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Introducing: Mark Parkinson...

April 11, 2011
by Kevin Kolus, Editor
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and his recollections for a time to come
Left to right: Mark Parkinson’s official headshot with the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL); Parkinson on New Year’s Eve 1999 with his facility residents.

Mark Parkinson can't part with his eldercare memories. These moments are as important to his professional identity as anything else that's happened throughout his life.

Take the time many years ago when he came upon a female resident in one of his facilities, sitting in the dining room, bleeding from her forehead. This particular senior had thin skin that would tear easily. And on this day, no one knew how the tear had developed, just that it needed to be closed. So Parkinson watched as his then nine-year-old son, Alex, approached the resident without orders to do so and placed a washcloth to her face, delicately staunching the wound, displaying calmness and maturity and instinct. “It was a moment when I thought, ‘Wow, I am so glad we are doing this,’” says Parkinson in proud remembrance.

Who exactly “we” is has come to define Parkinson's first few months on the job as president of the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living. He says “we” in referring to his associations‘ membership of skilled nursing and senior living providers. “We” is also the collective designation for his fellow owners and operators in this business, in which he has more than 15 years‘ experience. Most importantly, and in this instance, “we” is his family, who has been there for seemingly all of those decisive memories in long-term care.

From top to bottom: Mark Parkinson, sworn in as governor of Kansas on April 28, 2009, surrounded by his family; son Sam presents flowers to residents at an intimate event; Stacy Parkinson Hula-Hooping during a facility activity.

When the announcement was made last September that 53-year-old Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson would replace outgoing AHCA/NCAL President Bruce Yarwood in 2011, the governor released a statement in which he expressly mentioned his family's significance to this new career as association lobbyist. “My wife Stacy and I share a passion for this cause,” the statement read. To some observers, this may have appeared to solely reference his senior living ventures in 10 facilities—as CEO of Ad Astra Development and founder of various Allen Park, Inc., properties. “A lot of people think that maybe we were just passing investors in nursing homes, and that's really not it at all,” Parkinson now says. “Stacy and I quit practicing law in 1995 and we worked out of our facilities for 10 years. We did everything.”

The Parkinsons met on the second day of law school and have been inseparable for 30 years. (“There were only three years where we did not work side by side,” Parkinson says.) Uprooting themselves from law to long-term care made sense, as they wanted to devote themselves to the elderly. Building assisted living facilities and nursing homes “was incredibly important and rewarding work,” he says. “Now what the AHCA position allows us to do is fulfill our mission of improving the lives of older people and have an impact that is probably a thousandfold what we could achieve by building one facility at a time.” Association members, take note: The “we” in this quote is going to involve you. Parkinson has some pretty big plans for the future. And it all revolves around quality.

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Here's another long-term care story you might not have heard: Mark Parkinson once took his daughter Kit to a facility when she was but a little one. And on this day, his wife was elsewhere, probably attending to some serious business. As is the case with dependent two-year-olds, Kit eventually needed a diaper change—except that her father had, well,

misplaced the replacements.

“One of the residents helped him with that,” Stacy Parkinson says, unaffectedly, “by using Depends and some duct tape.” Mark remains silent, as if recalling some brief sentence served in the doghouse. “That was pretty funny—she continues, without a hint of amusement—and it's something I didn't learn about until about five years after it happened.” Both husband and wife then break out into laughter.

It was quite common for the Parkinsons to spend prolonged time at their facilities, the reasons for which extended beyond administrative upkeep. For example, Stacy Parkinson admits to not being much of a cook, so many of the family's holidays were shared with residents taking part in the meals prepared by staff. “Our children were blessed with many grandparents a hundred times over,” Stacy says. Their other son, Sam, grew up singing to and with the residents during activities. He's now studying at the Boston Conservatory with hopes of becoming an opera singer. One wonders if some elderly encouragement helped him form that dream.