Conchy Bretos


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2006 Purpose Prize Winner

After losing her run for elected office, Conchy created the nation's first public housing project to bring assisted living services to older adults so they can stay in their homes.

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My Encore Story

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Conchy Bretos took matters into her own hands.

As Florida’s Secretary for Aging and Adult Services, she was charged with looking after assisted living facilities, adult day care and nursing homes across the state. In her travels, Bretos saw too many low-income elders and disabled adults living in squalid and crowded conditions, neglected by the system – at the same time that Medicaid costs soared.

“I saw people in bed, covered with feces, who suffered quietly because they didn’t want to be thrown out of public housing,” she says. “I don’t know how anybody can be complacent about this situation.”

Knowing pricey assisted living facilities were out of reach for impoverished seniors, Bretos was determined to bring assisted living services to public housing.

First she established a model project, the Helen Sawyer Building, in Miami, which now provides more than 100 residents with the services they need to avoid nursing homes. “It takes so little,” Bretos says. “Sometimes all you need is someone to get you out of bed in the morning and take you down to have a meal.”

Then in 1995, at age 50, Bretos formed a for-profit consulting company to carry her idea nationwide. Today she’s CEO of MIA Consulting, which helps acquire, convert, finance and manage public housing projects that offer assisted living services. The firm has helped 40 public housing projects in a dozen states bring services to their residents.

It’s an impressive start, but Bretos calls it a drop in the bucket. “It’s not enough because there are 300,000 housing authorities nationwide,” she says.

My Work History

After a varied career in housing, marketing, health, and women's issues, Conchy Bretos was appointed to the job of Florida Secretary for Aging and Adult Services, a position that allowed her to see firsthand the thousands of low-income elders and disabled adults who were not getting the service they needed to stay in their homes. Many ended up in nursing homes prematurely because they could not afford in-home care or assisted living facilities. Bretos became the driving force behind the nation's first public housing project, "the Helen Sawyer building in Miami," to bring assisted living services to older adults who just need a little help to stay in their homes. Today she runs a consulting company that has helped 40 public housing projects in a dozen states bring assisted living services to their residents.

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