For Eugenia Welch, taking over as the CEO at Alzheimer’s San Diego in March was an easy transition. After all, the Leucadia woman has had experience working with patients of the memory loss disease for most of her life.
Welch, who formerly ran Sunrise Senior Living in La Costa, has been working with dementia patients since she was 16, including helping family members struggling with the disease.
Alzheimer’s San Diego serves residents across the county free of charge, with offerings such as education classes, support groups and a social worker support line.
Welch recently spoke about her new position, her goals and the importance of such a nonprofit in the San Diego region.
For more information, visit www.alzsd.org.
What are your goals in your new role at Alzheimer’s San Diego?
My goal for the organization is going to sound a little out of the ordinary because my true goal is for us to not need an Alzheimer’s San Diego. Ultimately, I’d love there to be a cure and treatment for people suffering from this disease. In the meantime, our short-term goals are to continue to provide high-quality programs and services and be able to have the 84,000 people in San Diego County affected by Alzheimer’s disease to all have access to those programs and services here at Alzheimer’s San Diego.
You’ve had experience working with people with Alzheimer’s since you were 16 and some of your family members have also had the disease. What can you tell us about that experience?
Two of my aunts both passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. For both of them, they didn’t have children. I was sort of their point person, so I was very involved in the decision-making and ensuring they had everything that they needed. When you have family that’s known you all your life and they don’t recognize you, that’s a tough thing to deal with. It didn’t matter that I’ve been working with people all my life with people with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s hard to really accept it.
What have you learned in your time of working with Alzheimer’s that people might not necessarily realize about the disease?
There are a couple things. First of all, no matter how much the disease takes away from somebody... that person is still in there. They’re still a valuable person inside, they’re just trapped in this shell of Alzheimer’s. I’ve also learned that there are not any two cases that are exactly the same. It’s such a mysterious disease. Sure, there are a lot of behaviors and symptoms that everybody has, but it really does affect everybody just a little differently. That’s what makes it really hard for families dealing with it because there’s no clear-cut picture of exactly what’s going to happen.
Why is this organization’s mission important to San Diego, specifically?
In the San Diego region, we are the only organization that makes sure that 100 percent of our funds stay in San Diego to help San Diego citizens. We’re the only Alzheimer’s organization locally where that’s the case. We really do target all areas of the community. We don’t just focus on downtown. We make sure there are education classes and support services in east county, north county, south bay, all over to make sure we’re really reaching as many people as possible.
How has your experience working at Sunrise Senior Living prepared you for your new role at Alzheimer’s San Diego?
Certainly, working in a community where you had, roughly, 95 residents living there, you’re dealing with that many customers and family members. That customer service background, as well as getting a wide range of different backgrounds of customers, helps you to know how to go out and interact with all different audiences.
What have been your major responsibilities so far as CEO of Alzheimer’s San Diego?
The board really brought me on to task me to develop a strategic plan for moving forward in the next three years. This organization has a wonderful foundation and lots of great things going on here, but really just tasked with what we can do to make it continue to grow and make it better. Also, we are now more than ever working on grants with the county and co-partnering with some programs with the county, trying to increase our reach.
For more information on Alzheimer’s Dan Diego, visit www.alzsd.org