The Peconic Landing staff celebrated with champagne and a staff-made video as their Director of Health Services, Jennifer Drofenik, was honored with the Thomas Clarke Memorial Award for leadership on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
The award recognizes personal integrity and professional dedication in those who work in long-term care, housing and service administration under the age of 40. LeadingAge New York, the advocacy group that designates the annual awards, represents over 600 not-for-profit public-care providers in the state.
“This award just confirms what we already knew,” said President and CEO of Peconic Landing Robert Syron. “We have an exceptional leader here. Jen is a true success story.”
In the twelve years since Ms. Drofenik started her college internship at Peconic Landing, she solidified herself as a key part of the community. She graduated from Southold High School and grew up in the town.
“I’ve grown so much here, just because of the people that I’m surrounded by,” said Ms. Drofenik. “I’ve always been motivated by the people here just to do better.” She found her passion for the industry quickly, gaining the respect of and leading an experienced team of professionals. In 2016, Ms. Drofenik was named Peconic Landing’s Administrator of Assisted Living. Her leadership spearheaded the construction and opening of two new neighborhoods, Harbor South for memory support and The Bluffs for short-term rehabilitation.
“We believed she could open up a million-dollar project for us in Harbor South and she did,” said Mr. Syron. “Jen is bright and we knew we had talent. She broke the mold and we saw in her someone who could change and grow and become this incredible talent.”
Harbor South became the first memory support neighborhood in New York to be recognized as a Distinguished Provider by Dementia Care Specialists and the Crisis Prevention Institute. During the development of this project, Ms. Drofenik became a Certified Dementia Practitioner, training new team members in the community’s person-centered care philosophy.
“We fully expected Jennifer to achieve the results she did, and they’re nothing short of remarkable,” said Peconic Landing’s Chief Operating Officer, Greg Garrett. “She has helped us build a culture where our members in the health center are not defined by their diagnoses, but by who they are. Peconic Landing is extremely fortunate to have such a leader.”
Ms. Drofenik became a vital source of support and guidance for staff when the pandemic hit. Over the past three years, she faced the historic challenges head on, often working 16 hour days, seven days a week, making sure the staff understood every piece of guidance released by the CDC, according to Mr. Garrett.
“Nothing prepares you for that feeling of helplessness,” said Ms. Drofenik. “The people we serve become family. Their lives were at risk every day and we had the responsibility to protect them from something we had no control over. The community came together in such an inspiring way.”
In addition to her work through the pandemic, Ms. Drofenik spends much of her time outside of Peconic Landing supporting other local elder-care organizations. She is a board member of the Alzheimer’s Association of Long Island, participating in their Walk to End Alzhimer’s for the past several years.
She is also on the LeadingAge cabinet for assisted living, advocating for changes to regulations, funding and policy in order to receive the best quality of service for those in assisted living. Ms. Drofenik is a graduate of the LeadingAge IGNITE Leadership Academy, using what she learned to provide similar training to team members at Peconic Landing.
“I am a huge nerd who loves learning,” she said. “I love being able to pass on knowledge and hopefully inspire other people to get into this field. There’s so much value in it. We often get overlooked in long-term care, but there’s so many wonderful people out there; seniors in our community live with so much vibrancy.”
This past year, in addition to receiving this award, Ms. Drofenik’s dedication to Peconic Landing was recognized in her promotion to Director of Health Services. She now oversees the skilled nursing, short-term rehabilitation, assisted living, and memory support neighborhoods.
The future appears bright for Ms. Drofenik and Peconic Landing. Consistently looking for ways to improve the lives of members as well as staff, she has taken on the role of teacher, helping the next generation of leaders in the industry grow.
“Receiving this award has been such a huge honor,” said Ms. Drofenik. “I love my job. I love the people I work with and this community. This is my home and I want to keep doing the best I can for Peconic Landing.”