In the one year she’s served as executive director of the Senior Resource Council, Kelsie Heermans has begun to fulfill her mission to make sure all senior citizens, and the Colorado Springs businesses who serve those seniors, have the resources needed to support the best life possible.
That’s been Heermans’ mission since she was 16 years old, when she started her career in health care working in the kitchen of an assisted living facility in her hometown of Hutchinson, Minn.
“I’ve always had a natural want to serve others and it just came out with the elderly,” she said.
Heermans attended college at Metro State University in Denver where she majored in health care management and minored in gerontology.
While senior care has always been her passion, it was her grandma’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s that firmly instilled in her what she wanted to do with her professional life. Since then, she’s learned all she can about the aging process and how to help families through it, all the while making it known that aging doesn’t have to be scary, as it’s often made out to be.
How did your experience with your grandma affect your career?
She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and, being from a small town, it was like, ‘Sorry to tell you, Grandma has Alzheimer’s. Good luck.’ There was no education for us. As kids, being 15 years old, it was a scary thing. She would repeat questions. Her personality changed. She changed physically. It was really rough. She ended up having a severe complication from Alzheimer’s and got an infection and passed away. When that happened, it clicked. This is kind of my way of making it up to her — getting educated and educating other people about aging, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Describe your role as executive director.
It’s a blend of everything I love. It’s in senior care but it’s really more dealing on the side of professionals. I support and connect professionals in senior care to help them serve our seniors better. [The Senior Resource Council] is a membership organization, so any person or company that is a member is somebody that considers seniors their clients. If you have an interest in learning how to serve seniors better, there are endless amounts of services that people don’t know about that can benefit aging and the senior’s family. My main goal is to support the professionals. The goal isn’t for us to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s for us to increase our reach and make Colorado Springs and Teller County the best place to get senior care.
Who are the members of the Senior Resource Council?
Our membership base is very broad. We’ve all the facilities — assisted living, nursing homes, lots of home care companies. We have Realtors who specialize in senior placement. We even have car dealerships. It’s a really diverse group. Right now, we have over 160 businesses that are members. I provide opportunities for them to learn, network and collaborate. Members pay a low, annual fee and will be listed on our website as a resource.
What do you do for your members?
We do monthly events. During Quarter 1 [this year], all of our topics will be based around business development — how to grow your business. Most people in senior care have a heart for seniors but may not have the business acumen. We’ve had a nurse from Denver come down and talk about the medicinal uses of marijuana in dying and aging clients. We had a packed house there. It was very informative. We also do three large events during the year that are not only for our members, but for the community. We’re that middle person educating the professionals that serve seniors. We direct them to a website [and to people who provide the services they need]. A great resource in town is the Senior’s Bluebook, which is a compilation of every possible service in [the area]. We work closely with them.
Have you seen any progress in the treatment of Alzheimer’s that encourages you?
There’s a huge study going on at the Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora. Dr. Huntington Potter is a brilliant man working on different cures. He’s done tons of research for years and years. As far as I know, [a treatment is] going into human trials. Most of the time they’ll stop after they do the initial trial. It sounds like the biggest factor right now is cost.
Talk about your first job with seniors.
When I worked in the kitchen when I was 16, it was such a neat experience for me because, not only was I in the kitchen cooking the food, I actually got to serve it to the residents. I got to talk to them and hear the neatest stories and see a husband and wife, who’ve been together for 60 years, have a candlelight dinner every night.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Getting the word out about what we do. This is our 30th year in business and we’re finally breaking out.