Steve Shields Talks Culture Change 2.0


I recently had the chance to interview a bona fide visionary in the senor living industry, one whose contributions have defined entire new approaches to the nature of elder care and served as a catalyst for broad scale culture change. Now Steve Shields is at it again, this time with a broader vision for the entire healthcare industry.

Steve Shields, CEO of Action Pact, is an international thought and action leader in the creation of innovative models in senior living. He is a sought-after keynote speaker and workshop presenter on leadership and transformation in senior living and hospital care. He was formerly President and CEO of Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community in Manhattan, KS – an internationally-known senior living provider that pioneered and shaped the “Household Model” in the 1990s under his leadership. Shields and LaVrene Norton co-authored the book, “In Pursuit of the Sunbeam, a Practical Guide to Transformation from Institution to Household,” which is currently in its sixth printing and has sold in all 50 states and numerous foreign countries. He is also the co-author of “The Household Model Business Case,” a definitive work establishing viability of this model in long-term care.

By Bill Pemberton, Editor

TEN-PLUS YEARS AGO, Steve Shields was instrumental in introducing the “Household Model,” a person-centered concept that transformed the senior care experience from an impersonal institution to the warmth of a family around a fireplace, direct access to kitchen sights and smells, and familiar faces every day. It all added up to an atmosphere of genuine home, while providing elders with clear opportunities to direct their own lives. That move towards being “just-like-home” spurred a tidal wave of culture change that has been sweeping through the senior care industry ever since.

According to Shields, that was only the beginning, however, of a broader call to person-centered care—one that will be even more transformative than the first. As before, he is already putting the vision into practice and leading the way forward with bold applications. But first, some context.

“Like the Household Model, The Affordable Care Act and its ultimate successor put the focus on person-centered care, but this time across the full continuum of healthcare in this country—and effectively mandates that all healthcare services see themselves as part of a larger continuum of integrated services,” said Shields. “So, the pressure for healthcare entities has never been greater to reposition and reorganize to align with others in that model, with compensation based on shared patient outcomes.”

Shields says that historically, the elder-focused, senior care component—usually long term, sub-acute care—was not considered part of the nation’s healthcare infrastructure. Now, it’s being re-examined and invited into the “club” of medical care providers such as hospitals and doctors’ clinics, at last.

“The senior care field was already used to integration with other phases of care and particularly understands long term care issues like treatment for chronic illness and chronic disease. The hospitals realize this is not their expertise—and openly acknowledge their need for direction from the long-term sector. This is the opportunity for senior care providers to lead. But they must take the initiative.”

Shields and his company, Action Pact, have already stepped up by driving an extraordinary, multi-generational new project near Kansas City, MO, called Norterre—due to open this Fall. This project offers a regional market access to a full spectrum of wellness and fitness options, which can begin with membership in a huge health center, access to an established, regional hospital and short-stay rehab center, and—for older “members”—an assisted living and memory care community, soon to add independent living. Each of these service areas is connected by sophisticated case management information on every member/patient to expedite integrated services across the continuum. Caregivers will get a full sense of each resident’s health and wellness journey delivered whole—not hidden in data silos offering only parts of a puzzle.

In the health and fitness center, seniors will find themselves working out next to 20-somethings, and benefiting from the intangible yet vital bonding that happens when different generations mix and share life perspectives. Beyond the sights and smells and of the kitchen, Steve and Co. have added a garden of eucalyptus and lavender plants, which fill the air with a soothing and therapeutic aroma. To top off the sensory feast, Norterre includes a curated art gallery with 1,000 quality items to engage their eyes and intrigue their minds. How better to age successfully?

“Culture change 2.0 is person-centered care across all of the healthcare continuum. But healthcare providers must respond faster to the new culture change than the first one. Those who are behind on the concept will have to move faster and more aggressively to catch up. Given the opportunity, most providers will leave their comfort zone to act on a clear vision of how to better serve their constituents. There will be struggles; but for those providers who want to survive and thrive under this bold, new vision for patient-centered care, there really is no other option.”

In a world where true visionaries are actually quite rare, Steve Shields is one. The passion that has informed his career in senior care is the animus behind his message: “people come first in every decision.” It’s not only the most humane approach, but, as it turns out, the best business approach as well. It may reshuffle the traditional deck but everyone gets a better deal. Anyone interested in what’s over the horizon in healthcare should visit Norterre.

You can see the future from there.


Norterre, Opening Fall 2017

Rendering services provided by Mayabious Art, courtesy of Action Pact Design


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