One Friday earlier this month, Vashon Community Care’s new executive director walked into the senior living facility’s dining room donning Seahawks apparel — and a bright smile.
Chatting with residents and providing a gentle embrace seemed effortless for Wendy Kleppe, who did the meet and greet at the end of her first week on the job. She succeeds Annette Crawford, who had been serving as interim executive director after Mike Schwartz suddenly stepped down in August.
Kleppe is no stranger to working for the elderly. She came to Vashon-Maury Island from CRISTA Senior Living, a Washington Christian-based retirement community, where she served in sales and marketing positions. Kleppe also worked as an account executive for CRISTA Media and before that as an administrator for Green Lake Church and Childcare Center in Seattle. She also owned a consulting business, Kleppe Konsulting, in Mill Creek for several years.
Aside from a BA from the University of Washington, Kleppe holds two licenses: one in aging and long-term support administration and another in assisted living leadership.
Kleppe was received warmly by residents at VCC on Friday, but the new administrator comes at a time of transition for the facility, owned by Transforming Age (TA). In the same year, VCC law leadership turnover and a transition from skilled nursing to memory care — a development that left some family members of residents disappointed in TA over how it was handled.
Kevin McNamara, TA’s director of operations, told The Beachcomber, “We’re very excited” over the fact that Kleppe is the new VCC executive director.
“We really took a very slow approach in recruitment to find the best fit for the community with the amount of experience that she has in multiple areas of health care,” he said. “It’s just so important to find someone that has the right cultural fit for the community and our organization.”
Kleppe sat down with The Beachcomber on Dec. 6 in her office at VCC for a Q&A.
The Beachcomber: As the new executive director of VCC, what do you want to say to the community to let them know you care about the island and its senior population?
Wendy Kleppe: Good question. I am just so excited to just get acquainted, find out what makes Vashon so unique — because not only does it have its own story, but each person has its own story. And collectively, those stories make up the culture of the island. That’s what I’m really excited to be a part of.
Then, of course, the aging adults that live here, the wisdom and the strength that they bring, they’re our family. I am so inspired by each and every elder that I meet in my line of work and I learn and grow from them. When they get to this very vulnerable stage in their life, we are so blessed to be able to support them. It’s a pay it forward kind of thing.
BC: People are just getting to know you, so what do you want to say to members of the community who are wondering what’s ahead for VCC and you can, effectively, as a leader, communicate with them so they know what’s going on?
WK: The industry is being flipped on its ire. It is the highest-regulated industry in the nation — meaning all the regulation that are coming down from the government side, from the state side, in order to run a nursing center, to run an assisted living, are very expensive … A lot of hospitals and other outside thought processes are not recommending for being able to send to a skilled nursing (facility) anymore. They would rather send to and say, “We’d prefer you go to an assisted living (facility) if they can handle your care.” … So, it’s not unique that Vashon closed down its skilled nursing is what I’m trying to say. Vashon’s history? Very unique.
BC: So what about the memory care aspect, is this becoming commonplace?
WK: Memory care, no, that’s been around for a very, very long time. This building hasn’t had that quality of programming for people who would suffer from demetia or cognative loss. The industry as a whole has been doing that for years.
BC: Are you looking forward to the fact that VCC will be helping in this way?
WK: Yes, absolutely. And the growing number of baby boomers who will be impacted by dementia loss, cognition loss, is tripling. It’s a huge number and no one really knows why. It’s a much needed service.
BC: Switching topics, what are some things you want to do with VCC?
WK: First goal would be just to be survey-ready. … I know that sounds very boring, but we live and breathe and die by surveys … The state of Washington regulates an annual survey for every licensed building. They have a team that comes out to every building. We have to be survey-ready in order to stay open.
BC: What are some other things you can think of?
WK: Really just getting some key positions filled. We’re looking for a sales and marketing person … and then just getting out in the community. I am so eager to just get out and meet people and really understand what Vashon is.
BC: I know your whole career path doesn’t have to do with seniors, but how did you get interested in serving this population.
WK: Oh, interesting. I think it was my grandparents. (I) spent a lot of summers with them in eastern Oregon. My grandfather is still alive. He will be 100 in March. His brother-in-law just passed away a year ago — he was 111. He was just totally with it.
There’s so much wisdom and richness and experience. I just want to absorb it. I just want to be in that space of learning. I consider myself an adult learner, but if I can just sit and be an absorber of their history and their knowledge, that’s proving that, because they want to share that. We all want to tell our story.