How This Millennial Chose a Career in Eldercare
A Q&A with Erin Kopecki and her journey to geriatric care management.
Q: Thinking about your experiences growing up, what factors influenced you to pursue the field of gerontology as a career?
A: Some figure out what they want to do with their lives – what gives it meaning and purpose – when they reach their mid-twenties, thirties or later. The seeds for my passion for the senior population and pursuing a degree in gerontology were planted when I was a young girl, all thanks to the relationship I had with my grandmother. I treasured the days when she would join our family to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and spend countless summer days at my family’s lake house. I shared a bedroom with her each summer. All this made our bond more special, allowing me to appreciate and respect her as both my grandmother and an elder full of wisdom. She taught me how to enjoy the simple things in life, playing cards every night before bed; finding joy in life’s small offerings, looking forward to her glass of Ovaltine each morning with her grandchildren. She taught me to slow things down, being in no rush as she spent hours making an individual fruit salad for lunch or completing her nightly routine. I cherish the time I spent with her and only wish I had the chance to learn more from her now, as a young adult. I am absolutely certain she provided the path that led me to where I am today, starting a Nantucket-based business as a certified geriatric care manager.
Q: Why and how did you choose to pursue a BA & MS in Gerontology?
A: Knowing my love of helping the elderly and the special relationship I had with my grandmother, my parents actively encouraged me to pursue a degree in gerontology. I received my undergraduate degree in gerontology at Saint Bonaventure University in 2012. During school I would visit residents at a nearby nursing home who had little to no family. My summer breaks consisted of endless hours working as a personal aide for home-bound elders. I loved every minute of these experiences, which gave me reassurance that I was where I was meant to be.
After graduation I moved to Boston, Massachusetts. where I became a service coordinator for low income senior living communities. My goal was to work full-time while pursuing a Master’s degree in gerontology and management of aging services at the University of Massachusetts Boston. This was one of the best decisions I made professionally. The program was remarkable, allowing students to collaborate with other professionals throughout the United States. The University of Massachusetts also provided me with the opportunity to move to Nantucket to pursue a license in Nursing Home Administration, thanks to a professor.
Q: What experiences have you had in the field of gerontology since completing college?
A: Prior to moving to Nantucket, I worked at Best of Care as a scheduling coordinator while I completed my studies. Best of Care guided me and reinforced my passion for helping elders age in place. After receiving my Masters of Science, in October of 2015, I accepted a position as the assistant administrator at Our Island Home, a 45-resident skilled nursing facility on Nantucket. Kevin Smith, COO and President of Best of Care, was supportive of this career move as I left his family business to move to the island. He has been an incredible mentor and supporter as I continue to grow professionally.
My plan was to gain experience in a skilled nursing setting, obtain my nursing home administrator license (which I accomplished in December of 2016), and soon after transition to the administrator role. As the assistant administrator at Our Island Home I gained an endless amount of knowledge, not only learning how to best serve our residents, but the day to day complexities and requirements of working in a skilled nursing environment (the second most regulated industry next to nuclear power). To balance the intense administrative aspects of the job, I made it a point every day to enjoy time with the residents.
It’s so important for all of us, regardless of our age, to understand that the elderly are people too, as I feel this is often overlooked. Our elders have lived a life full of ups and downs - military service, motherhood; late nights out on the town. I truly believe having the opportunity to spend time with a senior is one of the best gifts in life and is where you will hear unforgettable life advice; they have lived it and are willing to share.
Q: How did you decide to start a Geriatric Care Management business?
A: While juggling studies with my previous job at Best of Care, I developed a business plan to serve a full-spectrum of geriatric care needs for elders and their families as part of my graduate program’s capstone. When I observed, first-hand, the challenges of ensuring a smooth transition of equipment, care and support services for elders who return home after a nursing, rehab or hospital stay, I saw my business plan come to life in my mind.
I felt that Nantucket’s residents and their families would benefit from a higher level of care coordination and support. Many families let the aging process get in the way of the relationship they once had with their loved one. The aging process can be very difficult, time consuming, confusing, and stressful. Many adults will find that they are in the sandwich generation, taking care of both their own children and their parents. This stress and conflict often makes it hard for the adult children of our seniors to maintain a healthy child-parent relationship, which is so important to uphold for both parties.
After many months of thinking “what if,” I decided to take the leap and develop a geriatric care management business. I couldn’t think of a better partner to collaborate with: Kevin Smith, COO and President of Best of Care. I proposed forming TUCKed In Eldercare – Nantucket Geriatric Care Management Services – as an affiliate of Best of Care. With the support of Kevin and Best of Care, it’s our goal to help our elderly clients on Nantucket achieve the highest quality of life possible, always in consultation with and support of their families.
Q: How did you come up with the name TUCKed In Eldercare?
A: It was important for me to choose a name that related to our island, its people and its culture. TUCKed In conveys a feeling of safety and security, a feeling of nostalgia. And of course, Nantucket is in a sense “tucked in” as a small island located 30 miles out to sea.
TUCKed In Eldercare is affiliated with Best of Care, a family owned home care agency serving Greater Boston, South Shore, Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard for over 36 years. Erin Kopecki, a former employee, and Kevin Smith, President, and COO of Best of Care, avidly share the vision and understand the importance of providing the highest quality of care to their clients. Together they hope to make a difference in the lives of those residing and summering to and from Nantucket.
A Nantucket “wash-ashore”, Erin Kopecki has an MS in gerontology and management of aging service and a BA in gerontology. She is a member of the Aging Life Care Association, a certified geriatric care manager, and a licensed nursing home administrator.