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 In The Spotlight: Rising Stars In Long Term And Post-Acute Care

These seven profiles represent the best and brightest within the profession.

 Managing Editor

 

Provider’s 2014 20 To Watch continues this month with profiles of six honorees who—just as they did last month—shine bright as glittering examples of what’s best in long term and post-acute care today. An administrator, a charge nurse, a chief operating officer, a spiritual care director, a regional nurse consultant, and a chief executive officer of a nonprofit are highlighted in this month’s profiles.


Stay tuned, as next month will feature the final eight profiles of 2014’s 20 To Watch.

 

 
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Henry GerrityHenry Gerrity, Administrator

Tuskawilla Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Winter Springs, Fla.
 
A five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a deficiency-free survey, the Governor’s Gold Seal Award, and a National Satisfaction Award from National Research Corp.’s My InnerView are among Henry Gerrity’s recent accomplishments as administrator of Tuskawilla Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the past three-plus years.
 
Gerrity, who has been working in long term care for more than 14 years, is already a leader in the state of Florida, says Kristen Knapp, director of communications for the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA).
A 2013 graduate of the FHCA Florida Leaders program, Gerrity contributes “an immense level of service” to FHCA, and he recently completed a term on the FHCA Board of Directors and is a member of the association’s Quality Foundation.
 
Most recently, Gerrity was appointed to the Florida Board of Nursing Home Administrators by Gov. Rick Scott, on which he’ll serve a two-year term.
 
“He is also an effective long term care advocate, actively taking part in FHCA’s Lobby Days to meet with lawmakers in Florida’s capitol and hosting numerous elected officials in his facility,” says Knapp.
“It’s very rewarding,” says Gerrity, of his work in long term care. “I love the interaction with residents and family, and I enjoy working for Southern LTC Management.”
 
Gerrity’s work has been enriched by the fact that his brother-in-law was in a nursing home in Pennsylvania at a young age. “Having to deal with that helped me realize what families are going through here at Tuskawilla,” he says.
 
Lee Smith, Gerrity’s assistant administrator, speaks very highly of Gerrity’s leadership aptitude.
“You need an administrator who will take it out of the box, who can see the big picture,” she says. “They need to see how it will affect your residents. Henry can do this. He makes things happen. Not just big things, but little things, too. Henry is a visionary; he moves with the times.”
 
Smith cites an example of how Gerrity takes residents’ suggestions to heart and makes them into a reality: “One such suggestion was realized by planting beautiful flowers in what had been a dull area on the side of the facility,” she says. “As the resident put it, ‘It was a concrete wall and plain grass.’”
 
Smith reports that since that area’s transformation, residents’ spirits have been lifted.
 
“Some residents even look forward to new blooms and blossoms, while another resident said that a flower can only be a thing of beauty when it creates a joyful impact on someone’s soul and inspires one to look to the future.”

 

 

 
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Lyndsay PeasleeLyndsay Peaslee, LPN, Charge Nurse

Pine Point Center
Scarborough, Maine

Like many long term care loyalists, inspiration to join the profession stemmed from a childhood experience, and in Lyndsay Peaslee’s case it was her father’s battle with cancer when she was just 16 years old.
 
“My parents had been divorced for many years at that point, but my mother, my brother, my sister, and I took care of him in his home,” she says. “I was the only one at that point who didn’t have a job (my sister is six years older than me and my brother eight years older), and so I spent a lot of time with him that summer.”
 
Because of her father, and the hospice care nurse who came daily, “I had no doubts that I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up,” she says.
 
Currently a licensed practical nurse, Peaslee is studying to become a registered nurse (RN), with an ultimate goal of becoming a nurse practitioner.
 
Peaslee, who has been employed at Pine Point since January 2010, “has demonstrated care and compassion for the residents of her long term care community,” says Leslie Currier, Pine Point administrator.
 
“Lyndsay has served as a mentor to new nurses, guiding them through the orientation process, as well as overseeing the orientation of CNAs [certified nurse assistants]. Lyndsay is intelligent, thoughtful, and dedicated. She balances work, family, and the pursuit of her RN degree.” As the Skin Champion for her community, Peaslee works directly with both residents and staff to ensure best practices are implemented and to problem-solve challenging wound care situations.
 
“The work you have done at Pine Point on skin is certainly reflective of [your selection to 20 To Watch]. We are so fortunate to have you in our nursing force,” said Donna Trundy, RN, manager of clinical operations for Genesis HealthCare, upon hearing of Peaslee’s selection. “I look forward to following your career and growth in the coming years.”
 
Peaslee, who says she likes a challenge, enjoys working with the same people every day and “being able to build a relationship with patients and their families,” she says. “I never wanted to do long term care when I started here. But now I enjoy the people I work with, the patients I take care of, and I can’t see myself changing that anytime soon.”
 
Currier sees more nurse leadership positions in Peaslee’s future. “Having watched Lyndsay step up, it makes me think that down the road, if she so desires, she should go into nursing leadership—hopefully still within a building because her patient and family touch is so valuable.”
 
Says Currier, “She has the ability to form a team and to really set her feet on the ground and create something in a building someday.”

 

 

 
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Rhonda LutherRhonda Luther, LNHA, Chief Operating Officer

Imboden Creek Health Services
Decatur, Ill.
 
It’s not hard to fall in love with long term care, and so goes the story of Rhonda Luther’s entry to the profession. At the tender age of 24, Luther fell hard when she was hired as administrator at Imboden Creek Health Services about two decades ago.
 
Today, her leadership abilities have attracted the attention of the Illinois Health Care Association (IHCA) and its members across the state. She is the only female on the board at IHCA and serves as secretary and chair of the association’s Education Committee.
 
“I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” says Luther. “This is my home.”
 
Before she became smitten with long term care, Luther was a social worker at a local hospital, where she did discharge planning.
 
“People would come back from nursing homes and say, ‘please don’t make me take my loved one back there,’ and tell me horror stories about them. And I thought that it can’t be that hard for people to take care of people, we’ve been doing it since Adam and Eve, why is that complicated?” she says.
 
“But I also knew that there was one facility in town that I had never heard complaints about [Imboden], so I knew something here had to be right. I heard about the administrator opening, and I called the owner.”
And the rest, of course, is history.
 
The favorite part of the job for Luther: “Seeing staff flourish, seeing them learn, seeing them provide great care, and seeing them acknowledged,” she says.
 
“Part of our mission is to take good care of residents and staff, but its also to change the perceptions of society about what long term care is, so any opportunity we have to let people know that where we work is a very positive place to be, and it’s not something you see on ‘60 Minutes.’ It’s such an amazing place.”
What makes Imboden an amazing place, says Luther, is its emphasis on person-centered care.
 
She claims that Imboden has been “doing person-centered care” since she started with the company.
 
“I thought that everyone did long term care that way,” she says. “I was blessed because I guess I grew up in person-centered care before there was a name for it, thanks to John [Brinkoetter, founder of the company].”
 
Imboden’s administrator, Molly Carpenter, describes Luther as someone who has a passion for long term care and works daily to better the industry in which she deeply cares to make a difference.
 
“Whether in her office working on the latest industry trend, in the home of a potential new resident, or at the bedside of someone gasping for their next breath, Rhonda cares for the best interest of each life she is able to meet,” says Carpenter.

 

 

 
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Deborah BradleyDeborah Bradley, Director of Spiritual Care

St. Crispin Living Community
Red Wing, Minn.
 
Blessings are plentiful in Deborah Bradley’s life. She has the job of her dreams, she says, and all is right with the world. Having served as the director of spiritual care at St. Crispin Living Community for the past two years, Bradley feels like she has accomplished her life goal.
 
“I’ve told my boss a number of times that I can die fulfilled now; this is exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. “And I get to do it every day.”
 
Although Bradley is relatively new to St. Crispin, she has had an “immeasurable impact on those we serve,” says Jacob Goering, chief executive officer/administrator at St. Crispin. “Debby’s interdisciplinary team approach of providing spiritual support includes compassion, kindness, candor, forthrightness, humor, and contagious energy and warmth,” he says. “She has an inexpressible way of helping residents and families by using her approaches, natural abilities, and instinctually recognizes how to provide healing and comfort.”
 
For Bradley, who worked for the Catholic church for 24 years before taking her current position, becoming part of the residents’ lives and becoming a part of their end-of-life experience is a gift. “What people tell me about is just stunning, and when they disclose parts of their journey it’s amazing to me, and that they would include me as part of that is amazing,” she says.
 
“If they stay long enough and decline I become part of their death and dying experience, and there’s nothing more intimate than that. I feel really honored that people include me in that experience.”
 
“Being a leader in our organization requires following core values of hospitality, stewardship, respect, and justice,” Goering writes in her nomination letter. “Debby’s growth in the past year has proven that she continues to become a stronger advisor and mentor in her career. Debby is pursing professional development by taking Clinical Pastoral Education classes and voluntarily solicits feedback from others on how to better her services.”
 
Bradley also recently became the project team leader for a project aimed at developing palliative care for the organization’s residents, tenants, and families, Goering reports. “This brave undertaking will set our organization apart as a Center of Excellence in serving holistic care to those with a chronic or life-limiting illness.”
 
The effort includes a special component known as “ethical wills,” which Bradley has taken the lead in implementing. An ethical will is a written or recorded document that the chaplain and a person who is dying cultivate as a gift, containing life memories to give to loved ones after death.
 
And if that is not enough, Bradley has also published a series of books called “Sophie Wonders” that are being used by Catholic organizations all over the country to teach children about sacraments by using words, language, and pictures that youngsters can identify with.

 

 

 
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Chris PernaChris Perna, Chief Executive Officer

The Eden Alternative
Rochester, N.Y.
 
Chris Perna is not easily deterred; he loves a good challenge, he says. With that comes a good fight—and Perna is certainly fighting the good fight. As the head of The Eden Alternative for the past three-and-one-half years, “Chris is now a major force in the national and international culture change movement,” says Bill Thomas, MD, founder of The Eden Alternative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to showing providers “how companionship, the opportunity to give meaningful care to other living things, and the variety and spontaneity that mark an enlivened environment can succeed where pills and therapies often fail.”
 
“Chris has led the organization’s expansion into new training and consulting services, delivering a more complete array of offerings to help organizations grow in their culture change journey,” Thomas says. “In the past year Eden Alternative has completed major dementia training initiatives in Tennessee and Kentucky, in collaboration with local and state regulators and the Region IV office for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. This dementia training touched more than 750 direct care workers, supervisory staff, and regulatory staff,  helping them to grow in their understanding of how dementia care can be different when applying person-directed care principles.”
 
Perna is not new to the profession. Prior to his current position, he spent 10 years as chief operating officer of a long term care insurance company, where he refined his management and leadership skills. “Long term care insurance was the only product line we offered, and so I was very familiar with the industry and the challenges faced by baby boomers,” he says. 
 
“After watching Bill build Eden and the Green House concept, it influenced some of the work we did. We actually moved to a new type of insurance product that paid a cash benefit regardless of who received or delivered the care—we gave them a check so they could buy services from whomever and wherever they wanted. It was very much in the spirit of where Bill was going with Eden and Green House.”
 
His work with The Eden Alternative has been a learning experience, Perna says. “But I find myself applying a lot of the same managerial and leadership concepts I used with the insurance company.”
 
What Perna finds “really cool” is that no matter what type of Eden-registry home he’s has visited—“rural, urban, small-town, big city”—creating home can happen anywhere. “What’s really been a revelation to me is that when you boil it all down, this idea of creating home, it can happen anywhere and in any place,” he says. “When you get inside and see the care provided and the kind of home environment that’s been created [at an Eden home], it transcends all those settings and locations. All that stuff is immaterial. It’s much more about the people than it is about the building. The relationship element is just so important, and that’s what we focus on—helping people create an environment where relationships come first. And when that happens, it’s magic.”

 

 

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Misty LohnMisty Lohn, RN, Regional Nurse Consultant

Prestige Care
Portland, Ore.

At 16 years old, Misty Lohn’s career path had already begun to take shape. She served as a dietary aide at a hospital, and at 18 she became a certified nurse assistant (CNA). Today, two more degrees (and another on the way) later, Lohn is quite happy with where that path has taken her—and so are her colleagues: Five of them nominated Lohn for the 20 To Watch honor. “Misty has an exceptional ability to engage and train junior clinical staff,” says Ryan Keesey, administrator at Oregon City Health Care. “As a director of nursing [DON] at one of our Oregon centers, Misty mentored multiple staff in their roles as charge nurses and resident care managers [RCMs]. She is a shrewd, critical thinker, very organized, by the book, and diligent, and she reinforces these skills in the staff she trains.
 
“As a result, many of Lohn’s staff have excelled in their roles and moved up through the ranks to become RCMs and DONs and now mentor their own staff,  based on her example,” Keesey adds.
 
Most rewarding for Lohn is “seeing residents flourish, in the time frame of life they are in right now,” she says, adding that she loves “working with the people I work with because they’re so passionate about making sure that this population receives quality care.”
 
“Misty has made a phenomenal impact on multiple skilled nursing facilities in western Oregon by imparting knowledge, encouraging continued education, promoting best practices, and continually striving to improve patient care in accordance with state standards,” says Heather Sowa, director of nursing at Chehalem Health and Rehabilitation Center, Newberg, Ore. “She has encouraged several associate degree nurses to continue their education, then mentored and promoted them to director of nursing positions, where they have excelled in their roles.”
 
Among Lohn’s standout accomplishments, her colleagues note, is the design and development of  a nurse leadership program that trains a Prestige registered nurse who is working on the floor to be a nursing director.
 
“Her program of support and mentorship ensures that a nurse learning this position will excel in the role once promoted.
 
“She has already trained and promoted several nurses to do this out of one building but now has implemented the program company-wide,” says Sowa, who adds that “Misty’s enthusiasm for learning and her desire to be the best at what she does makes her an outstanding role model to those she works with.”
“Caring for people boils down to relationships first and quality care second,” says Lohn. “Because without relationship building you’ll never get very far in delivering quality care because the person you’re caring for needs to be able to trust you.”
 
Yet another Lohn fan, Jack Striker, administrator at Hood River Care Center,  sings her praises: “Misty is a leader by her actions. She may wear a name badge that indicates she is a nurse consultant, but she has also earned that badge by her integrity, honesty, and commitment to quality care, and she is very well respected for her knowledge and skills.” ■ 
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