As he looks to retire as CEO of Kin On, a non-profit health and social services provider for the Asian community, Nigel Lo imagines a future in which more people age at home, close to their families and communities.
Lo began his involvement with Kin On as a board member from 1998 to 2006 and was elected board president from 2002 to 2003. Returning as CEO in 2018 gave Lo a welcome new vantage, as he has steered Kin On through a challenging past year. Not only has COVID-19 hit the eldercare industry hard, but a fire at the Eng Suey Sun Plaza on June 25, leveled Kin On’s headquarters for home care and social services.
“I realized that that the seniors, the residents’ lives are depending on my decisions and actions,” said Lo. “During this time of crisis, I am humbled by our team’s ongoing resilience and dedication, and I am grateful to have contributed to this mission.”
As Lo departs, Kin On is on strong footing for the future, which includes the organization’s most ambitious project – a joint initiative with International Community Health Services (ICHS) to build a $20 million central hub for senior care on Beacon Hill. Called AiPACE, it will cater to the API community and allow frail, nursing-home eligible seniors to “age in place.”
“I truly believe the power of AiPACE is changing the future of eldercare,” said Lo, who is looking forward to spending his next chapter with family and “creating memories.”
Lo recently shared some parting thoughts on the future of Kin On and how it can best serve API elders, pointing out, “Leading Kin On for the past three years has been one of the most significant and rewarding experiences of my life.”
IE: How important is culturally competent care?
Nigel Lo: I can answer this from personal experience. My mother lives at an assisted living facility in Canada and had a couple of falls that put her in the hospital. She doesn’t speak English and I vividly remember her saying that she couldn’t communicate with the nurses. She told me about being cold and reaching for a sweater. The hospital thought she was trying to escape. So, they tied her down. At that moment, I knew how fortunate we are to have an organization like Kin On. We have people who can speak your language. We serve the kind of food that you’re used to eating. I cannot imagine what my mother went through and the pain of not being able to communicate.
IE: What are some of the challenges currently facing the nursing home industry?
NL: There are across-the-board staffing challenges. Staffing a nursing home that serves the minority community is even more challenging. Our talent pool is limited to those with the right background and skills, including language skills and cultural understanding. A mainstream nursing home has access to a much broader base of nurses and certified nursing aides. Naturally, our pool is much smaller. So, it’s up to us to demonstrate that we have a quality organization. That seems to attract a lot of local talent.
IE: How has COVID-19 impacted Kin On?
NL: The impacts have been the same as any long-term care facility – including staffing, testing, PPE and financial pressure from additional costs – but we have gotten a lot of support from our community, so we were very fortunate. One of the big changes is staff, especially administrative staff, working remotely. We are a service organization, so we do need to see each other and coordinate a lot of activity, but we work around it. Fortunately, back in February, Kin On had the foresight that it was likely a matter of time before COVID-19 reached the U.S. and we started preparing quite early. There has been a lot of improvisation in how we set up our day-to-day activities.
IE: Any key lessons learned?
NL: I remember when I first joined Kin On’s board of directors and (former CEO) Sam Wan talked quite a bit about the innovative idea of providing an aging in place program. This pandemic just highlights the importance and value of the PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care) model. People worry about going into a nursing home during a pandemic. They still need help – but they are not coming in. For example, Kin On’s occupancy has rate dropped almost 10% to 85%. We have 100 beds and normally we would have 95% occupancy. AiPACE would allow us to reach out and provide services at home, safe and secure. People wouldn’t be on their own to face their challenges. AiPACE is the next step in our evolution to best serve the community.
IE: What are the advantages of ‘aging in place?’
NL: The single most important benefit is that the participant or family members don’t have to look for services on their own. For example, let’s say you have a fall. Once you are discharged from the hospital, you’re on your own to find rehab or long-term care or services. With AiPACE, you have an interdisciplinary team, working together to determine what, where, when and how you’ll receive care. The second most important thing is that, with PACE, you combine long-term care along with primary care. Your primary, dental and vision care is integrated with your home and your long-term care. It’s one comprehensive coverage that your team designs for you. That is a huge benefit for people with needs.
IE: Does the community have a role in AiPACE?
NL: This is such an important program for our community. If we miss it, we’ll regret it 10, 15 years from now. Our nursing home can support 90 to 100 people, but AiPACE can support hundreds or more. It could be thousands, when we do it right. We need the entire community to get behind AiPACE and to inspire a young generation of leaders to step up and get involved. All of us in the API community must come together to make it happen.
IE: What are your thoughts about passing the torch to an emerging generation of API leaders?
NL: Baby boomers like myself, who are in their 60s or late 50s, will retire soon. It’s important that we, as a community, prepare the next generation of leaders and inspire them to pick health care as a career. It’s important to reach out and let people know what we do within the community. We’re more than just a nursing home. We provide a full spectrum of services, from healthy living programs to home care support. Communication is key to finding compassionate people who say, “This is what I want to do or set my career towards.”
IE: What advice would you like to pass onto your successor?
NL: If there is one thing that I want to pass on to the new CEO, it’s that I believe a true leader is the one who can inspire a new generation and everyone on the team to do the right thing – to have the compassion to take care of our elders as if they are your parents. In the real world, sometimes caregivers get tired. It’s important to be able to step back and look for help. Compassion to inspire the new generation is key.