Joann F. Gago, CEO
“I wanted to create a health care environment that was different from what we have known. For Participants it is about minimizing the physical, emotional and financial limitations of aging that can often take away freedom from older adults. I wanted to be with the older adult and their family as they age and face the unpredictable and sometimes scary time of change and to remain by their side for the duration.
For the staff it is about being in an environment that allows for personal growth and the opportunity to contribute to another person’s life and to give something greater than (beyond) themselves.
I believe that we have created an environment where new loved ones are created for both the Participant and staff, because no one can care for people better than family”.
LIFE Pittsburgh Beginnings
In the fall of 1997, Joann F. Gago was hired and began development of the first PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly), LTCCAP (Long Term Care Capitated Assistance Program) in Western Pennsylvania. The program, known as LIFE (Living Independence For the Elderly) Pittsburgh, Inc., d/b/a LIFE Pittsburgh, opened with its first Participant in February 1999.
PACE Program History
The first PACE program originated in China Town, San Francisco, California. It was based on the Chinese cultural belief that elderly loved ones should be revered and taken care of, as opposed to institutionalized. The Chinese viewed institutionalization as disrespectful and felt that they simply needed appropriate medical and social supports in order to maintain their loved ones in the community. From these beliefs, the first PACE program was founded with the help of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Money to begin the first Day Health Center was received in the early 1970’s and the development of the PACE model began. The first PACE national demonstration project began in early 1990.
LIFE Pittsburgh Development Timeline
- Joann F. Gago was hired in September of 1997.
1998 – 1999
- The governing board of directors was established in June of 1998. As well, bylaws, articles of incorporation, a budget and a joint sponsorship agreement between Lutheran SeniorLife and Pittsburgh Mercy Health System occurred.
- In May of 1998 the mission and logo of LIFE Pittsburgh were established.
- In September of 1998, the first staff members were hired to assist Joann.
- In November of 1998, LIFE Pittsburgh underwent the first Department of Public Welfare (DPW) readiness review.
- LIFE Pittsburgh was founded in June of 1998 as a corporation called Living Independence for the Elderly – Pittsburgh, Inc., d/b/a LIFE Pittsburgh. LIFE Pittsburgh was the first Western Pennsylvania program of its kind.
- LIFE Pittsburgh opened with DPW’s approval on February 1, 1999, with one Participant.
2000 – 2005
- In February of 2003, our Northshore Center near the Pittsburgh Steeler’s Heinz Field opened.
- In February of 2005, our new and larger Greentree Center opened near Parkway Center Mall.
- In May of 2005, LIFE Pittsburgh was approved for full provider status under both Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
- In June of 2008, our third and fourth centers opened in the Allegheny Center complex, near the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
- In June of 2016, our fifth and sixth centers opened in McKees Rocks.
- To date, LIFE Pittsburgh has served 1,500 older adults in Allegheny County.
The Future of LIFE Pittsburgh
Joann has gone from being the only LIFE Pittsburgh employee, to currently overseeing some 300 employees. She manages the operations of four centers. Joann personifies excellence and provides outstanding leadership. She has spent the majority of her life caring for others in various health care settings in Western Pennsylvania. She has brought her extensive health care knowledge – over 33 years of health care experience – 20 years in Acute Care Intensive Care Unit, Trauma and Administration, and 5 years in Community/Home Health Service, Delivery and Administration – to her role at LIFE Pittsburgh. She strongly advocates that LIFE Pittsburgh stay true to its mission of assisting older adults in maintaining quality, dignity and autonomy in their lives. As the program continues to grow, Joann remains intricately involved in the lives of LIFE Pittsburgh’s Participants and strongly advocates on their behalf on a daily basis.
Due to Joann and her staff member’s passion and perseverance for meeting the needs of older adults, over 1,500 individuals in Allegheny County have averted nursing facility placement and most were and are able to live out their final days in the manner in which they choose-on their own terms, in their own homes and in their own community.