Losing Your Brother During COVID-19

Losing Your Brother During COVID-19

Sometimes you can’t even remember when normal was. What does “normal” even mean anymore? Since COVID-19 hit our country, our Signature team has fought PPE battles, COVID-19 testing access issues, funding uncertainty, Kentucky’s unfair allocation of Medicaid funds, thousands of COVID-19 positive residents to serve, staffing changes, and new regulations being issued daily by state and federal governments.  But the hardest challenge has been the “No in-person visitation” mandate for six months, leaving many long-term residents feeling more alone than ever before.  No one-on-one visits from the outside world: no family, no friends, no volunteers, no school children doing service hours and no direct religious clergy assistance, which to me has been the most devastating issue of them all!


Signature HealthCARE has a tough job taking care of some of our nation’s most vulnerable during these difficult times, but they make it happen because we have amazing frontline heroes who serve 11,000 “Ray Steiers” 24/7. Prior to the passing of my parents nearly a decade ago, at Signature HealthCARE like Ray, my brother lived at home with Mom and Dad for 25 years, locked in a time warp with little socialization outside immediate family. All of his great friends and girlfriend at the time of his medical event had to eventually move on, which we totally understood because his illness lasted so long, and he was not the same person, which we had to accept. Once our parents passed, Ray moved into a Signature HealthCARE facility where he thrived! It may shock you, but some of his best times since childhood all happened in a 120-bed facility where he found passion and purpose again. He thrived in that special community, run by rock stars. They gave him back the things he had lost decades ago: great friends, loving caregivers, a personal chef, daily socialization, access to ice cream, access to ‘stay vacations’ in the community, unlimited rock and roll, hall mates that loved him, constant hugs with affection, a thrilling gold medal from Signature’s Senior Olympics, and an amazing leadership team that made him a big part of their family at all times, so he never felt alone.
During COVID-19, our entire industry has been heavily impacted, which you already know, but the blow to the external world that surrounds and supports our communities and residents has been one of the hardest hits that has lasted too long. Ray lost day trips outside into the community because the world shut down, lost  face-to-face visits from family and friends, lost direct contact with supportive volunteers, lost cool outdoor quality of life programming, and community events.  Yes, technology can be great, but he lost all the hugs and embraces with medical personnel.

Over the past six months, Ray became very depressed, stopped eating and lost weight.  He became more aggressive, dealt with many medication changes, and his favorite caregiver left the company.  I think it was all too much.  We Skyped and FaceTimed, but it was not nearly the same. In my last few encounters with him, Ray showed me he was already a very different person, which crushed me, and I knew I was losing him.
I know COVID-19 has changed so many things for all of us. It has been inescapable. And I want you to know, Ray always had an uphill battle with regular seizures, aggressive behaviors afterward, and some mental redundancy, but HE WAS HAPPY for years at Signature HealthCARE. I often asked him ‘Ray, do you want to go home? Back where we grew up?” And he would say, “Gosh, Joe, that was a nice offer, but I am home!”  This always gave me peace of mind and an understanding that it takes an extended family and specialized expertise, that many of us do not possess, to have great healthcare.

When they called to say he passed in the middle of the night, I finally got to see him. He was already gone so there were no goodbyes and sitting next to his already deceased body, I just cried because he died feeling alone in the end. Ray never had COVID-19, but I think some of it could have been very different without so much change and chaos circling around him, and the other 1.4 million long-term customers in our nation today. I don’t want to get political, but post-acute care residents, their families, and the heroes that serve them have taken the brunt of the COVID-19 devastation. It has emotionally crushed so many families, like mine, and pushed our caregivers to the brink of exhaustion, physically and mentally, with no end in sight.

Today, we all know Ray is in a better place. He had a challenging life that he chose to live with grace, joy, and kindness, but I hated how it all ended and wonder, did we do enough? At his funeral services, we celebrated him with great stories and watched his videos where he seemed happier than most of us who loved him, knowing he inspired us all!

In closing, we want to thank every Signature HealthCARE caregiver, Signature leader, and Ray’s favorite care partner Debra, who helped him along his journey. Knowing that all of you gave him parts of his life back that he lost a long time ago, and we didn’t think was possible to regain, we appreciate you more than words can say!

Finally in the Black Hole in Oakland County Stadium

Anyone who knows me will tell you I have been a crazy Raiders fan since the 3rd grade, my only football team during good times and bad. Being a left-handed quarterback in our neighborhood street football games, who else could I have loved except Kenny Stabler?

I have everything Raiders in my basement, I see them every chance I get, and bought one of the first personal seat licenses in the new Las Vegas stadium on the night they opened the lottery. The lady said, “you are our only Kentucky customer so far!” This might make me Kentucky’s biggest Raiders fan!

Back in the 1970’s, the Raiders were one of the best professional franchises in all of sports labeled by, “The Just Win Baby” and “Commitment to Excellence” – all part of the epic founder, Al Davis, folklore. Davis, the beatnik owner who was a mysterious football guru who never followed status quo and seemed to defy conventional wisdom year after year.

Honestly, at 8 years old, it was Stabler initially but then it was the colors– black and silver; the colorful coach, John Madden, storming the sidelines in short sleeve shirts in the snow, and it was the culture to just win at nearly all costs that had me never miss a game on TV forever. And their Monday Night Football winning percentage record was unmatched for decades.

As a young boy, having your team be led by a vocal owner you could almost touch, players perceived as a bunch of unlawful bandits wearing mat black and pushing boundaries the entire game, plus the craziest fans of all time dressed in pirate customs and face paint filling up your TV screen – how could you not like them?

Being a Raiders fan in the late 70’s and through late 80’s, were some of my best childhood memories any fan could ever experience. I cried myself to sleep after the Immaculate Reception against the Steel Curtain, danced in my basement after the first Super Bowl win against the Purple People Eaters. I watched second chance Plunkett shock the league with an epic performance in Super Bowl XV, drank at my first Super Bowl party when Allen slaughtered the Hogs and all the way through until the tragic injury to Bo Jackson that seemed to end our amazing run. It has never been the same since!

Al Davis became out of touch as he aged and had constant coaching changes demanded by him to win tomorrow. There was undisciplined football by rogue players, constant threats to move the team, and a weak organizational management team underneath the mercurial owner that seemed to taint the black and silver.

There were decades when opposing teams feared coming to town because they were going to witness the craziest home fans anywhere in the world. But the two-decade decline took a toll on the franchise and fans today just see a crazy fan base and don’t fear the Silver and Black as they once did. Outside of the Gruden, Gannon, Brown run to a blowout Super Bowl loss, it has been continuous tough times.

However, when you are a true fan of any team you love the bad times because it thins the fan base, tests the loyalty of the fringe fans, and makes you hold on to the amazing memories that defined your childhood.

For all of us who are part of Raider Nation, this year is still a sad one because it is the bitter end for our Oakland historic roots, so everyone is rushing to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (that is sadly shared with the A’s) to cheer like never before because we move to glitzy Las Vegas next year.

A few weeks back, when I realized our GLI Glide Trip would take us out to San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Wine Country, I had to sneak away one night because it was Monday Night Football, Opening Night, in Oakland verses the Denver Broncos, and it was time to enter the BLACK HOLE even if it was by myself because this is the END.

If you want to make your own pilgrimage, go to StubHub and pick the section called the BLACK HOLE. I found one ticket still for sale, row 7, near the end of the row and a childhood dream was finally coming true!

On this night we cheered from the parking lot while tailgating with chants, the whole way entering the gates, and never even sat down once as we played masterfully this night picking the Broncos apart with Derek Carr looking like a right-handed Kenny Stabler. Prior to this night, I watched the Raiders on TV for 45 years and was envious every time of the true fans covering my TV screen that created the BLACK AND SILVER culture, and I finally got the chance to be one of them.

You can definitely go alone but you will leave with dozens of new friends from all walks of life. I hugged and high-fived everybody I met in my section, becoming one of them. My old teenage envy turned into true joy because, finally, I was home on Monday Night Football and a childhood dream came true!

Vegas may be the greatest football stadium ever built, and I will be there whenever I can make it out there, but it will never be the Oakland Raiders County Coliseum BLACK HOLE ever again where the football grit, the renegades, the regular people dress up like it’s Halloween and cheer like it is life and death for four hours!

This is your last chance to see it, make the journey, be part of history, go alone if you must, but please go! #bucketlist #raidernation #blackhole #justwinbaby #committmenttoexcellence

Celebrating David Jones

Dear Mr. Jones,

I wanted to thank you one more time for everything you did for me when we were in South Florida trying to discern where the Signature Revolution should relocate to – between Nashville, Orlando, and Louisville.

It was a hard decision for me and our entire organization and many did not reach out like I hoped but you definitely did. When you called me, each time telling me why Louisville would be the best place for Signature HealthCARE, you were right. Our talks about how we could do more here than any other city held true!

Your advice was invaluable to our final decision and all that has transpired since. In that relocation process you promised me that you would meet with me regularly to be my mentor, to help me grow as a person, and help Signature navigate the complicated healthcare landscape.

The mentoring sessions were the ‘best one-hour sessions’ I ever had with anyone. You always started each session with a discussion on how to lead with integrity and faith.

I remember when you pulled your own “personal Peter Drucker notes” to show me management principles to implement into the Revolution that you knew we needed. And we put them all to good use.

The other sessions where you would go into your archives and show me your market segmentation notes from yours and Wendall’s prior working sessions decades back, helped Signature greatly see other ways to operate the organization.

Every complicated question I ever asked you, I was secretly hoping one time I might stump you, but that never happened because you always had the perfect answer that sometimes I had to unpack later.

The private discussions where you gave me personal advice about life resonated often in my own challenges, but they always held true. You were never easy on me, which made me re-examine closely held beliefs either way, so I knew where I stood.

Thank you for sharing your life principles with me every time on “how to live a meaningful faith-led happy life.” They are the true foundation to our optimal state here while we serve others. They are sometimes challenging to live by, but they helped me greatly even in my darkest hour.

I think what I loved most was that we always closed each session with a prayer just to remind both of us who was really in charge anyway.

My admiration started a very long time ago. When I was a very young entrepreneur struggling to try to find my way, you were the gold standard to me and hundreds of others around our great city. We thank you for making us all think bigger than ourselves, which we all needed, or we would have never found the path.

Your great impact on me was just one small thing you did of the thousands and thousands of great deeds because you did so much for everyone that ever asked for your help. In my opinion, your generosity and humility are unmatched!

As the whole city grieves today, and I know my thank you note is just one of a million, we all want you and your family to know how grateful we all feel about your relationship with all of us.

Lastly, I needed to remember what you said often about everyone being more Jeffersonian and giving back to your community at all times. We can still see you and feel your presence everywhere we look.

Thank you, Mr. Jones, for teaching us all how to “pay it forward” and inspire all of us to try to be the best our version of ourselves!

Love you,

Joe Steier

Why we should celebrate Lee Iacocca this July 4th!

From the first time I saw a Ford Mustang I knew I found my car. I remember seeing it in my favorite movie scenes in “Bullet,” “Diamonds are Forever,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” where I felt my first irrational urgency to someday get one. The emotional attachments for me were the sleek lines, the vibrant colors, and the convertible tops, but at my childhood home the link was something much bigger!

At Elmer Steier’s (my father) house it was about the American innovation behind it, led by Mr. Lee Iacocca, that made the car a dinner table topic at the Steier household. It was Mr. Iacocca who personally moved inside the Ford plant to create the iconic example of rapid engineering speed as a symbol of an American comeback at a time we needed to make a statement that inspired our conversations about that special car. Growing up as a son of an active labor union leader and former bricklayer who pushed BUY AMERICAN at an almost religious level like our Catholic roots,  Mr. Iacocca was the first executive I remember being mentioned at the dinner table!

At this time, I remember that foreign-made cars were not allowed to be parked in our driveway no matter who was the driver, which tells you how much my Dad believed in American protectionism versus a global economy that we live in today.

After the first recession during the Carter administration, I remember the impact it had on our blue-collar neighborhood.  My father became deeply concerned with the rise of foreign car companies coupled with the arrogance of the U.S. auto industry making inferior products and he often predicted a future downfall for the massive industry. Even as an active union organizer, he respected great leadership, knew organizations needed excellent management, and knew that sacred balance was needed between all vested parties to make anything a huge success!

Besides creating the famed Mustang, Mr. Iacocca turned around the entire Ford Motor Company and then also the Chrysler Company years later, which are staple reminders that we invented an auto industry that still thrives today, drives our Louisville economy, and a lot of our Kentucky regions are still dependent on the success of it.

At one time, I collected old Mustang rag tops before they were traded in for four crazy kids. I once ignorantly drove a new Mustang Cobra out of a dealership floor in 1995 as a moment of irrational immediate gratification inheriting a car payment that required two jobs. Equally important, I still have the Mustang bought on my 40th birthday as a gift that has now been successfully passed onto to my daughter who gets the history of this special car!

This being our July 4th holiday season, we should all take a moment and have a toast to Lee because it is a great example of a son of first-generation immigrant parents with Italian roots making a big splash in our American life in a tangible way. We can all still be touched by it as we sit at red lights and just watch, even though Mr. Iacocca passed away yesterday at age 94.

As we watch today with dismay what is happening along the Texas border that impacts all of us deeply regardless what side of the aisle you sit on,  we know we must find a better solution than the one we have now.

In all of Lee Iacocca’s interviews, he talked about how much he loved the open arms of America that were provided to his parents at a time they had no place to turn and who later operated hot dog stands in Pennsylvania. He talked and rattled off other immigrant sons and daughters making a difference at the peak of his power because he knew what they all contributed to the United States that could never happen somewhere else.

After his amazing career and how his parents were embraced, Mr. Iacocca took his personal resources and leadership skills to restore the Statue of Liberty that was decaying to show the entire world that we are a collection of hard-working people with links to pioneering immigrants and anything is possible, only in AMERICA!

Please support Light the Night

There are many times in life where we are reminded there are no coincidences, and nothing is random. My wife, Sony’s, leadership role as chair of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night is one of those moments where it all makes sense. When Sony lost her sister and best friend, Tina Avritt, to the horrific Leukemia disease 16 years ago, I witnessed the cruelty of the disease. I watched it kill her unborn baby (Ryan Christopher) and take Tina within the same year at age 30 with unimaginable pain and suffering. I don’t think I ever loved anything like Sony loved Tina. I struggled with my own faith, how to support her legacy that was ripped from her, and how to be nurturing in Sony’s long grieving process, but now I finally can.

When Sony decided to step out and take this challenging leadership role, I watched her passion grow at every encounter because she was with Tina again. Tina was a very strong protector of Sony and anyone else under her tent and now Sony is fighting for her and everyone else’s Tina. There is always something deeply inspiring when you see your spouse lead, go all in and raise the bar in the process, and to say that I am very proud of Sony is a great understatement. I am personally moved and see a side of Sony that is bringing people together that is quite rare. She is bringing people together, taking risks by leaving her comfort supporter role and becoming a true advocate of a devastating disease. She now believes in her own research, new learning, and intersections with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that she now has joined the long brutal war to eradicate something that crushes so many around us. I think in her heart she knows her Tina and your Tina can beat it now, not all the time, but we are starting to win way more than we lose.

During Sony’s amazing journey over the past two years as chair has been a transformative experience for me as I learn with her. Prior to Sony’s big move, I think I was becoming numb to hearing about blood cancers all the time because it continued to drop bombs all around me and right on top of several friends that I just tried to tune it out. Sony and her team have inspired me to become a witness to what is possible with the amazing work in research related to blood cancers.

During this supportive role, my long-term CFO, John Harrison’s son, Matthew, was diagnosed with a tough case of leukemia right in the middle of this, making me realize we are not going fast enough. I can walk down another hall at Signature HealthCARE and see Dr. Jeff Beaty, another long-term partner who has beaten his blood cancer and is now back to work with passion and joy knowing it is beatable.  Jeff benefited greatly from the clinical research to have great clinical pathways to winning.

While at the same time, being with John often over 14 years, I see the pain of uncertainty and the toll it takes in his eyes to see his brilliant 23-year-old son fight daily and have a normal life ripped out of his hands during his senior year at Florida State University after doing everything right as a talented and ambitious young man. John and his wife, Anne, are on that blood cancer roller coaster of a shocking diagnosis, weekly chemo, painful radiation, the search for a donor match, the pain of “Will the transplant take hold?” and hip replacement surgery to endure sometime in the future.

That’s why this year really matters to me, Sony, her team, Matt, the Harrisons, Dr Beaty, and the new “Tina’s” because we need to fill our stadium, cheer hard for the fighters, scream with joy for the victories for the growing number of survivors, and speed up the research so the ugly world of blood cancers can be eliminated in our lifetime.

I am beyond proud of Sony! Excited to be celebrating with Jeff!  But still just devastated by what our great friends the Harrisons are going through.  We know Matt will win in the end, but it is an epic fight that takes everything he has to win! He is that special, but it is a fight in the future that I hope can someday can be avoided!

Let’s fill the stadium at Light the Night on October 10 and break some records! Kill Blood Cancers Forever!