Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Kelly O’Connor and I am the founder of Senior Care Authority, Denver Metro. I am an elder care consultant, senior living placement advisor, and an elder rights advocate. My mission is to celebrate my elders every day and to support them and their families in making empowered decisions about their future. I do that through education, advocacy, and innovation.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I was going through a personal crisis in my early 40s. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I had always said that I would volunteer for hospice one day after seeing how amazing those workers were when my mother was very ill and passed away. Being at a crossroads in life, I decided it was the time to do that. I started volunteering, I went through all the training programs with a hospice agency, and then someone suggested that I go into senior living. I didn’t even realize that was an industry. I started from the bottom up making $12.50 an hour so that I could learn every aspect of senior care and senior living. I worked in independent living, assisted living, memory care, long-term care, skilled nursing, skilled nursing rehabilitation, hospice, and home care. That gave me a really good grasp of the entire industry and made me realize that families truly needed someone to advocate for them. There’s lots of information out there, lots of acronyms, lots of terms that people use incorrectly. I really wanted to be that hub of information for families making decisions regarding their next step.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I stand for positive aging. We have negative stereotypes about what aging means in society. It starts even for people in their 30s and 40s and it continues throughout life. We need to create a new model for elderhood, a new vision for what that means in society with purpose and with a vision for who our elders will be. There’s a lot of people talking about the longevity economy: how do we fund this? What I talk about is the longevity lifestyle: what are we going to do? What are our lives going to look like? I’ve recently embarked on that journey in addition to supporting families in Denver.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
I save families a significant amount of time in research, trying to find which senior living support services to choose. First and foremost it’s saving them time. The second impact that I make is providing them with confidence in their decision-making. When you’re having to make decisions for an older loved one, everyone second guesses themselves. They stay up late at night, they can’t sleep, and they doubt themselves. By providing them with information to make empowered decisions, I can really help ease their stress and give them peace of mind. When I hear from a client that I reduced their anxiety, that’s a good day. Because they’re able to have less stress in their own life through the help I’ve given, that creates a butterfly effect elsewhere. That’s the kind of impact and fulfillment that I get.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I first got into the business for seniors. I absolutely love older adults. They are funny, they are experienced, they are wise, and we have so much to learn from them. That was the primary reason I got into this business – I just wanted to help them. I grew up in a multi-generational household with two grandmothers who lived with us. They raised us when my parents were busy working. So their friends were my best friends. Getting into this work was a way to bring those intergenerational relationships back into my life. What I found is that these beautiful, vibrant, older adults were being pigeon-holed into this “little old lady” or “little old man” box. That doesn’t fit for today’s seniors. I don’t know if it ever fit.
As a society, we need to recognize people for their individual skills, gifts, and talents and celebrating that at every age. I’m on a mission to figure out how am I going to bust through the little old lady box? I’m turning 55 this year. I grew up on hip hop and fabulous music. I am not going to go play bingo unless it’s drag queen bingo. So what is senior living going to look like for me? What is elder life going to be? What is senior care going to look like? There are a lot of us that are in this “End Ageism” movement. I’m excited to be a part of it.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
My vision is that as individuals, as human beings, we’re all celebrated for exactly who we are. That we have every opportunity for full self-expression, for dignity, for respect, and for quality of life. I have really committed my whole life to doing this. I don’t have children. I hate this term but I’m what is considered an “elder orphan.” I like the term “solo ager” a lot better. There’s another term – “the unbefriended patient,” and it’s basically someone who doesn’t have anyone. I am committed to making life better for my elders, but part of my contribution is selfish. I want to make life better for myself. I’m a gal who loves to get my nails done, I love to wear really funky fun clothes and I don’t want that to change at all. I want us all to find ways to support our elders and allow us to continue being who we are at our core and support how we want to interact with society.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
The biggest roadblock is changing the entire mindset of society. That’s a huge mind shift. There are kids who dress up like a little old lady or a little old man for a school day. If that is seen as a joke, someone with a walker and sagging Depends, that isn’t a dignified viewpoint of who seniors and older adults are. How do we shift an entire mindset of society? How do you shift all of the support services, including Medicare and Medicaid, to support people in living their most vibrant, expressive life? The prediction is that the people being born today will live to be 120. We used to pass away soon after we retired so the money that we had saved through our employment would last and we were able to fund our own health care. But when you start to look at living past 100 it’s a whole different conversation. You could presumably be retired close to as long as the time before retirement.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
If you will eventually be called to serve as an agent under a power of attorney for a loved one, you need to get educated today. So many people have no idea what Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care insurance, or supplemental insurance is. Medicare will allow up to 100 days in skilled nursing, making many people believe they have three months to make a decision but in reality, they have only three days. Get educated today, get ready to serve, because you never know when a crisis is going to happen.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
It’s derived from a Winnie the Pooh quote by author A.A. Milne. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know.” That’s my message for caregivers and for my elders.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Any family that’s looking for senior care or senior living support, I’m definitely here to help. Secondly, I’d love to be a speaker for any organization that’s looking for someone to address ageism, caregiver support, or the future of the longevity economy.
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