20 To Watch
inaugural 20 To Watch continues this month with profiles of seven 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 assistant administrator, a director of engineering, a dietitian, a nurse, an administrator, an owner, and a founder of a nonprofit organization all have the spotlight this month.
Stay tuned, as next month will feature the final seven profiles of 2013’s 20 To Watch. For the complete list, click here.
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Sharonda Jenkins
Sharonda Jenkins, RN
Quality Assurance Nurse
Highland Pines Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Longview, Texas
Working with elders is a blessing for Sharonda Jenkins. In fact, Jenkins says, “it’s what God wanted me to do.” From her start as a certified nurse assistant (CNA), to becoming a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), to now being a registered nurse (RN), Jenkins says she wouldn’t change a thing. “I just love what I do; it’s where my heart is.”
Prompting her entry into the world of long term and post-acute care was her daughter, who 18 years ago, at the age of just two, had a seizure. Jenkins’ mother administered CPR on the toddler, while Jenkins watched in horror, not knowing what to do.
“After that, I said to my mother, ‘This is never happening again,’ so I became a CNA.” She went to work in a nursing home and now serves as quality assurance nurse at Highland Pines.
“Sharonda is a caring, funny, and motivated nurse, striving to do her best each and every day. Her belief is that you should give your staff what they need to do the best job they can,” says Cindy Baldridge, director of staff development for Stebbins Five Companies, which manages the nursing home where Jenkins works.
As a champion of staff training and education, Jenkins encourages staff to improve themselves both personally and professionally, says Baldridge. “She watches for those ready to receive more responsibility or duties and encourages those with LVNs to get their RN licenses.”
Since joining Highland Pines, Jenkins has positively impacted the employees she supervises and the residents she is so compassionate about. “Not only does she provide daily training with the nursing staff, she monitors employee immunizations, provides annual check offs with the nurse assistants on their skills, and does extensive licensed nurse competency evaluations,” says Baldridge.
Also among Jenkins’ accomplishments is a recent reduction of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in the facility. After noticing an uptick in facility-acquired UTIs, she initiated hands-on, side-by-side training with her CNAs, sure that better care, in addition to hand washing, would lead to a decrease in UTIs.
She trained in groups of two aides, teaching them how to coach each other not to miss a step or break infection control procedures. “Whatever she thought would work, she did it,” says Baldridge. “Having such an open communication with the CNAs helped her to better help them. When they told her it was too hard to remember some steps, she gave them laminated pocket cards for the aides to carry and reference during care.”
Jenkins’ efforts paid off—in July 2012, the facility logged two facility acquired UTIs; in August 2012, another two. In September, just one, and in October, there were zero facility-acquired UTIs.
Always striving to be a team player, Jenkins says she takes the time to teach her co-workers from “A to Z,” which means she does what she can to make things easy to understand. “If someone has difficulty learning something, I will break it down to get through to them so they can learn it. I always start from A to Z and never leave out anything.”
In response to her selection to 20 To Watch, Jenkins says, “I have lived for a moment like this; I’ll never forget it.”
Grace Flight
Grace Flight, RN
Executive Director
Regency Heights of Stamford
Stamford, Conn.
As if developing the patient care record system that has been adopted by 95 percent of the skilled nursing facilities in the state wasn’t enough, Grace Flight has also established a long term care educational consortium and was the first in the state to challenge the prohibition of allowing pets in nursing homes.
Flight, who is executive director of Regency Heights of Stamford, Conn., has always been guided by the resident voice, says Steve Vera, regional director of operations for Ciena Healthcare, the company that owns Regency Heights.
“Plus, her invaluable commitment to mentorship has left an indelible mark on countless long term care workers, administrators, and company officers.”
Working with and learning from Flight has been a pleasure, Vera says. “She leads by example, and she does not expect more from her staff then she does of herself,” he says.
“She combines clinical background being a nurse and years of administration experience.”
As Kristine Halsey, chief operating officer of Ciena, notes, “Her legacy is not what she will leave us with but what she has left in us.”
Not surprisingly, Flight has a long string of initials on her resume, including RN and MBA. Even more impressive is the fact that she received the Connecticut Nurses Association “Doris M. Armstrong” Nurse Administrator of the Year award in 2011, which was preceded by many other awards, including Administrator of the Year from the University of Connecticut in 2004.
What’s more, Regency Heights received a Bronze award last year from the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living Quality Award program.
“Grace is an icon in the industry in Connecticut,” says Vera. “She’s won multiple awards and had such a large impact and continues to. Her own knowledge base and ability to teach people is invaluable.”
Flight has racked up numerous awards and distinguished appointments. They include: an advisor to the state Superior Court, several governor appointments, and the Nightingale Award for Excellence.
Flight’s accomplishments also include the development of an Advanced Geriatric Nurse Aide Concourse Curriculum that is used by long term care facilities, founding a Committee on Geriatric Nursing Education, a non-profit organization of Long Term Care Para and Professionals dedicated to providing quality low-cost continuing education with a current membership of more than 800.
Richard Kishaba
Richard Kishaba
Ohana Pacific Management Co.
Honolulu, Hawaii
Understanding Richard Kishaba’s commitment to caring for Hawaii’s elders first calls for a lesson in the Hawaiian language: “Ohana,” the namesake of his company, means family, and “kupuna” means elderly.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Kishaba has been working in long term and post-acute care for 24 years, since he was 27 years old. But he has always held elders in high esteem. “Hawaiians have a lot of respect for elders, and we always treat them with dignity. That was always instilled in me,” says Kishaba.
At a young age he realized that he needed to make a difference in the world and focused his energies in health care after a career in business, says Nadine Smith, his colleague at Ohana Pacific Management. “He became a nursing home administrator and accepted a position in his early twenties with virtually no experience. He took over the facility for the benefit of the staff, residents, and an intrinsic obligation to the owner.”
Kishaba has since purchased four nursing facilities, two on Oahu and two on Kauai. He also acquired the Kauai Adult Day Health Center on Kauai to ensure the community continued to receive a needed service.
“Richard views each and every resident as a family member, and when assessing the success of his business he uses resident outcomes, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement as his benchmarks,” says Smith.
Perhaps most importantly, Kishaba invests highly in his staff and promotes and encourages them to achieve their highest goals, “even if that means leaving the organization,” says Smith.
Many of the leaders within the state started at Ohana, including several who have gone on to influential positions, such as the director of operations for a state health plan and the Health Care Services Branch administrator for the state of Hawaii.
“We put our residents first,” says Kishaba. “I think we go to great lengths to make sure we’re doing the proper things for elders, such as bringing in the right people and spending time building up staff, engaging staff, and treating them with dignity so they can treat our elders with quality care.”
The company is also a strengths-based organization, thus allowing employees to do what they do best. “Richard seeks out opportunities for all employees to get the training support and mentoring necessary to promote their personal and professional growth,” says Smith. “Richard emulates all that is positive in health care in Hawaii. He demonstrates true leadership, collaboration, and commitment to providing high-quality care and customer service.”
“I encourage people to take risks; we are an organization that allows people test things. I’m a real believer in empowering people to try new things,” says Kishaba.
Amid the accolades from colleagues on his selection, Kishaba remains humble: “In all honesty, I do very little for our organization successes,” he says. “The true honor should go to all my staff, who are the true backbone of our organization.”
Kishaba is an active and influential leader in the Hawaiian Long Term Care Association and is always willing to share his company’s expertise and advice with fellow members, says colleague Susan Mochizuki. “He firmly believes in resident-centered care and delivers the highest quality care by respecting, valuing, and supporting employees, especially those who are closest to residents.”
Kishaba relays a story of a recent visit to one of his facilities: “The daughter of a resident just started crying as she expressed her appreciation for the loving staff that care for her mom. This happens on a routine basis because of the great team of people that we have in our ohana,” he says.
Deb Ruebbelke
Deb Ruebbelke, RD
LTC Consultant—Reliable RD
Appleton, Wis.
Deb Ruebbelke is more than a dietitian: She is an educator, a leader, an author, and an “awesome” cook, according to longtime colleague, Barbara Thomsen. “Deb has a wonderful ability to work with all disciplines in our long term care facilities, engage our residents and their families, and promote good nutritional health. She is truly a blessing to our elder nutrition profession,” she says. “Her willingness to support dietary managers and the Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals by helping to mentor, proctor, and teach is truly amazing.”
Ruebbelke, who consults for nursing homes and assisted living communities, and recently formed Reliable RD (www.reliablerd.com) to help educate long term and post-acute care staff about nutrition, is also a ServSafe instructor, holds a position on the Iowa Dietetic Association Board and Council, and serves as an instructor the for Des Moines Area Community College Certified Dietary Manager course.
“Deb is a unique dietitian that supports the role of the certified dietary manager and encourages and helps educate them to participate in clinical processes as well as kitchen management, focusing on sanitation and safe food handling,” says Thomsen. “Her willingness to promote teamwork amongst all long term care disciplines has been greatly appreciated by all the administrators that she has had the pleasure of working with.”
Thomsen notes that Ruebbelke was recently instrumental in helping free-standing assisted living facilities in Iowa lay out and plan their dining services, thus enabling them to be in compliance with the regulatory guidelines for both the state- and federal-level food code.
Also on her resume is adjunct educator for an Iowa community college for its Certified Dietary Manager program, and most recently, Ruebbelke co-wrote a training manual on the minimum data set (MDS) for dietitians, which “helps long term care nutrition professionals understand how to document resident-centered care and the MDS clinical process,” Thomsen says.
“It’s very hard to talk about myself because, as a consultant dietitian in long term care, it’s a multidisciplinary team approach,” says Ruebbelke.

Drawn From An Early Age

Her love of elders and long term care stems from her mother, who was a secretary to a nursing home administrator. Ruebbelke began volunteering at the nursing home at just 12 years of age. “At the facility, there was a dietitian, and I asked questions about what she did and why she liked her job. I’ve always been drawn to the elderly population,” she says.

“When I did my internship in the late 1980s, I took it upon myself to shadow dietitians at nursing homes, and through that, I met a dietitian in Minnesota. When I graduated, she called me and asked if I would like to work for her.”
Ruebbelke’s true calling is to “make a difference in an elder’s life,” she says. “I hope that I’m helping them to eat better, to help them have a better appreciation of nutrition, and that makes me feel good.”
“Deb is a really great dietitian, she is very knowledgeable, and she has a knack for being able to educate and train as well,” says colleague Lisa Roeder.
According to Roeder, her standout leadership qualities include having a “knack for being able to work with someone and bring the best part of them out and inspire them to want to do better. She makes people want to be better than they have been,” Roeder says. “Plus, she’s just awesome in general.”
Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen, MSW
Founder, Music & Memory
Mineola, N.Y.
With a viral YouTube video that was featured recently on “The Doctors” and National Public Radio, as well as a documentary about his organization, to his credit, Dan Cohen’s commitment to improving the lives of elders through music is indisputable.
As the founding executive director of the nonprofit Music & Memory, Cohen’s mission is to give elders living in nursing homes, assisted living communities, and in hospice care individualized musical playlists using iPods and related digital audio systems.
As a Mineola, N.Y.-based social worker, Cohen combined an extensive background in high tech training, corporate sales, and software applications with his social work experience to create the Music & Memory program, the goal of which is to enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.
The viral YouTube clip is entitled “Henry,” and it demonstrates the power of Cohen’s program. Henry is a nursing home resident who comes alive as he listens to his beloved Cab Calloway on an iPod, donated to the home via Cohen’s organization.
The goal of Music & Memory is to make personalized music accessible for every nursing home resident nationwide. “Cohen has taught hundreds of nursing home administrators and other staff in the U.S. and Canada how to create individualized music programs for patients,” says Michele Nolta, a certified recreation therapist who has worked with Cohen. 
Through Music & Memory, Cohen has “inspired and captured the enthusiasm of nursing home administrators, executive directors, nursing home staff from every discipline, retired music teachers, elder-law attorneys, high school key club members, news writers, and more,” says Nolta. “He has already drastically improved the lives of the residents who have been provided with digital music.”
In fact, Cohen and his project so impressed the American Health Care Association, the California Association of Health Facilities, and the Gerontological Society of America, all three premiered his documentary “Alive Inside” at their 2012 annual conferences.
“Dan Cohen has found a way to initiate patient awakenings, improve difficult behaviors, provide helpful and joyful interventions for nursing home staff, and inspire community members of every age to involve themselves with nursing homes,” says Nolta. “That’s impressive!”
Cohen himself explains that when his program is implemented in a nursing home, it raises the morale of the entire facility and adds a new layer of response to residents who are agitated, depressed, and lonely. “So rather than responding with ‘let’s get this person some medication to calm him down,’ it’s ‘let’s get him some music quickly.’”
That kind of change is real, Cohen notes. “Personalized music does not work for everyone, but it works for most people, and there’s often a great deal to gain.”
Although Cohen says he is honored to have been selected for 20 To Watch, he believes “it signifies the recognition that so many people have raised—that it is critically important to give people we are caring for the same kind of lifestyle that we would have for ourselves and our families,” he says. “I think we’ve gotten away from that, and lifestyle goes beyond ADLs [activities of daily living]; it takes a focus, and it won’t happen just because everyone is safe and secure and medically attended to—that’s not enough.”
Indeed, Cohen’s mission is to ensure that all elders can benefit from music whenever and wherever they want it.
Timothy Wintz
Timothy Wintz
Director of Engineering & Security
Island Nursing and Rehab Center
Holtsville, N.Y.
Tim Wintz’s colleagues were thrilled to learn that he was selected as one of Provider’s inaugural 20 To Watch. Making the news especially exciting was that it came just two days after Hurricane Sandy had hit the East Coast and slammed into the building where Wintz and his team’s engineering prowess kept the generator running, the lights on, and communication channels open throughout the night as wind and water whipped the building where he has worked for nearly a dozen years.
Embarrassed by the attention, Wintz demurred when told of his honor. “I really didn’t expect it,” he says. “I turned three shades of red. I’m nothing; I’m nothing without my team.”
Wintz, who grew up on Long Island not far from the nursing home, credits “his guys” for the recognition. “It’s my guys who work for me that really make me shine,” he says. “My crew means the world to me.”
David Fridkin, chief executive officer of Island Nursing and Rehab Center, has nothing but praise for Wintz, especially as a leader and a role model for other employees. “Tim stayed over during the hurricane and made sure that everything was still running in the building,” says Fridkin “This place is like his home away from home.”
Fridkin adds that the knowledge and experience Wintz has demonstrated in analyzing difficult engineering situations have proven to be a real asset in the projects that he has developed at Island.
“Tim has conducted a broad range of analyses in his project investigations,” says Fridkin. “Tim always asks the right questions, ensuring that our projects meet strict code and regulatory compliance.” What’s more, he says, Tim is “exceptionally sensitive” to the individual needs and preferences of the residents, families, and staff.
In nominating Wintz, Fridkin noted that nursing home engineers often go unrecognized, despite the fact that their role is “invaluable in ensuring the safe, secure, and efficient operation of the building.”
Wintz’s philosophy is communicated through ongoing education of his team to employ the same care and consideration when interacting with the residents and staff during the course of the ongoing facility maintenance projects. Tim always is available to provide support and time whenever another employee or resident needs assistance.
Moreover, Tim is always cooperative, energetic, and insightful in his approach to problem solving, Fridkin says. “He possesses a broad range of engineering and construction experience, which enables him to handle a wide range of projects. In situations where unusual obstacles are encountered, innovative cost-efficient solutions are offered to resolve complex problems. It is a comfort to know that no problem is considered too insignificant to deserve his attention.”
As with many who have chosen the long term care profession, work becomes a family affair, with Wintz’s being no exception. His 12-year-old daughter volunteers at the home. “She’s here right now, mingling with the residents and painting some fingernails, I think,” he told Provider.
Denise Tollefson
Denise Tollefson
Assistant Administrator
Serenity Assisted Living
Dilworth, Minn.
Just as many in the field do, Denise Tollefson spends much of her life with residents and co-workers, and therefore she prefers to treat everyone she works with like family.
In kind, her co-workers appreciate Tollefson as if she were a member of the family.  Her flexibility and compassion, as well as her ability to listen well while being very detail-orientated when administering residents medication and carrying out their daily needs, are what got her nominated for 20 To Watch, says Elaine Anderson, administrator at Serenity Assisted Living.
“Denise has been very instrumental in developing a philosophy and culture here at Serenity that is built around having highly trained staff who are experts in pain management and in providing support and counseling for all residents and families,” says Anderson. “She has recognized that a person is more than a physical body, and we provide skilled professionals and volunteers to assist with not only the physical needs, but emotional and spiritual needs as well.”
Among Tollefson’s outstanding qualities, explains Anderson, are that “she treats everyone as an individual, she believes that it is unfair to classify everyone as the same, and every person out there has their own personality.”
In addition, Anderson explains that Tollefson has “an awesome ability to listen as if the listening portion of the assessment is the most crucial part of medicine. Taking the time to hear those words that differentiate us all will allow a medical provider to implement a better plan in treatment and surprisingly enough just the mere fact of having someone to talk to may be all the medicine that is warranted.”
What’s more, Tollefson puts the residents first while knowing her own limits and professional boundaries. “She truly is a very unique breed. When one considers that care providers need to meet the many requirements while at the same time possess other innate qualities that enable them to compassionately perform job functions, as per resident wishes and the wishes of their families,” Anderson says. “These special qualities are what make all the difference between average home care providers and excellent senior care providers, and Denise has them and uses them.”
Making even more of an impact on her colleagues and on the residents, Tollefson recently implemented a very unique spirituality and wellness program at Serenity. Central to the program, she created a position for a chaplain and found a means to pay for that position and its enriching activities, says Anderson.
After surveying the residents, Tollefson realized that they had a need for a spiritual/wellness program. “So we hired a part-time chaplain, who started in October. She does devotions two or three times a week and makes a theme with it,” says Tollefson. “They focus on different topics each week, such as the Sandy Hook school shootings or soldiers in Afghanistan, and they have a spiritually based discussion about it.”
Tollefson, who has been with Serenity for seven years in April, came out of college as a writing and communications major and interned at the facility during school. “I never thought I would do this, but the time I spend here is the best fit ever. I think I will always be in long term care.” 
Her favorite part of the job: “I like everyday interactions with residents. It’s so homey that you sit down with them every day. They are really important people in my life. We have just 26 residents, and you get to know them really well.  They’re family members.”