In 2019, the theme of the LeadingAge national conference was "What If...." It encouraged members to consider new possibilities and alternate viewpoints such as:

What if all individuals lived their later years with dignity and respect?
What if jobs in our field were valued and coveted?
What if all older adults had access to high-quality services and supports?

"What if" is an age-old and fundamental starting place for scientific theory, but also exploration and anticipation. It's safe to say that few at the end of 2019 or the start of 2020 had spent much time with a hypothetical that looked like "What if a pandemic strikes and the virus at its heart targets older adults in congregate settings?" But here we all are, a year later, at the beginning of spring, with vaccines ever more rapidly being deployed, and with renewed hope for what our "new normal" will look like.

Now is the time to circle back to "What if...."

What if LeadingAge PA members could pivot in the future as quickly as they did during the pandemic to implement new practices?

What if long-standing business practices will never be entirely viable again?

What if the resiliency our teams showed throughout this past year was recognized and celebrated all the time?

What if our hiring processes could all occur on a mobile device?

What if the collaborations that members sought in order to survive were a model for the way we lead into the future?

What if community partnerships that developed out of necessity were cultivated to advance our missions?

I know we're not through this entirely, and we all know that our organizations and lives may never return to what we would previously have referred to as normal, but we have the opportunity in the here and now to shape the "new normal" in meaningful ways. That opportunity will be fleeting but pivotal. Asking "What if..." of our teams and our boards today will open our organizations to potential futures before we settle into what becomes the day-to-day once again.

We have to seize this opportunity. As one member put it recently, "When we shut down, we went from zero to Mach 1 in a day, and when we reopened, we did it again." Our members have shown that we can pivot with a speed most never thought possible, and we need to embrace that ability. As we do, of course, we must be cognizant that especially right now burnout, fatigue, and trauma are very real within our teams. As such, we must move thoughtfully, but that doesn't mean hesitantly. Force the questions, be open to unanticipated answers, and then act.

In a recent article by Sachin H. Jain[1], he wrote, "At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare organizations showed remarkable agility because the situation demanded it. Crisis-mode decision-making that emphasized goals, outcomes, and necessity instead of consensus and buy-in enabled healthcare organizations to achieve 5-10 years of clinical transformation...in as few as 5-10 weeks." He continued, "If you want to implement change, then you've got to go ahead and do so. You can't wait around for everyone to buy into your idea. You can't endlessly test every idea with every committee in an effort to increase buy in. And you can't delay implementation as a means to avoid making others uncomfortable."

Nonprofits have traditionally fallen into some of the habits that he warns against. It's not easy, and it's not simple, but now the time is ripe to create new methodologies and practices that turn into new habits. By doing so, we will open up new futures for our missions and new opportunities to serve older adults. What if we don't?



[1] https://www-forbes-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.forbes.com/sites/sachinjain/2021/03/16/healthcare-holdups-death-by-pilot-and-the-scourge-of-incrementalism/amp/