This month’s crop of eight 20 To Watch honorees exemplify the leadership qualities of humility, initiative, and perseverance. Among the profiles in this issue are several administrators, two directors of nursing, an administrative assistant, a dietary aide, and a chief medical officer.

As we close the 2014 list in print, please note that further details about the honorees will be posted online on our 20 To Watch page throughout the year. Please stay tuned.

Kathleen PajorKathleen Pajor MS, LNHA
President/Executive Director
Beechwood Post-Acute and Transitional Care
New London, Conn.

Kathleen Pajor is very passionate about long term and post-acute care, and she wants others to feel just as passionate about it as she does. “We really do care about the people we take care of,” she says. As executive director of Beachwood Post-Acute and Transitional Care for nine years, Pajor says she loves interacting with the patients and staff every day, as well as mentoring new administrators. Among Pajor’s accomplishments are numerous leadership positions at the state and national level within the profession, including past president of the Connecticut chapter of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, president of the American College of Health Care Administrators, and a board member of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities.

Pajor also teaches health care management at the undergraduate and graduate levels at the University of New Haven and at Quinnipiac University.

“Kathy encourages her staff to strive to attain their goals, to be the very best they can be,” says Sandy Swider, director of marketing and admissions at Beechwood. “She is a cheerleader for her staff and sees potential in every staff member, whether it is a nurse assistant going back to school to get a nurse license, a licensed practical nurse going back to school to get a registered nurse degree, a dietary aide being groomed as a cook, or staff being promoted to an administrative position.”

Among the many initiatives implemented by Pajor is the BEST program, which spotlights employees for a job well done, says colleague William White, chief executive officer (CEO) of Health Care Visions.

“The criteria are based on the Nursing Home Patient Bill of Rights. Any patient or resident can submit a form indicating the employee and the reason he or she is the BEST. The more BEST nominations, the more chances an employee has to win one of four $250 cash prizes at the end of the year,” says White.

“Not only has this program improved employee relations, but the patient/resident/family survey results jumped from 85 percent to 91 percent in the ‘recommending Beechwood’ and ‘overall satisfaction’ categories.”

Pajor’s advice for up-and-coming administrators in the field: “You really have to understand the operations of all departments, and that may mean working with them side by side in order to understand.”

If you do that, your staff will respect you more, she adds.

Deborah SacconeDeborah Saccone
Dietary Aide
Aspen House Memory Care Assisted Living
Loveland, Colo.

Modest is an appropriate term to describe Deborah Saccone’s response to being selected as one of this year’s 20 To Watch recipients. On the job for just over two years, Saccone works the evening shift as a dietary aide. Her job is to prepare meals and ensure that each resident gets meals tailored to their needs and desires.

She humbly suggests that she does not belong among the 20 To Watch. But her boss and fellow staff members eagerly disagree. To wit: “Every care partner will consult with Deborah regarding anything diet-related,” says Jean Cannon, executive director of Aspen House. “Every care partner looks up to Deborah as the expert regarding the evening meal. Deborah attends every dementia-related training opportunity to enable her to better understand the population she serves. She willingly shares her knowledge and experiences with her co-workers.”

Saccone says she happened upon long term care and has fallen head over heels in love with it (a now-familiar tale of many 20 To Watch honorees). But as soon as she interviewed for the position she knew she wanted to be part of it.

Saccone is quick to point out that each care partner (staff member) is part of a larger team that is not boxed in by limited roles.

“During and after serving the evening meal, Deborah makes note of what a person likes or dislikes, has difficulty or ease in eating, or how much the person eats. Then she makes immediate adjustments,” Cannon says. “For example, she will make a different food item for a resident, will sit down and join the resident to make sure he/she gets proper nourishment, and will notify the nurse if she sees that a resident is having difficulty swallowing so that a diet can be adjusted.”

Saccone says she is not afraid to try new things to help make residenys feel comfortable in their surroundings.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t lock yourself in a box with things,” she says. “At Aspen House we know that food is important—that it’s part of the social aspect of life, and that’s a big part of living.”

Robert BreedenRobert Breeden, MS, NHA
Executive Director
The Heritage Center of Morristown/Life Care Centers of America
Morristown, Tenn.

As with nearly all 20 To Watch honorees, Robert Breeden has tremendous passion and commitment for the long term and post-acute care profession. “He loves his residents and his staff and shows them true compassion each and every day,” says Jesse Samples, president and CEO of the Tennessee Health Care Association.

Breeden, whose long term care career spans nearly two decades, “has remained passionate about the development of leaders. A fan of author John Maxwell, Breeden shares Maxwell’s leadership principles with his management team,” says Samples.

Before his seven years as executive director with The Heritage Center, Breeden worked his way up at another nursing home in the state. Before that, his work was in hospitals. But long term care is where he feels best.

“It took me by surprise, how much I liked long term care,” says Breeden. “At hospitals, it was more difficult to keep touch with the patients themselves, while long term care has a blend of administrative work, and it’s easier to have direct contact with those you serve,” he says.

Humble and grateful are two leadership qualities that Breeden displays. Quick to thank his colleagues and staff for their excellent work, he says he cannot do what he does without them. “They are the reason for my success and the reason why I am getting this recognition,” he says. “I want them to know how much I appreciate and admire them. They are my heroes. They make my job easy.”

His advice for other leaders in the profession: “I think the greatest gift as a leader you can give to anyone is helping them learn how to step into your role. The folks that you surround yourself with will be the key to your success or failure.”

Showing his gratitude again, Breeden wanted to thank his wife for supporting him and their family and for enabling him to follow his passion.

Finally, he gave a shout out to his company, Life Care Centers of America, for “allowing me to be a servant leader and for the opportunities they have given me over the years.”

Jessica JohnstonJessica Johnston
Administrative Assistant
Riverview Retirement Community
Spokane, Wash.

Jessica Johnston’s hard work, tenacity, and inner drive are good reasons for her selection as one of this year’s 20 To Watch, according to Melissa Goetz, RN, administrator at Riverview. “Jessica has worked at Riverview for approximately six years in a variety of roles, mastering each, and moving forward to find new challenges for her own professional growth,” she says.

Goetz has nothing but praise for Johnston’s initiative and smarts. “She successfully implemented PointClickCare [an electronic medical record system] for our care center, as well as for the assisted living side. This is a monumental accomplishment given the stark differences between regulatory requirements of a skilled nursing setting versus an assisted living setting,” Goetz says.

Johnston notes that she is very excited to have been able to get in on the ground level of the electronic medical record program.

“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do this because I’ve learned so much. My experience has taught me to not sweat the big stuff in the end,” Johnston says.

Geotz reports that because of Johnston’s hard work, Riverview has reduced charting time, improved safety during medication administration, and gained tremendous efficiency in the admission and discharge process, “which ultimately improves the quality of life for our residents and staff.,” she says.

While Johnston was modest about her selection, Goetz was lavish in praise. “Jessica is amazing,” she says. “She is our jack of all trades—one of the brightest women I know. She has a creative mind that is always working, always coming up with better ways of doing things. She also has a wicked sense of humor. It doesn’t matter what task we throw her way, she just tackles it, puts it in a choke hold, and makes it happen. She is phenomenal.”

Marc Rotham, MDMarc Rothman, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Nursing Center Division
Kindred Healthcare
Louisville, Ky.

With significant experience as a practicing long term and post-acute care physician with Kaiser Permanente, Marc Rothman knows whereof he speaks when it comes to the role of the medical director and attending physician in skilled nursing centers.

And as chief medical officer at Kindred’s nursing home division for the past two years, he has played a significant role in the company’s efforts to enhance care coordination for patients and residents within nursing and rehabilitation centers, says Susan Feeney, Kindred’s senior director of communications and public policy.

Among his achievements, Feeney says, are reducing rehospitalizations within 30 days of admission and improved patient outcomes. “These efforts have facilitated better clinical outcomes along with shorter lengths of stay—meaning that patients are able to more quickly recover and return home,” says Feeney.
She also credits Rothman with the implementation of the Interventions to Reduce Avoidable Care Transfers (INTERACT), activation of electronic health records that are accessible to physicians off-site, engagement of physicians practicing within the company’s centers, and coordination with referring hospital partners.
What’s more, Feeney notes, Rothman “understands the day-to-day reality of the best approach to deliver quality care and make recovery possible for patients and residents. For these reasons he is increasingly turned to as a national subject area expert.” Rothman says one of his goals is to inspire the several hundred physicians who care for Kindred patients to become excellent stewards of care in their centers and to work with all of them to create a community of physicians who, among other things, are well-equipped to reduce the off-label use of antipsychotic meds as well as hospitalizations.

The physicians at Kindred’s centers “are viewed as the leaders within their buildings, and it’s our job to keep them informed via communication tools, data, and best practices, so that they deliver the best care to our patients,” says Rothman.

Tom WattsTom Watts
President and Chief Executive Officer
Exceptional Living Centers
Lexington, Ky.

After a decade of being with Exceptional Living Centers (ELC), Tom Watts still feels duty-bound by his role as CEO of the company.

“I feel an awesome responsibility to care for our employees and residents,” he says. “That means making this company an enjoyable and fulfilling place to work and making our senior living properties enjoyable places for our residents to live.”

Watts’ path to long term care was not a straight shot, but he seems to have found his home at ELC.

“I was working for an accounting and consulting firm [PricewaterhouseCoopers], and one of my clients was ELC. The owners were longtime operators of senior living properties. They were true gentlemen who everyone loved to work with,” says Watts.

“When their business grew they invited me to join them. It was the easiest decision I have ever made.”
Named one of the “Best Places to Work in Kentucky” by The Best Companies Group, for the second consecutive year, ELC continues its drive to be a leader in long term and post-acute care, says Kate Vaulter, director of public affairs for the Indiana Health Care Association. 

“Watts has put his extensive experience in accounting, finance, and management, as well as his leadership skills, to work at ELC. He has helped to improve quality of care for residents and create a positive work environment for employees,” she says.

“At quarterly meetings, administrators and nurse staff sit down with staff from referring hospitals, discharge planners, and medical directors to discuss recent survey results, trends in hospital readmissions, and resident referrals and diagnoses, along with other important topics. These regular dialogues lead to better communication and, by extension, better resident care.”

Among Watts’ additional accomplishments, says Vaulter, is the renovation of Randolph Nursing Home in Winchester, Ind., that included new landscaping, a remodeled dining area, and a new common area for residents in the dementia unit.

Watts, who says he enjoys taking care of people, is honored to be chosen as one of Provider’s 20 To Watch, “but none of this would be possible without the hard work of the employees of ELC.”

Patrick LampardPatrick Lampard, RN
Director of Nursing
Heritage Manor of Slidell
Slidell, La.

According to Jim Collins, author of “Good To Great,” the hallmark of a great leader is someone who recognizes the importance of his team. And Patrick Lampard is someone who personifies this characteristic.

“I’d like to say something about my team,” he tells Provider. “I am being recognized in this way because of the people who work with me; a good director of nursing [DON] is nothing without their team. I’d like to thank them and give gratitude to them.”

One of those team members, Andy Hughes, RN, outlined Lampard’s accomplishments in his nomination for 20 To Watch. “Mr. Lampard helped Heritage Manor earn a tier-one recognition level as part of the American Health Care Association Quality Improvement Recognition Program for safely reducing the off-label use of antipsychotics last year, and the center also had a deficiency-free survey during Patrick’s first year as DON,” Hughes said.

Although Lampard has been a DON for just a few years, he began his long term care career nearly two decades ago as a nursing home volunteer. Eventually, he was hired as a CNA, and just one year later he became a licensed practical nurse. He worked his way up through different departments until he earned a registered nurse degree in 2012, which spurred his move to a quality improvement nurse position before becoming DON.

“I love being able to make a difference in people’s lives, for everyone—staff, residents, and family,” says Lampard, who adds that he loves the geriatric setting because he likes seeing the day-to-day of people’s lives. “I like seeing them on good days and helping them get through bad days.”

Cynthia FranciaCynthia Francia
Director of Nursing
Carmel Mountain Rehabilitation & Healthcare
San Diego, Calif.

“As Cynthia’s supervisor, I view her as the No. 1 asset to this facility,” says Administrator Glenn Matthews. “She is my partner, my confidant, and the person I rely on to manage not only the clinical side of the facility, but all departments that provide patient care. Words cannot express how much Cynthia contributes to the success of our facility.”

With three decades of nursing service under her belt, Francia continues to make significant contributions to quality of care at her nursing center, Matthews notes. “Throughout the facility, Cynthia has provided training on oral care, elder abuse, dementia care, tracheotomy care, and CPR for all staff. Beyond clinical, Cynthia continues to train her staff on bedside manner, team building, and culture.” In addition to setting high expectations for herself and her staff to deliver excellent results and an esteemed reputation, Francia had a hand in helping Carmel Mountain become the only five-star facility with a subacute unit in California.

In 2013 alone, Francia was bestowed a number of awards. Among them are the California Achiever Award and the California Leader Award, both from the Health Services Advisory Group, for reducing falls and restraint use within the facility.

Francia also helped reduce staff turnover from 41 percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2012, and she initiated a weekly culture day for residents, where specific holidays are celebrated, along with expanding the residents’ exposure to other cultures around the world.

As if these accomplishments are not enough, Francia also was instrumental in implementing a number of tools to help communicate with non-English-speaking residents, Matthews says, including dial-up phone services and translation applications on iPads within the facility.

“Cynthia pushes her fellow department heads to excel,” says Matthews. “Thanks to Cynthia, our leaders went from a working group—individuals that managed their own department with little cross over into other departments—to a team.

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