Future Leader: Shelley Li, Senior Regional Director of Operations, West Bay Senior Living
The Future Leaders Awards program is offered to you in partnership with PointClickCare. The program is designed to recognize promising members of the industry who are shaping the next decade in senior housing, skilled nursing, home care and palliative care. To see this year’s future leaders, visit Future online leaders.
Shelley Li, Senior Regional Director of Operations at West Bay Senior Living, has been named Future Leader 2021 by Senior Housing News.
To become a future leader, a person is nominated by his peers. The candidate should be a successful employee 40 years of age or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put the vision into action, and an advocate for seniors and committed professionals who care for their well-being.
Li spoke to Senior Housing News to talk about her professional journey, which took her to work in China in the United States. She also discusses how the industry is changing and why suppliers “won’t go back to the old way of doing things” after COVID-19.
What attracted you to the retirement home?
I was born and raised in China. I was born in the generation of only children. Whoever was born during these 20-30 years, we have no brothers and sisters. As my parents’ generation gets older, they will definitely need a lot of help and support. In China, tradition has it that children shoulder most of the responsibility, whether financially or physically, for caring for elderly parents. But with my generation, my husband and I, we have four elderly parents who we have to take care of and we have to raise the children. So there are simply not enough resources. That’s why I got into the industry.
I still find it amazing that when I first looked for entry-level, senior life employment in China, there was this American expat, Jim Biggs, who hired me. I had no experience. I worked for him for two years in China. It was then that I decided to go to USC to get my Masters in Gerontology. After I moved here I got my masters and went to work for another company. And after four years, Jim returned to the United States and founded West Bay. That’s when we got together, and that’s why now I’m working for him again, with whoever got me started.
As for the future of the industry, if you could change one thing, what would it be?
I think it goes back to what I learned from USC. I studied gerontology, the aging process, and what I learned is that getting old is not a negative thing. I think society has such a negative perception of being old. Everyone is so afraid to talk about it or admit, “I’m getting old. It means you get off.
But I think there is so much lifelong learning and growth throughout life. I think we can all change that perception, starting with ourselves, the way we embrace the idea of lifelong self-exploration. If you are always discovering something new about yourself and your relationship with the outside world, the people around you, you can always explore. And this trip, it’s so amazing.
What do you think the lives of older people will be different in the near future?
We have to be very creative with the technology. I found this thing very interesting from Airbnb, they actually offer virtual experiences. You sign up for an event, then you can join a host from Venice or France, from somewhere – they cook, they do a wine tasting, and you can do that individually or with a group. So you can travel virtually all over the world. I think it’s really, really cool. And I think before COVID, I never thought I could do that. But now he has widened the horizon. And this is just one example. Now with telemedicine it helps a lot to be seen by a doctor or nurse just through Zoom. It saves so much time and resources.
So I think this is definitely the way to go even after COVID. We’re not going to go back to the old ways of doing things.
If you could go back in time to your first day in the industry and give your kid some advice, what would you say?
I think everyone, when they start, they have so many doubts about themselves. I am not experienced enough. I don’t know enough. Now, looking back, I would definitely think 10 years ago, just embrace who you are, even from day one, because it doesn’t really matter. It’s really that unique talent, skills and personality, whatever you can bring to the table, that is going to come in handy. This is going to be useful for the people you serve, whether they are elderly residents, their families, or even staff and managers.
Embrace who you are from day one and give it all you’ve got then. You don’t need to do anything major or change the entire industry when you’re new. Even the little things add up, like that moment, that day, that kindness that you bring to that person, it matters.
How would you describe the future of seniors in a nutshell?
To learn more about the Future Leaders program, visit https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com