Phil ScaloLong before Phil Scalo was a nursing home operator, he was an athlete. As a team captain, he developed the leadership philosophy that guides him today, a belief that the most important thing a leader can do is to ensure everyone is on the same page.

“The way you do that,” he explained, “is by knowing the people you’re working with and by making sure they understand what the standard is—and why you have that standard.”

This philosophy is why Scalo, now CEO of Bartley Healthcare in Jackson, N.J., always appreciates when his employees approach him with concerns. “It tells me that they know the standard and that they know that I’m going to listen to them,” he said. As the new chair of the board of directors of the American Health Care Association (AHCA), he plans to take the same approach to steering the organization into the future: setting high standards of excellence, listening to members’ concerns, and doing everything he can to keep them on the same page.

‘The Power of We’

Armed with a law degree from Rutgers University, where he’s currently a member of the board of trustees, Scalo got his start as a lawyer representing nursing homes. When a group of physicians he worked with suggested they build their own nursing home, he signed on to be the company’s attorney and ended up as a managing partner.

“It’s the old story: They wanted to build a nursing home because the ones in their area were not up to their standards,” he recalled. “One of the things my partner said at the time is that we wanted to make sure we do a good enough job that when my mother’s friends are ready for care, my mother is not embarrassed to send them to us.”

In a sense, this became Bartley Healthcare’s guiding perspective, the one that led it to become one of the leading providers in New Jersey. Since its founding in 1984, the company has received an AHCA/NCAL Silver National Quality Award, Best Practice Awards from the New Jersey Department of Health, five-star ratings, and numerous other accolades. As a senior partner, Scalo has stepped back from operations in the last few years to focus on his work with AHCA.

For all the ways the industry’s changed over the course of his career, he reflected, it’s also stayed the same. “There have been a series of existential threats that were going to destroy our business, and somehow we seem to manage those,” he said. “I call it ‘the power of we’: As long as the members stay together—and we usually do in times of crisis—we can weather any storm.”

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

As AHCA board chair, Scalo will focus on using that power to ensure both public and elected officials understand what the long term care profession does—and what it needs to be effective.
On the policy side, he’s pleased that legislators have a deeper appreciation of long term care than they had in the past. The open question is whether they continue providing the resources necessary to meet the moment. He sees promise in recent legislative support against minimum staffing rules, which would punish providers for not having employees they don’t have the means to hire.

“That’s a good example of where we’re taking what could be a crisis and turning it into a positive,” he said. “A lot of people on Capitol Hill are starting to understand, one, that staffing is an issue, and two, that in order for us to do what we need to do, there’s going to have to be reimbursement. I’m hoping that we can turn that challenge into a big opportunity to enhance the profession.”

Scalo recognizes that the profession’s reputation suffered during the pandemic—and it’s widely believed in the industry that this was due to politicians who needed a scapegoat. Still, he has little doubt that confidence will improve as more and more people interact with the profession. “If you’ve had family in a nursing home or an assisted living building, chances are you’ve had a good experience,” he said.

In his years running Bartley Healthcare, he’s come to believe a small shift can go a long way toward addressing doubts. “We’re trying to help families see the many benefits that come with nursing homes and the care provided within them. We look at it as moving into a new home. And when you think about the service we give, every family in this country has been affected by it, one way or another.”

Working Collaboratively with Regulators and Each Other

Scalo’s biggest priorities are growing AHCA/NCAL while keeping its membership on the same page. While this can be challenging—especially as membership becomes more regional, business structures evolve, and regulatory environments remain in constant flux—he’s confident that the benefits of a united front speak for themselves.

“It’s clear that in states where we have a higher percentage of membership, we do much better in reimbursement and much better on the regulatory side,” he said. “That’s the message I’m trying to bring: We are better together.”

He’s hopeful that as more and more people use long term care, there will be an increasing recognition of its value and the hard work of its employees. “The prospects for us going forward are very good from that perspective,” Scalo said. “I hope that we’re able to continue to convince the legislators on the state and national levels that our service needs the attention and the reimbursement that we deserve.

“If we can get the regulators to start thinking more collaboratively, the quality of what we do will increase,” he concluded.