2017 Leader of Tomorrow: Kelly Papa

During a meeting, someone asked Kelly Papa a question she didn’t know the answer to. Instead of panicking, she picked up her phone and sent a group text. Her phone pinged for the rest of the meeting with responses. The experience was a reaffirmation of the power of networking and the vision for what she wanted to create.

In addition to her job as corporate director of learning at Masonicare University, Wallingford, Connecticut, a corporate university for Masonicare Corporation, Papa is building an inclusive network to connect people all over Connecticut who are passionate and touched by dementia. The cross-discipline group brings together people with dementia, their loved ones, gerontologists, certified nursing assistants, administrators, hospice providers, music therapists, nurses, doctors, educators, directors of nursing and interior designers, among others.

Kelly Papa,
Corporate Director of Learning
Masonicare University Wallingford, Connecticut

Her dream was fueled by her participation in the LeadingAge Leadership Academy Fellowship. “I know in a minute if I call any one of these people they are going to help me. I don’t need to be an expert of all of it, I just need to know other people who are as dedicated as I am,” Papa says of her fellowship cohort. “That’s been a gift to my life, and I wanted to give back that gift. I just feel like we all become stronger when we share.”

Her dream became a reality last October with the founding of ECHO: A dementia summit. One hundred and fifteen people attended the day-long conference, and eight speakers delivered personal, emotional and vulnerable presentations without PowerPoint slides in the style of TED talks.

The summit introduced and built momentum for The ECHO Year, a year-long educational academy that breaks down silos to advance the awareness of dementia care, support and services throughout Connecticut and created an opportunity for people to share perspectives, experiences and insight.

The inaugural cohort of 23 people includes an educator, geriatric nurse, day-care workers, assisted living workers, care manager and gerontologist, all of whom bring their own piece to the dementia puzzle. “We have a hospice nurse and when her voice is part of the conversation, it reminds us that we spend a lot of time thinking about people in early stages and what we can be doing for them, but a different reality for a lot of people is their current need right now is quality end-of-life care.”

The group meets for one- and two-day gatherings throughout the year to hear from people with dementia, review dementia literature, share their experiences and help plan the next summit. But beyond that, Papa hopes to continue to cultivate and grow this group of inspired people to build a supportive network dedicated to each other and a common vision for meaningful change to occur.

“If we could pull a group of people together, enhance their capacities to lead and then connect them all, we can create a real new fabric in Connecticut for supporting people with dementia,” Papa says.

It’s a model she adopted from her time spent serving as subcommittee chair of the Workforce Development Committee for the State of Connecticut Task Force on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In 2015, she was one of a few providers present in a diverse group of people who were tasked to create a plan about what the state may need and what policies should be put in place within the next decade to support people with dementia. 

At first she didn’t understand why there were judges, paramedics or people from the department of motor vehicles. She quickly realized every piece of the community is affected by dementia and that impact will continue to grow. The task force reminded Papa about the importance of seeing the greater picture. “We all have different tasks and work at different organizations that touch people on the dementia spectrum,” Papa says. 

They published their report and testified. They all moved on, but after a few months, Papa was already missing her committee members and their rich, diverse conversations. She even thought of more perspectives she wanted to hear. It’s no surprise, then, that Papa’s dream is also inclusive. If anything, ECHO has put a lot of pieces for Papa’s diverse experiences into picture.

Through her work at Masonicare University, Papa supports nine other educators across the state who bring out the best in employees through continuous learning opportunities. Masonicare University also offers much of their educational materials to non-employees at little or no cost.

Papa previously worked as director of education for the Alzheimer’s Resource Center of Connecticut. She has also taught as an adjunct professor and published eight books on the industry, including “Effective Nurse Leadership: Transforming Long-Term Care.” She received the Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing in 2011. Papa is a dementia care specialist trainer and presents nationally on culture change, dementia and learning organizations.

Her ultimate goal is to echo the summits and academy across the country to share innovations from dementia care organizations, leaders and researchers. “I want people to realize their unique perspective is a piece of a bigger puzzle,” Papa says. “But what we need to know is that we are more effective when all those pieces come together. The group will be stronger when you share your voice.”

Topics: Advocacy , Alzheimer's/Dementia , Articles , Leadership