Dr. Teresa Chopoorian: McKnight’s Women of Distinction Award winner

Published in the Pawtucket Times on February 22, 2021

After reviewing hundreds of submitted entries, an independent panel, composed of two dozen judges, selected 19 women, including Dr. Teresa J. Chopoorian, to be inducted into the McKnight’s Women of Distinction Hall of Honor as part of the program’s third annual class. 

Dr. Chopoorian serves as Vice President and Administrator of the Central Falls, RI-based Mansion Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and is a former Professor of Nursing and Chairs the City of Pawtucket Cancer Control Task Force.     

According to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News the Hall of Honor recognizes executive-level professionals who have made a significant impact in the skilled nursing or senior living industries.  Of the sixty women who have been inducted into the Distinction Hall of Honor since its inception in 2019, Dr. Chopoorian is the only Rhode Islander to receive this prestigious recognition. 

Considered the hallmark of recognition for women leaders in the seniors’ care and living industries, McKnight’s Women of Distinction honors are given in three categories: Rising Stars, Veteran VIPs, and the Hall of Honor. A Lifetime Achievement Award winner will also be announced in March.  The annual awards program is administered jointly by McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Senior Living. The winners will be recognized in editions of the McKnight’s Daily Update and McKnight’s Daily Briefing newsletters.

All of this year’s honorees, working in the health care industry, will be celebrated during a May 18th virtual awards event.  The ceremony will take place the evening followed by a special McKnight’s educational forum for all professionals in the long-term care and senior living industries the next morning. 

The Life and Times of Dr. Chopoorian

Dr. Chopoorian was hired as an Instructor at Boston University School of Nursing after completing her master’s degree at this university in 1964.  She was promoted to Assistant Professor and recognized as Teacher of the Year in 1968.  

She left Boston University in 1970 to accept a professorship at Boston College to co-direct a Macy Foundation graduate program with Harvard Medical School, a novel initiative to prepare Clinical Nurse Specialists. The program was among the first graduate nursing curriculum in the country and served as a critical role model for forthcoming nurse practitioner programs. 

In 1974, Dr. Chopoorian joined the faculty of Boston State College Department of Nursing and began doctoral studies at Boston University in 1978.  Upon completion of her doctorate in 1982, she accepted a professorship at Northeastern University School of Nursing where she continued to teach and participate in the development of nursing practice.

Coming Back Home to Long Term Care

Dr. Chopoorian joined the Mansion after a 22-year career as a nursing educator.  Her career parallels the transformation of nursing home care as it has undergone generational change.  As nursing homes evolved from custodial care to a case mix of higher morbidities and a greater need to deal with an increasing population of younger residents and residents with mental illnesses, Dr Chopoorian’s career paralleled this transformation in unique ways.

Starting as a teenager working in her family’s business, a 76-bed nursing home on the border of Central Falls and Pawtucket, mill towns emerging from the flight of the textile industry, she was inspired to become a nurse.  She then chose the rigor of enrolling at Classical High School Providence, which laid a strong foundation of scholarship that would serve her well.   More importantly, this earliest choice illustrated a characteristic of always taking on the greater challenge.  

In 1986, Dr. Chopoorian joined the Mansion staff at a time of family crisis.  Her father was retiring as administrator soon after the passing of her mother. At a crossroad of whether to continue the development of a fruitful academic career or apply her clinical knowledge and nursing skills to a family business, she made the critical choice of leading the family’s nursing facility while caring for her father. A daunting choice on every level, leaving the security of an academic career for a business whose nature and regulatory landscape were dramatically different than two decades earlier when she helped her father as a nursing aide.   

Dr. Chopoorian’s family crisis thrust her into the role of Administrator; she led the Mansion as a quality provider of skilled care and rehabilitation services, consistently a 4 and 5-star rated facility.  In 2010, she was recognized as the first recipient of the Nightingale Nurse of the Year Award by the Rhode Island State Nurses Association, as a nurse in the role of nursing home administrator.

Dr. Chopoorian also became active in the greater community and participated in boards such as the Pawtucket YMCA and Samaritans of Rhode Island. But closest to her heart, she has a lifelong commitment to cancer prevention, and has become one of the strongest local voices for cancer prevention in her community.  As chair of the Cancer Control Task Force supported by the City of Pawtucket Mayor’s office, she instituted programs such as a Poetry Slam that has young local school students writing poems competitively on the theme of smoking cessation or prevention.

A Rising Star in the Nursing Profession 

After graduation from the College of Nursing at the University of Rhode Island in 1962, she started as a Staff Nurse at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston. Again, rising to the greater challenge, she enrolled in the Nursing Master’s program at Boston University.  It launched a career that would keep her in the mainstream of nursing education and growth, up to the present day to bring her full cycle to administering a family business and the challenges of passing it on to a third generation.

Dr. Chopoorian shared her pioneering work on education for nursing practice through her teaching, publishing and consulting as these programs became established. She was recognized for her work by the Massachusetts Nurses Association in 1974 – “Recognition of a Nurse Influencing the Directions of Professional Nursing Practice”. 

Perhaps the most prestigious recognition was her selection as the 9th recipient of the International Council of Nursing (ICN) Fellowship in 1978, the first US candidate to be selected from among its 44 member countries.

Among Dr. Chopoorian’s publications, one of special note is her article, “Reconceptualizing the Environment”, which called attention to the social, cultural, political and economic environmental factors that impact the practice of nursing. Published in 1986, it is still heavily cited by scholars in the field and pertinent to the dialog of nursing practice today.

She was appointed Fellow in the National Academy of Practice, Nursing in 1987.

Meeting the Challenges of COVID-19

Dr. Chopoorian is now practicing what she has preached over the years, applying her knowledge and skills to the practical matters of administering a skilled nursing care facility, and doing it in a manner that has earned her the recognition of her peers as Nightingale Nurse of the Year.

Early in March 2020 as it became clear that nursing homes were ground zero in an epic battle; she consulted with her Medical and Nursing Director and decided to close admission of anyone into the facility who was not already in the facility until October of 2020, when community spread overcame the facility staff’s most resolute of defenses. The Mansion is one of only three facilities in Rhode Island with this record in the midst of what was designated as the state’s hot zone. The residents and staff who tested positive have since quickly passed quarantine with no deaths or illnesses. A major practice achievement as we now head into a time of protection with the Pfizer, Moderna, and other versions of the COVID-19 vaccine, and are hopefully home free.

Does Exercise Aid Brain Health?

The Debate’s Yet to be Decided

Published in Woonsocket Call on August 31, 2016

According to AARP’s latest health aging survey findings, age 40 and over respondents who regularly exercise rate their brain health significantly higher than non-exercisers. They also cite improvements in their memory, ability to: learn new things, managing stress, and even making decisions. On the other hand, the findings reveal an overwhelming majority of these respondents see the benefits of exercise, but only 34 percent are meeting the Global Council on Brain Health’s (GCBH) recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.

These findings in the 37 page Survey on Physical Activity report, conducted by GfK for AARP, directly align with AARP’s Staying Sharp program, a digital platform that promotes brain health though holistic advice supported by science.

“With Staying Sharp, we sought to empower consumers with the tools needed to create a holistically brain healthy environment for themselves—along with a way to track and measure their progress,” said Craig Fontenot, VP of Value Creation. “The results of this survey only further validate the advice suggested on the platform and give us confidence that we’re providing our members with helpful, impactful information.”

The AARP survey findings, released on July 26, found that more than half (56 percent) of the age 40 and over respondents say that they get some form of exercise each week. However, only about a third (34 percent) of these individuals actually achieve the recommended 2 ½ hours of moderate to vigorous activity each week. There was little difference in reported amounts of exercise by age or gender.

The AARP online survey, with a represented sample of 1,530 Americans age 40 and over, found that walking is the most common form of physical exercise reported with 53 percent of the age 40 and respondents saying that they walk for exercise. A smaller percentage is engaging in more vigorous activity such as strength training/weight training (15 percent) or running/jogging (8 percent).

According to the survey’s findings, most of the age 40 and over respondents see the benefits to engaging in physical activity and do not find it particularly unpleasant or difficult. For example, three quarters believe exercise would improve their health, physical fitness, and quality of life.

Having willpower, enjoying exercise, identification as an “exerciser,” lack of enjoyment and feeling like you have the energy to exercise or lack money to exercise are the key factors that differentiate exercisers from non-exercisers, the researchers say.

The study found that the largest share of non-exercisers are “contemplators” in that they see the benefits and are considering taking up exercise (34 percent). About one-quarter (24 percent) are considered “non-believers” and see no need for exercise and were satisfied being sedentary. However, two in ten (19 percent) are “preparers” and say they have a firm plan to begin exercising in the near future.

Finally, the most common leisure activity that age 40 and over respondents would give up if they were to engage in exercise is watching TV/streaming movies (65%).

Removing the Barriers to Exercise

Colin Milner, CEO at the Vancouver, BC-based International Council on Active Aging, says, “These findings demonstrates the amazing and ongoing benefits of regular exercise. Our challenge, to get more people to actually move. By doing so the country and millions of individuals would improve their physical and mental health,” he notes.

Adds Milner, “The most important thing is to remember is that our bodies and brains were meant to be used. If we fail to do so they will cease to perform at the level we need or desire, and that is detrimental to our overall health and well-being.”

“Part of our challenge [to not exercising] is to remove the barriers that prevent us from leading an engaged life. A recommendation would be to list out the reasons you are not exercising or eating well, why you are feeling stressed or are not socially engaged, then set out to replace these with reasons to exercise and eat well, to be stress free and socially engaged. Once you have done this consider what steps you need to take to make this a reality,” he says. ICAA’s Webpage, “Welcome Back to Fitness” (http://icaa.cc/welcomeback.htm) gives the basics to help people begin exercising.

An avid squash player, Richard W. Besdine, MD, Professor of Medicine and Brown University’s Director, Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, preaches the importance of physical activity to all his colleagues and friends. “There are a large number of research studies documenting that exercise is good for all organs in your body,” he says, adding that that regular exercise can also reduce cancer rates, control diabetes, improve one’s emotional health and even reduce depression.

When asked about AARP’s survey findings about the impact of exercise and brain health, Besdine says he applauds the survey’s objectives of examining the relationship between physical exercise and brain health, but its findings are self-reported at best, not empirically derived.

Besdine points out that there is a growing body of studies that empirically study the relationship between exercise and brain health and findings indicate a positive impact on brain functioning. People who exercise are less likely to be cognitively impaired and those who are mildly impaired may even slow or stop the progression of their mental disorder, he says.

“Although AARP’s survey is very interesting it is very limited because it is self-report and cross-sectional, says Deborah Blacker, MD, ScD, Director of the Gerontology Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital who is also a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

AlzRisk, part of the AlzForum, a website that reports the latest scientific findings on the advancement of diagnostics and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, posts a scientific review of 16 scientific articles reporting on the relationship of exercise habits to the later development of Alzheimer’s disease. Blacker, AlzRisk’s leader, says that this more solid body of evidence suggests that exercise may play a modest role in protecting a person from Alzheimer’s disease, but further scientific research is required.

Like Besdine, Blacker still sees the positive benefits of exercise even if the scientific data is still coming in. “We know that physical exercise is good for preventing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. If it may also help to prevent cognitive decline, for me that is an even better reason to exercise,” she says.

The Bottom Line

“Staying physically active is one of the best things that someone can do for their physical health and mental health. Physical activity can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, prevent depression, and, especially for older adults, promote memory and help you think clearly,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “We are working hard to make sure that people from every zip code throughout Rhode Island have access to our state’s wonderful parks, beaches, and other natural resources and are getting the amount of physical activity they need to live long, full, productive lives.”