Future Leader: Shelley Li, Senior Regional Director of Operations, West Bay Senior Living

The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with PointClickCare. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of senior housing, skilled nursing, home health and hospice care. To see this year’s future leaders, visit Future Leaders online.

Shelley Li, senior regional director of operations at West Bay Senior Living, has been named a 2021 Future Leader by Senior Housing News.

To become a Future Leader, an individual is nominated by their peers. The candidate must be a high-performing employee who is 40-years-old or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put vision into action, and an advocate for seniors and the committed professionals who ensure their well-being.

Li sat down with Senior Housing News to talk about her career trajectory, which brought her from working in China to the United States. She also discusses the ways the industry is evolving, and why providers “won’t go back to the old-fashioned way of doing things” after COVID-19.

What drew you to senior living?

I was born and raised in China. I was born in the single-child generation. Whoever was born during that 20 to 30 years, we don’t have any siblings. When my parents’ generation gets older, they would definitely need a lot of help and support. In China, the tradition is children take the majority of the responsibility, whether financially or physically, to take care of elderly parents. But with my generation, my husband, and I, we have four elderly parents we would need to take care of, and we have to raise the kids. So there’s just not enough resources. That’s why I got into the industry.

I still find it amazing that when I was first looking for an entry level job into senior living back in China, there was this American ex-pat, Jim Biggs, who hired me. I had no experience. I worked for him for two years back in China. That’s when I decided to go to USC to get my master’s degree in gerontology. Once I moved here, I got my master’s and went to work for another company. And after four years, Jim came back to the U.S. and started West Bay. That’s when we got together again, and that’s why now I’m working for him again, with the one who got me started.

Looking ahead to 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’ve learned is that growing old is not a negative thing. I think that society has such a negative perception about being old. Everybody’s so scared of talking about it or admitting, “I’m getting old.” It means you’re going downhill.

But I think there’s so much lifelong learning and lifelong growing throughout the entire lifespan. I think we can all change that perception, starting from ourselves, how we embrace the idea of lifelong self-exploration. If you’re always discovering something new about yourself and your relationship with the outside world, the people around you, you can always explore. And that journey, it’s so amazing.

What do you foresee as being different about senior living heading into the near future?

We have to be very creative with technology. I found this very interesting thing from Airbnb, they’re actually offering virtual experiences. You sign up for an event, and then you’re able to join a host from Venice or from France, from somewhere — they’re cooking, they’re having a wine tasting, and you can do that either as an individual or with a group. So you’re able to travel around the world virtually. I think that’s really, really cool. And I think before COVID, I never thought I could do that. But now it’s expanded the horizon. And that’s just one example. Now, with telemedicine, it helps a lot to be seen by a doctor or a nurse just via Zoom. It just 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 fashioned ways of doing things.

If you could go back in time to your first day in the industry and give your younger self advice, what would you say?

I think anyone, when they first start, they have so much doubt about themselves. I’m not experienced enough. I don’t know enough. Now, looking back, I would definitely tell myself 10 years ago, just embrace who you are, even from day one, because it doesn’t really matter. It’s really that unique talent, skillset and personality, whatever you can bring to the table, that’s going to be helpful. It’s going to be useful for the people you serve, whether it’s elderly residents, their family members, or even staff members and managers.

Embrace who you are even from day one, and give whatever you have at that moment. You don’t have to do something major or change the whole industry when you’re new. Even the little things accumulate, like that one moment, that one day, that kindness you bring to that one person, it matters.

How would you describe the future of senior living in one word?


To learn more about the Future Leaders program, visit https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com

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