Larry Minnix is a man whose radiance fills every room he graces. That’s true as well of his recently published book, Hallowed Ground: Stories of Successful Aging. It fills the soul. The book is a celebration of those who work in senior living.
A Warm, Caring Man.
Larry’s embrace of others is so instant and compelling that all who know him are on a first-name basis. I’ve seen him address an audience of thousands, and he exudes the same intimacy in that forum as in his caring approach to one-on-one conversations. His book is a very personal memoir of his life journey and of his commitment to taking the sting out of aging and beyond.
The book is well-written with an engaging, personal narrative style. It is candid in that disarming way that all who have known Larry Minnix have experienced first-hand. Surprisingly, Larry reveals an earthy, scatological side in this very personal book. Larry is a great storyteller, and when writing of his own life and his origins, he lets the chips fall where they may. Larry’s Southern heritage is more reminiscent of Tennessee Williams than of William Faulkner.
As with most memoirs, Hallowed Ground advances Larry’s own views of his career in aging and senior living. It doesn’t pretend to be a discerning analysis of our nation’s current aging policy. Larry unabashedly supports what he calls “planned communities” as a secure place to live once age-related challenges set in. He himself, though, has not yet moved to such a community.
National Aging Policy.
This is not irrelevant. If we think about national aging policy, it’s evident that all socioeconomic strata, all ethnicities, all persuasions are subject to the same contingencies of aging – frailty, loss of cognition, unpredictable onset, and increased dependency. The continuum of care model, which guided senior living in the days when homes for the aged – 2 – were all-inclusive charitable havens for church workers, war widows, and the poor, is as valid today as it was then.
The challenge is for sustaining services delivered when and as needed. How to fund them is a separate matter. This may not appear to be the case when financial interests involved with pensions, 401(k) plans, and long-term care insurance seek to influence policy. These are all money benefit programs; senior living specializes in service delivery. Money measures can tell us where we need to improve service delivery efficiency, but a compassionate solution is central to any response to the hazards of aging.
Enemies of Healthy Aging.
Larry cites five “enemies of healthy aging:” (1) social isolation and clinical depression; (2) safety hazards, especially bathrooms, kitchens, and automobiles; (3) mismanaged medical care, especially over medication; (4) poor nutrition; and (5) mismanaged finances and uncoordinated service delivery. For number 5, Larry remarks, “Charlatans abound around vulnerable seniors’ pensions, social security checks, and tangible assets like jewelry and silver.”
Some, though not all, of these threats, are addressed by “planned communities.” After moving in, extroverts like Larry, and his mother who features prominently in the book, can readily find friends and connection. The best senior residences avoid slippery bathroom and kitchen floors. Still, “planned communities” don’t do much about mismanaged medical care. Food service can ensure attractive meals, though nutritional balance is generally a matter of individual responsibility.
Finally, is the concern that gullible elderly may be financially bilked, most often, as Larry observes, by family and so-called friends. Then, perhaps considering whether “planned communities,” are profit-seeking businesses or value committed charities, Larry notes, “Yes, there are bad [‘planned communities’] that do not deliver good quality and value for the money. But many serve an important role in generating the power of community and as a protector of watchful oversight.” This was a subject for conversations between Larry and – 3 – resident advocates while he was CEO of LeadingAge. It’s a tribute to Larry that he was open to such discussions, and he welcomed them.
Offering a secure place to age calls for fiduciary level standards of financial and protective security. It is disconcerting that the industry, LeadingAge and its for-profit counterparts, haven’t developed programs such as those that protect people who pay into other trust industries, such as banking, securities brokerage, pensions, and life insurance. Such a proactive dream for “planned communities” could prevent fiascos such as that which recently overtook Air Force Village West, depriving the residents there of the continuing care contracts on which they had relied.
I first met Larry Minnix through Charlie Paulk, who then was President of the National Continuing Care Residents Association (NaCCRA). As CEO of LeadingAge, at the time still the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, Larry wanted to bring residents into the deliberations of LeadingAge. He was convinced that the divide between providers and residents was artificial and that the two organizations would be stronger working together.
In the hope of building mutual trust, Larry offered to support NaCCRA with LeadingAge resources if NaCCRA would support LeadingAge’s advocacy agenda. That didn’t work out fully because Charlie, as NaCCRA President, felt that too many provider views conflicted with the best interests of residents. The differences ranged from transparency to issues like inclusion of residents in corporate governance. Nuances in the book suggest that Larry listened then, and may understand more clearly now, as he himself is transitioning from provider support toward his own aging.
The book is a tribute to the redemptive power of service and of the contribution of Southern culture and Judeo-Christian Ministry to the senior living industry. It’s a chronicle of what senior living has been and can be valuably read by all who are crafting the senior living that can be for those who age in the 21st century.
Submitted by: Jack Cumming, a LifePlan Community resident