2012 Influential Women in Business

Barbara Auten

Barbara Auten

Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area

The well-appointed sitting room is quiet except for the sound of a player piano and the gentle voice of an attendant encouraging listeners to note its lively melody. Some smile. Others doze. A few sway, perhaps connecting to a time before they were stricken with Alzheimer's disease.

Barbara Auten passes through the room and welcomes with open arms an elderly man who has decided to pace. He's looking for a certain staff member here at Charlie's Place, a respite care facility for those with dementia. Auten hugs him, addresses him by name and calls over to the woman he's searching for just as another man approaches.

Dropping by Charlie's Place is a big part of Auten's day. The building is adjacent to Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area, where she has served as executive director for the last four years. During her tenure, Auten has helped substantially increase the nonprofit's budget, its collaboration with community partners and its ability to generate and reinvest revenue through pioneering projects.

“I'm inspired every day to come to work because I can see what a difference we're making for families,” says Auten, whose mother, along with six other family members, currently suffers from Alzheimer's disease. “We can take the time to help families that doctors cannot.”

The Baton Rouge-based nonprofit holds more than a dozen neighborhood-based support groups, offers a research library and hosts the annual Walk to Remember, in which more than 8,000 runners and walkers participate. They're piloting a portable suitcase of interactive activities called the “recollection collection” to help nursing home staff better engage Alzheimer's patients.

They've developed a national model for respite care through Charlie's Place, which gives patients who remain at home a safe, stimulating environment to spend six hours a day—enough time to give caregivers a badly needed break.

And they have developed training tools to help other entities care for dementia patients during disasters, a project that sprang from Hurricane Gustav.

“We noticed a real need for an emergency care manual that would help communities facing disasters handle Alzheimer's patients better,” says Auten.

The organization worked with the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute at LSU and with numerous community partners to develop a protocol for working with victims and their families under evacuation orders. Auten has received feedback from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the manual could become a national model.

Similarly, Charlie's Place is considered a bellwether in Alzheimer's respite care facilities nationwide. Different from adult day care in which health care and medications are dispensed, a respite care facility focuses on engaging those with Alzheimer's in activities that make them feel secure and stimulate brain function.

The interior design, the outdoor landscaping and the activities have been deliberately chosen to ensure guests remain at ease. The fee-based facility pays for itself, and Auten expects the organization soon will provide consulting for other cities searching for best practices in respite care.

Auten and her family are Hurricane Katrina transplants. They lived in New Orleans for 30 years, during which Auten served as a longtime community volunteer and fundraiser before becoming the development director at Christ the King School. To ease into Baton Rouge, she accepted a position at Alzheimer's Services as an event coordinator and demonstrated her facility with relationship management. She was later hired as executive director.

“She's a good manager and very task-oriented,” says chairman of the board Wilfred Barry. “She's helped the organization grow and is a real asset to the Baton Rouge community.”

Just in the last year, Auten has increased the budget from $833,000 to $987,000 through focused fundraising and donor engagement. She isn't planning to slow down; the need for Alzheimer's Services programs grows annually as more and more residents of the 10-parish surrounding area are diagnosed with the disease.

She's quick to credit her team.

“We've been able to grow and do what we've done because we have an incredible staff and board,” says Auten. “I can't say enough about them.”

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