After 34 years of caring, Diane Menio retires from CARIE
By Jay Nachman
Diane Menio has retired from the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of Elders (CARIE) after 34 years as the agency’s executive director. But she is not leaving behind her lifelong work as an advocate for older adults.
“When I came to CARIE, I really found my home because advocacy is in my soul,” Menio, 67, said. “It’s been my home for all these years and part of that is because I care deeply about the mission. Older adults have always been important to me, particularly my grandmother.”
In 2013, Menio was asked by now Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Todd to join an Elder Justice Task Force to make recommendations around guardianship and elder abuse. Among her recommendations was to create an Office of Elder Justice in the Courts (OEJC) for which Menio serves as an adviser. Through her continuing membership in OEJC, Menio will persist in advocating for protections against elder abuse and for guardianship reform.
“Too often, those under guardianship end up in nursing homes with little effort at considering alternatives or less-restrictive options,” Menio said. “I’m very driven toward advocacy and making sure that the system works for people.”
Menio, a Bethlehem native, came to CARIE in 1989 after moving to Philadelphia and working for a few years at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. At that time, CARIE had fewer than 10 employees. After being hired as the coordinator of the Philadelphia Elder Abuse Task Force, she quickly made herself indispensable at the organization. Soon she was appointed CARIE’s assistant director. In 1995, she was named CARIE’s second executive director, succeeding Bernice Soffer, CARIE’s founding executive director, who served in that role from director 1979-1995.
One of Menio’s first tasks at CARIE was to revise and implement a project to develop an abuse prevention training program for long-term care staff, now called “Competence with Compassion.” The program trains nurse aides to recognize and report elder abuse to assist in preventing it from happening. It began in nursing homes, then branched out into home care and other settings.
“We engaged a leading researcher and were very successful in making changes to behaviors and changes to the care that residents were getting,” Menio said. “‘Competence with Compassion’ has been replicated in almost every state in the country and also in other parts of the world.”
CARIE’s programs extend to the entire state of Pennsylvania. The agency is a leader in providing direct assistance to older adults, their families and professionals in the aging-services field. Through telephone contacts and site visits to Philadelphia-area long-term care facilities, the agency assists older people and their caregivers to assess needs, identify service resources and make the necessary connections to resolve elder care issues.
Under Menio’s leadership, CARIE has grown to employ more than 30 people with a commensurate rise in programs. The agency’s operating budget has also increased from less than $500,000 to approximately $3 million.
“Diane has demonstrated a steadfast dedication to providing service to elders with dignity and great care,” said Whitney Lingle, who succeeded Menio as CARIE’s executive director. “She has a gift for engaging public interest to gain support for the older adults CARIE serves.”
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, CARIE fiercely advocated at the state level to increase protections for older adults, particularly for people living in long-term care facilities.
After learning that the state regulations governing nursing homes had not been modified since the 1990s. Menio and her team at CARIE went through the regulations line by line and made recommendations to the state on how to improve them.
Many of the recommendations that CARIE made were enacted, Menio said. The change that she is most pleased with is the increase in transparency when nonprofit nursing homes are sold to for-profit companies.
“When that happens, it’s not always with good consequences,” she said. “There’s been a clear lack of transparency where residents and families don’t know that’s happening. We were able to include in the regulations more process transparency so public notice must happen before the ownership changes hands. This allows time for the public to weigh in.”
Looking back over her time at CARIE, Menio said, “Over 34 years with millions of lives impacted, I am proud of so many accomplishments including those of our wonderful staff and volunteers who have done so much to ensure the success of the organization.”
Center for the Rights and Interests of Elders (CARIE), located at 1650 Arch St., Suite 1825, in Center City, provides advocacy, resources and intervention on behalf of older adults and their caregivers to help meet their needs, as well as to improve the availability of affordable quality care and to offer a safety net to those who would otherwise fall through the cracks in the system. CARIE‘s programs include free telephone and online consultation for older adults and caregivers; court accompaniment, advocacy and funding to re-secure the homes of older victims of crime or abuse; advocacy service to resolve problems and complaints with SEPTA’s Shared Ride or CCT-Connect transportation programs; complaint resolution and residents’ rights representation for nursing home and personal care home residents; and protection against health care fraud and abuse for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. For more information or assistance from CARIE, call 1-800-356-3606 or go to carie.org.
Jay Nachman is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who tells stories for a variety of clients.