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SCHotline Exclusive Interview – Curtis Loftis, Dir. Office On Aging

June 12, 2008

SCHotline Exclusive Interview – Curtis Loftis

Curtis Loftis, Director Lt. Governor\'s Office on Aging

Outgoing Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging Director Talks with SCHotline’s Jeffrey Sewell about Challenges Met and Challenges to Come

SCHotline’s Jeffrey Sewell had the privilege this week to conduct an exclusive interview with Curtis Loftis, who is stepping down this month after serving for the past year-and-a-half as Director of the State Office on Aging under Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

Loftis is the founder, chairman and benefactor of the Saluda Charitable Foundation, a faith-based humanitarian group based in West Columbia, S.C. that provides food, shelter and clothing to seniors and orphans in Eastern Europe, Latin America and the United States.

Jeffrey Sewell: First of all, SC Hotline appreciates you sitting down with us, Curtis. You have done a great service to the Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging and more importantly a great service to thousands of South Carolina seniors.

Curtis Loftis: Thank you, Jeffrey.

JS: Tell us a little bit about your decision to step down. What motivated you to make that decision and why do it now?

CL: I started this job back in March of last year and I thought it would take a 12 to16 month commitment to accomplish some very specific goals. I do a lot of charitable work in addition to being a business owner, and so my plate is always full. But I care about our state’s seniors and the issues that affect them, and so when the Lieutenant Governor asked me to help, I took one look at the situation we were facing as a state and decided it was something that I needed to do.

JS: Specifically, what led you to take the job?

CL: We have just over 770,000 seniors in South Carolina right now, a figure that’s going to double within the next fifteen to twenty years. That’s the “gray wave,” as it’s called, and it presents a whole host of challenges for our state. Caring for our seniors and ensuring that their needs are being met is always going to be a big job, but when you look at those numbers the task becomes truly daunting. I found that the Office on Aging and the Aging Network in SC was stale, and needed energy, change and vision if it was going to effectively meet such a tremendous statewide need.

JS: That’s particularly true when it’s not an issue a lot of people are focused on the way they are with immigration or abortion, right?

CL: Exactly. Seniors issues have been the great “silent debate” in South Carolina for too long, and so the first challenge I took on was how to raise the profile of this issue so that people understand how serious it is. These are our family members, our friends, people who have sacrificed to provide for us, and so putting it in that context was important to me. Most importantly, Andre brought me on board because he wanted to turn the Office into an efficient vehicle for handling the challenges that are coming.

JS: Talk a little bit about those efficiencies? What have you been able to accomplish?

CL: From the beginning I approached it like a business, in that the more money we could save on bureaucracy and administration, the more money we could use to actually help people. Today, I’m proud to report that we have fewer employees costing the taxpayers less money and yet we’re producing more than we ever have before. We focused the on outcomes rather than process. To me, that’s what we should do in all public service at all levels of government – build the organization to meet the needs of the people, not the needs of governments.

JS: Give our readers an example of what you mean …

CL: We cut twenty percent of our administrative budget in the first 12 months and then sent that money to local communities for direct senior services, including the first ever Senior Center for seniors with developmental disabilities. We found ways to cut travel and other expenses, and to shift desk jobs to field jobs so we actually touch seniors where they live and how they live. When you streamline your operations and start implementing techniques to maximize the value of every dollar that’s spent, it’s amazing how much money you can find to devote to the core responsibilities of the office.

One of the most important changes we implemented was “marrying” data, outcomes and auditing in each program. This allows us to know where and how each dollar is spent and how effectively it is being spent. This alteration in our policies is creating great change throughout our network and reaping real rewards for seniors in need of service.

JS: The Office on Aging is one of the nation’s most successful governmental units now, and has been recognized as such, and it’s turned into a source of real political strength for the Lieutenant Governor. Do you think your success has helped him?

CL: I think the best political success is to demand good government by placing the constituent and the taxpayers first and the governmental unit second. Strom Thurmond had that approach to government, and I think Andre has it as well. He set out some clear goals for me when I was appointed, and we’ve been fortunate to have met and exceeded all of those goals. His energy and attention has been a big part of that success, so if it translates into a political benefit for him then I would say it’s well-deserved. Of course we didn’t turn the agency around by looking for a political advantage. In fact, one of my most strident rules as Director was that the Office on Aging would not play politics. We turned it around by empowering our staff to treat seniors as our first priority.

JS: But you do admit that you have a reputation for running a tight ship. You are known for working 15 hours days, sometimes six and seven days a week. Many insiders suggest that some of the early missteps that the Lt. Governor had which caused many to question his credibility have been avoided under your tenure. You can say that, right?

CL: My experience with Andre has been that he laid out very clearly what he wanted, threw his full support behind it and working as a team we were able to get it done. Look, the minute you start viewing an undertaking like this through a political lens, you lose all perspective. These are people’s lives, you can’t forget that. These aren’t sound bites. So this is serious work, and it involves coordinating with people who know what they are talking about – staff, doctors, nursing home executives, hospital CEO’s, you name it. I think if you talk to those people you’ll hear that they respect the job Andre is doing and they appreciate the work our team has put into turning the office around.

JS: The Lt. Governor was in fact quoted recently as saying that the Office on Aging “is in better shape than ever, and it is because of Curtis Loftis. He has made the Office on Aging into an efficient and transparent unit of government that we can all be proud of.”

CL: Those are kind words – and I’m grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to help. It’s been a true team effort.

JS: Where does the Office on Aging go from here?

CL: We’ve been able to revitalize the office and put an operational structure in place that works. My staff is also second to none. We had significant turnover last year when I demanded reform and excellence from the LGOA, and the new staff represents the best professionals anywhere. There simply are no weak links in that office. In fact, I have no doubt I could take my staff to the business or non-profit world and they would be equally successful. I have been humbled by their commitment and their integrity and they have taught me much.

The big next step is to revitalize the Senior Network, which consists of all the local and state agencies, non-profits, private businesses, faith groups and committed individuals who are dedicated to the seniors of SC. Modernizing that network and leveraging its strengths are going to be keys to meeting the challenges that are on the horizon, and I’m proud to say our office is now in a position to perform like never before.

JS: Where do you go from here personally?

CL: Vacation! Next week I set sail from Beaufort, N.C. to Cape Cod, where I expect to spend the summer. Then it will be back overseas for work with my charity. It has run well in my absence but there are always new challenges, and I think by September or October I will be ready to leave the Cape and be able to begin full-time work with the Saluda Charitable Foundation again.

JS: Thank you again and best of luck in all your endeavors, Curtis.

CL: Thank you.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. S, MD permalink
    June 12, 2008 12:37 PM

    Wow, this is a real shock.

    I have been involved in aging for almost 22 years and Mr. Loftis was clearly the great at his job. He moved aging from the dark ages to being a modern agency that gets lots of attention and respect.

    S, MD

  2. John permalink
    June 12, 2008 12:39 PM

    Andre told me at the New Years bash that Loftis was the best he had ever seen so I hope his work can continue.
    Aging is becoming more and more important to our state, and it can not be left to chance.

  3. John permalink
    June 12, 2008 12:43 PM

    Hey Curt…we will miss you! Thanks for all the hard work. You were great.

    Your Staff at the LGOA

  4. Chas County SHL permalink
    June 12, 2008 12:47 PM

    AS a member of the Silver Hair Legislature I want to thank Curt for all he did for seniors. His 15 months at aging was great.

    Thanks Curt

  5. Tom permalink
    June 12, 2008 12:52 PM

    HEY CURT, WE WILL REALLY MISS YOU. YOU DID A GREAT JOB. ANDRE SHOULD BE PROUD. DONT BE A STRANGER. COME SEE US SOON.

  6. Richard permalink
    June 12, 2008 1:56 PM

    Hi Curt,

    You certainly have earned a vacation. I appreciate your visits to our facility and your private words of encouragements. Your ability to encourage change has been amazing and I can’t thank you enough.

    Sail well, and be safe.

    Richard

  7. Margaret permalink
    June 12, 2008 2:03 PM

    Curtis, we will miss you but we thank you for your service to seniors and the State of South Carolina.

  8. June 12, 2008 2:21 PM

    Editors Note: I have known Curtis for years now; we first met when we found we had a mutual passion for changing the politics of West Columbia and look at it now. Having said that; there is no finer person than my friend Curtis Loftis, successful in business he has used his millions to make life easier for the less fortunate around the world. God Bless you Curt!

    If so inclined to do the same go to http://www.saludacharitable.com/ and make a contribution!

    ~Jeffrey Sewell

    PS…Curt it is guys like you that remind me every day that God gave us this day to be a better person, thank you!

  9. Mike permalink
    June 12, 2008 3:04 PM

    The Lt. Governor should not have let Curtis go. He was the most loyal and talented public official to grace the state in some time. It is too bad that Andre didn’t refuse his resignation and give him a raise. Curtis truly cared for the folks he was serving — and believed in service. He will be missed.

  10. BC High School permalink
    June 12, 2008 4:03 PM

    Hi Curt,

    As a fellow member of the class of 76, I want you to know how proud I am of your work. Mom sends her best (she is 88 now!). Thanks for the work you have done, and will do in the future.

    Be good this summer or I will tell everyone the story about the quarry, the Boones Farm wine and the ZZ Top 8 track!

    TT

  11. Pam permalink
    June 12, 2008 6:44 PM

    Curtis, In just 15 months you dragged a tired, outdated, ineffective aging network into the 21st Century. It wasn’t easy, but you dragged those AAA’s and Councils on Aging kicking and screaming. As someone indirectly involved in the senior network it has been a hoot to watch watch them squirm. You brought accountability and transparency into a system that had been ignored for decades. The senior network is at a crossroads now. It can either move forward embracing your commonsense reforms or it can revert back to where it was before you took charge. It is in the best interest of the elderly that your good work and progress be allowed to continue. Thank You

  12. June 12, 2008 8:16 PM

    Letter to the Editor
    Post & Courier

    Dear Editor:

    It is with great sadness that I heard Curtis Loftis has resigned as Director of the State’s Office on Aging. There are very few people working in government who have a heart and Mr. Loftis is truly one. He was there when my family needed him and he went beyond the call of duty.

    In February, my 86 year old aunt required emergency medical attention early on a Sunday morning. My sister and I drove her to the Medical University where we experienced great difficulty having her admitted to the hospital. Through a friend we obtained Mr. Loftis’ cell phone and called him to see if he had any contacts through the Office on Aging who could assist us at MUSC.

    Mr. Loftis immediately jumped into his car and drove from Columbia to help us – giving up his Sunday. Because the emergency room was crowed my infirmed aunt had been moved to a cold and drafty area outside the waiting room near the ambulance entrance – totally exposed to the elements. Mr. Loftis immediately asked that she be moved to an inside hallway where she would be protected from the wind and cold. He then held her hand and waited with the family for several hours before she could be admitted.

    Mr. Loftis did not have to answer the call to help an ill senior citizen on a cold February Sunday and his kindness and compassion will never be forgotten by my family.

    Mary Perez
    Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina

  13. June 12, 2008 8:18 PM

    Dear Editor,

    I would like to commend the Lt. Governorʼs Office on Aging for enhancing the visibility of senior issues in South Carolina. For years the Office on Aging was passed around from agency to agency and was pretty much unknown by our stateʼs leaders and the public.

    The positive image the agency now enjoys is the direct result of its Director, Curtis M. Loftis, Jr. A successful businessman, Mr. Loftis retired at a very early age.

    After he retired he spent several years working tirelessly to promote his charitable organizations and international mission projects in Eastern Europe. When Lt. Governor Bauer asked Mr. Loftis to end his retirement and run the Office on Aging he agreed to serve 12 to 18 months in order to put critical aging issues in the hearts and minds of South Carolinians.

    Since being named director Mr. Loftis has worked to modernize the Office on Aging and has made it more relevant to the aging population. When he arrived, the Office on Aging played a diminished role in aging issues other than allocating federal and state dollars to local aging agencies.

    Mr. Loftis recognized and streamlined the office and put his employees into the field where they directly serve senior citizens. He cut the administrative budget by eliminating unnecessary positions and used that money to fund senior services.

    During his tenure as Director, the Office on Aging has had many accomplishments including the creation of the Senior Fraud Task Force and a study committee which will write the first Alzheimerʼs state plan since 1993.

    Mr. Loftis has proven that you can run a state agency as a business. With 1.3 million South Carolina Baby Boomers set to retire now and in the not too distant future, it will take innovation and forward thinking to ensure the this population continues to be served. Mr. Loftis has proven he has the ability to make the aging initiatives relevant. South Carolina is better for his service.

    Sincerely,

    Thomas Sweeny
    Member, SC Aging Advisory Council

  14. June 12, 2008 8:31 PM

    Thank you all for your comments, for me they have confirmed that this Curtis Loftis my friend and yours has done one hell of a job and let’s not forget the gentlemen Lt. Governor Andre Bauer with the presence of mind to appoint this very special individual to the post, quite frankly it says a lot of the Lt. Governor in our humble opinion.

  15. June 13, 2008 2:04 PM

    Dear Curtis,
    We all are very glad and proud to have worked with you in Ukraine. The projects of helping to our needy and ill children and senior people of Ukraine you have started and supports over here (the Mercy Center for the senior citizens and orphans together with the Food Pantry “Sofia”) have become as example for the state enterprises of this kind in Ukraine.
    We wish you all the best and successes and we are looking forward to seeing you back in Ukraine.

    Sincerely,
    Igor Vovk
    President of Ternopil Regional Charitable Foundation “Saluda-Ternopil”
    Tania Vovk
    Head of the Food Pantry “Sofia”
    Ternopil, Ukraine

Trackbacks

  1. Hotline: Loftis To Step Down At Office On Aging | FITSNews For Now
  2. SCHotline Exclusive Interview – Curtis Loftis, Dir. Office On Aging | The Director's Blog

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