New Carleton-Willard CEO Enjoying ‘Best of Both Worlds’

July 21, 2023
Chris Golen is the new president and CEO of Carleton-Willard Village. Courtesy photo

The new president and CEO of Carleton-Willard Village says that in the world of elder care, he is enjoying “the best of both worlds:” corporate-level management and grass-roots interaction and empathy.

Chris Golen recalled that “I was very close with my grandparents, and we cared for them through end of life. And now I just find that in this business, it’s about the good you do. The look in people’s faces when you do something good for them is just so rewarding.”

Golen, 53, has been at Carleton-Willard for about 12 weeks.

“I absolutely love it,” he said in a recent interview on the Old Billerica Road campus. “This was a groundbreaking product in our industry that came to fruition here. I jumped right in to get myself acclimated.” 

He succeeded Barbara A. Doyle, who retired in early May after 41 years as the only person to serve as leader of the local landmark, which now calls itself a continuing care retirement community.

The new president and CEO ended up in his position after a significant professional course correction more than 20 years ago.

He earned a degree in finance from Westfield State College, where he also carried a criminal justice major. After several years in the business world, as he navigated through the technology downturn, “my wife strongly suggested I pursue another career,” he recounted. 

“My best friend was a nursing home administrator, and he suggested I look at that line of work. It is a business, but you get to care for people.” 

Golen took that advice, and after a six-month internship and passing federal and state exams, he received his administrator’s license.

He worked in management for the Benchmark group of elder care facilities for more than 17 years, including five as director of The Commons, off Route 2 in Lincoln. Benchmark owns more than 60 senior-living communities in seven northeastern states. Golen said many of them resemble Carleton-Willard Village.

During the first several months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Golen reported, he was part of a corporate task force that helped all of the group’s facilities with emergency management tasks such as ensuring sufficient supplies. He worked from home, to guard against infection. He noted that this is contradictory to usual industry response; “when there’s trouble in the community, we go to the community.”

Chris Golen says that in the world of elder care, he is enjoying “the best of both worlds:” corporate-level management and grass-roots interaction and empathy. He is the new president and CEO of Carleton-Willard Village. Courtesy photo

As director of operations for several continuing care retirement communities in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts for several years, Golen said he missed the personal relationships with residents and staff.

Now in Bedford, he has the opportunity to work with the board at the top management level, while also deriving fulfillment from “the day-to-day business of being in the buildings.”

Golen said he is reaching out personally to the more than 300 residents at Carleton-Willard, “trying to make myself very visible, attending activities, offering one-on-one visits.”

He also has met with several municipal department heads, and noted that “we’re doing a first-responders thank-you breakfast on Sept. 21 for a few hours.”

The new president and CEO, who holds a master’s degree in aging services from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was hired by the Carleton-Willard trustees following a nationwide search that began after Doyle announced her plans to retire in April 2022.

Golen acknowledged that he is following in the footsteps of a legend in the field of elder care. Indeed, he said, some prospects found the idea so daunting that they didn’t apply when the position was posted.

“The way I viewed it was: Barbara was here for 41 years and ran an incredible community. I’m inheriting something that is not broken, that has the greatest respect and integrity. I view that as a gift, being chosen for this place,” Golen declared. “I promised her that I would uphold and preserve the legacy. That was so important to her.”

Golen, who grew up in Dracut, resides in Pelham, New Hampshire. He and his wife Jennifer have two teenage children and a five-year-old dog.

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