What’s old is what’s new. Or at least, what’s new is what’s happening for the old. We are about to experience a massive demographic shift in the United States such that by 2050, senior citizens will make up 20% of the population. Our nation, still young itself on the world stage, has never focused on the needs of the aging as much as other cultures have. Marketers, product developers, and software developers have seen those 18-30 as the drivers of demand and innovation. Well, get ready for the shift.
Kathryn Roberts, President and CEO of Ecumen (www.ecumen.org), a 4,000 employee senior services non-profit based in the Twin Cities, recognized this coming change for the opportunity that it is. Ecumen, aiming to better serve what will be the largest population group in new, positive ways, has led the way with an open focus on innovation and technology. As a result of Kathryn’s vision, Ecumen, formerly the Board of Social Ministry, re-branded in 2004, shifted primary focus from nursing homes to senior housing, and now routinely engages with the tech community to look for ways to improve the life of its clients.
As one example, Ecumen now employs GE’s QuietCare technology in much of its housing. QuietCare monitors and transmits information on residents’ daily activities, looking for deviations from routine that could indicate distress or incapacitation. Ecumen is also an active partner with Mill City Commons, working to build a virtual senior-oriented community that overlays the real neighborhood in view of the Guthrie and aims at keeping people in their neighborhood “for life.” Seniors in Ecumen’s system also have access to Ecumen Connects, a social network that connects seniors with each other and allows for viewing and sharing many types of digital content.
As a result of these other critical innovation steps, Ecumen is on solid financial and operational footing and is a national leader in harnessing technology for the benefit of our growing aging population (not just for teens and 20-somethings).
Kathryn Roberts Facts:·
- Kathryn graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in Psychology, received an M.S. in Special Education from Mankato State University and has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of Minnesota
- The first woman appointed to lead a major zoo, at age 34, she took over operations of the Minnesota Zoo, dramatically increased attendance and revenues and built the first environmental high school located at a zoo.
- Kathryn led the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission in the effort to keep the Minnesota Twins in Minnesota (successfully!).
- She is chair of the Minnesota Veterans Health Care Advisory Council.
- Prior to joining Ecumen, Kathryn was vice president of the Minneapolis Foundation.
- Named as one of the Twin Cities’ “Best Brains” by MSP Magazine in 2008.
- Member of the Boards of LeadingAge, VocalEssence and Northland College in Ashland, WI
- Honored by the U. of Minnesota’s College of Education as one of its 100 Distinguished Alumni in the first 100 years of the College
Some quotes by Kathryn:
- “[P]eople want to stay in their own homes and . . . people really need support to do it so that they’re not isolated and they’re getting the services they need. They need to be empowered to be as independent as they possibly can be.”
- “This is an incredible time to be doing work in changing aging. The forces of consumer desire, demographics, technology, public policy and longevity have created such fertile ground for collaboration and innovation in Minnesota and far beyond.”
- "We are working to create a suite of services that will give a dispersed group of individuals a shopping suite of everything from groceries delivered to dog-sitters to picking up your daughter at the airport, with Ecumen’s stamp of approval. There would be health components. Within a neighborhood people would communicate and have a social network and support for each other. It’s all about creating ways to empower people.”
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