sprigg referenced a famous Maya Angelou quote when she described the environment at Carol Woods: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Sprigg has worked hard to design a community in line with this sentiment. At Carol Woods, there is no segregation of elders with dementia – everyone lives together. If an elder seems to be having problems, the staff at Carol Woods is trained not to default to a textbook response but to sit with the elder and understand what might be triggering their discomfort.
An example that I absolutely loved was the approach that Carol Woods has taken in caring for elders with dementia that forget how to get back home if they’ve traveled out. Rather than control where elders can go on the Carol Woods campus, staff simply jump on the bus with them and make sure they can get back home. As Sprigg says, “person-centered means person-centered.”
Carol Woods is uniquely innovative in a space like eldercare, which has a long history of doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the negative consequences.
For example, none of the residential buildings are multi-storied – they’re all spread out, like a park, situated in acres of lush green grass, so that elders can get around without the hassle of an elevator or stairs. The health center, rather than being at the fringe of the community, is at the very center, so that the most frail and vulnerable elders are not relegated to being outsiders.
I took two things from this podcast: the first is that people who truly move the needle, in any field, are the people that are uncomfortable with stagnancy and comfortable asking “what if?”
The second thing I took away is that a strong moral compass as acting director can almost replace the need for a physical CEO or ED. In fact, as Sprigg reflected on her nearing retirement, she expressed that Carol Woods has never been dependent on her. That, to me, is the mark of a timeless organization – one that is not profit-directed, but mission-directed.