Dayton Romero gravitated toward helping seniors at a young age. His childhood included regular visits to his grandmother’s nursing home in his hometown of Trinidad, where he learned how to mingle with the other residents. Those early interactions shaped his perspective on aging and seniors, preparing him to become Silver Key’s Senior Services Health Care Strategy and Integration director.
“In Trinidad, we had one small nursing home and we would constantly visit my grandmother, and I’d always talk to the other residents there as well,” Romero said. “Seniors are an invaluable source of wisdom and stories. My values are something that continue to drive me to be passionate, caring and wanting to learn from [seniors].”
That passion led Romero to attend UCCS, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in gerontology.
“One of my mentors, Dr. Sara Qualls, [UCCS psychology professor] is the director of the Gerontology Center and she inspired me to get my minor in gerontology,” Romero said. “I always knew I wanted to be in the health care field and went to UCCS wanting to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner, but the paths diverged. I learned so much from working with seniors at different capacities, from memory care to those who live independently, so it made sense to go after a gerontology minor.”
Shortly after graduation, Romero headed to Silver Key Senior Services, which works “to support a healthy quality of life for seniors, allowing them to age safely with dignity and independence.”
Silver Key’s mission aligned with Romero’s and has kept him there for almost seven years. In that time he has nearly completed his master’s in public health with a concentration in leadership and public health practice at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
He started as a case manager at Silver Key in 2015 and held the titles of manager, program manager of case management services, director of senior assistance programs and director of senior health and wellness before moving to his current position.
Romero’s peers have noticed his efforts. In 2019, he received a $10,000 scholarship from CVS to attend the American Society of Aging Institute in New Orleans. In October, Romero received the Mayor’s Young Leader Award for Sports Health and Wellness.
“I wouldn’t have the value, passion and drive today without my extraordinary support system,” Romero said. “My family, friends, mentors and team have helped me grow so much. Silver Key and its belief in me have put me in a position to contribute in meaningful ways.”
Romero spoke with the Business Journal about how Silver Key continues to help seniors locally, how his grandparents impacted his life and winning the Mayor’s Young Leader Award.
It sounds like your grandmothers molded you into someone who understands the struggles of being a senior adult.
Yeah, both of my grandmothers were a big part of my life. Unfortunately, I lost both of them last year in COVID. But they were a big part of my life in terms of my values, my worldview and my compassion. I’ve always been medically oriented, but they had an impact on where I am now. Someday, I hope to make a difference for seniors at a state and national level. I hope to inspire others to develop creative solutions to solve the many challenges seniors face. The bigger picture is a fire that burns inside me that makes me work hard and continue to carry this curiosity I have.
Is this what led you to Silver Key?
Actually, that was Sara Qualls. She wound up sending my résumé to Silver Key 6½ years ago and that was pretty much the launching pad to my career here. I started here as a case manager and worked with clients and worked through complex issues they experienced that inspired me to figure out how to make our internal processes easier and more accessible. My work there got me promoted to a manager and I expanded my thinking toward other programs like our food pantry, guardianship program, calls of reassurance, medical power of attorney and many others. This work has shown me that it takes a village to fix some of these challenges.
Do you think seniors have that village to assist with their needs?
No, there’s an underrepresentation of senior needs and acknowledgment in society and I feel the value of seniors can be improved. Ageism exists and as a society, as far as value systems, we place a lot of value on: How busy are you? How far did you move from home when you graduated college? There’s this unwritten value system that I think detaches family. There’s a Confucius philosophy called ‘Filial Piety.’ That is done in Asian cultures where they greatly value their older adults in their communities. They are the people they look to in times of adversity. I’m not saying let’s aspire to do anything like that. I’m just saying it’s something that’s become apparent to me, that sort of value system. If I’m living here and Grandma is in Florida, I still worry about my grandmother but I’m over here. I see technology being an antidote to help older adults. COVID has shown us health care workers are valuable to our infrastructure. We need creative solutions around capacity-building to make sure quality of care is not compromised for a subgroup of people.
Do you believe your work at Silver Key has made a difference?
I feel it has. Silver Key serves approximately 11,000 people annually and seniors directly. That’s a big chunk of our community and we’re there as their primary resources of support. Not to mention the ripple effect it has with families. Ten percent of clients who access our food pantry live in intergenerational households. We define intergenerational as a home with someone who lives there and is over 60 and someone who [lives there and] is under 18. We have a bigger impact than just the seniors; our work has family implications that we consider. The overall impact Silver Key is making is huge in terms of being a direct intervention for needs related to social determinants of health. It’s recognizing that having a roof over your head, having a ride to the doctor or to the grocery store and having food on the table are important. You have to understand those things are essential to someone’s quality of life. And that’s what Silver Key does for so many people in our community. We are the doers in our community. We receive 5,000 phone calls on a monthly basis to be a resource and guide for all those callers. When people connect with us, we’re across the desk from them grinding it out making sure they’re taken care of. We don’t just pass on phone numbers to somebody else.
Is there a specific case that shows how you all go out of your way to serve the senior community?
Housing is no secret as a challenge in our community. As a leadership team, we’ve made it a priority to say we’re on the front lines and see so many seniors who are hit so hard with housing issues. Silver Key has owned the Senior Heritage Plaza [on North Hancock Avenue] and has done housing navigation where we assist with rent assistance or prevent homelessness among seniors. There’s been an uptick in senior homelessness because of the unique barriers that they experience. Low, fixed income and the dismal component of job search are problems for so many seniors. They thought they’d have Social Security and would be good. But with our competitive housing market and so many [houses] in our attractive community, so many outside forces come in and buy properties, kick up rent and uproot seniors. We’ve seen it in four different instances: Emerald Towers [Apartments], Regency Towers, Taylor Apartments and most recently Arcadia [Plaza] Apartments. These are 55-plus communities being bought and the rent is jacked up by $500, $600. In all those instances, our case managers were on the front lines. With Regency we were at the gym with Red Cross talking to seniors. At Arcadia we listened to those seniors and guided them to help support them so they didn’t end up homeless. We wanted to ensure they didn’t fall through the cracks as a result of something out of their control. We can jump on our phone and see what’s available, head there and check it out. Seniors depend on Silver Key to provide them a list, which takes 40 hours a month to generate, that provides different housing options. We send that out bi-weekly in the mail or they can come in and get it.
You were honored with the Mayor’s Young Leader award from Mayor John Suthers in October. What did it mean to be honored for your efforts?
I earned this award in the ‘Sports, Health and Wellness’ category and it’s an absolute privilege to be recognized. We’re so fortunate to live in a city that recognizes its young leaders. I’ve had the honor of living in this community for 12 years and I’ve seen it grow in so many positive ways. That begins with the leadership in the city and all the movers and shakers across the industry, and it’s a big privilege to be a part of this community. My support system is extraordinary and I would not be able to focus on the many things I do without my support system, including my better half, Celeste Rivera.
My parents Randy and Yvonne Romero are the people who instilled my value system and equipped me to tackle things. They inspired my work ethic as did my grandparents. My sister Jaime Malamoutsis and my Silver Key family have also been huge. Silver Key has allowed me to learn from those around me and demonstrate my leadership skills in different avenues. If it wasn’t for the remarkable mission and vision of what we do here, I don’t think I would have the same drive or even be in the position to have been nominated. Being nominated was an honor and being further awarded was humbling and something I take with a lot of gravitas.