Huge Shout-Out to Emblem Hospice

By Doug Haney, CEO/ED, Bella Vita Health & Rehabilitation Center, Glendale, AZ

I wanted to recognize this very special “Moment of Truth-esk” gesture that the entire staff of Bella Vita experienced recently. A couple weeks back, our staff was pretty worn down and experiencing a wide range of emotions dealing with the effects felt from this coronavirus. Everyone was especially hurt when we lost several of our long, long-term residents we all called family. We loved each and every one of those we lost and needed some serious support for those who knew them well.

Out of the blue, Michael and Mitch stepped in, offering a memorial service to honor and remember those we lost over the past several months. They set everything up, even though I knew their services were widely needed during that time. I can honestly tell you we cried and held each other a lot during that time. We were grateful for Emblem’s offering and kindness when we needed it the most. One of them brought a grill on wheels (not sure whose it was, but it is pretty sweet) and cooked up burgers and hot dogs for all the staff over a four-hour period. It was hot outside, but Michael didn’t seem to mind it — it was 115 that day. 

At 2 p.m. in our main dining room, staff joined together and were allowed to share special memories about their lost friends and then place a leaf with their name on a potted tree. It was good to get together to reminisce, reflect, and realize we were blessed to be a part of their lives.

On behalf of the entire Bella Vita Team, THANK YOU MITCH, MICHAEL AND EMBLEM HOSPICE. You truly made our day!

Congratulations to Keystone’s Newest CTOs

By Jon Anderson, Therapy Resource, Texas
I wanted to take a few moments to celebrate our newest CTOs (Chief Therapy Officers) in Keystone. The CTO designation is the highest designation a therapy leader in the organization can receive; it is a tall order to be in this elite club. Please join me in congratulating this elite group of Texas leaders!

There is so much to say about these two incredible ladies, but I’ll keep this short and just share a few highlights.

Cara Koepsel, SLP, DOR, CTO, Golden Acres, Dallas, TX 
Cara became the DOR at Golden Acres in May 2018, after being one of our first DORITOs (Director of Rehab in Training) in Keystone, and then successfully transitioning to DOR (Director of Rehab) at Lake Village for nine months. When Cara came to Golden Acres, the therapy department was doing well financially and operationally in key therapy metrics; however, Cara reminded us that GOOD is the enemy of GREAT.

Cara truly is the epitome of ownership, and quickly jumped in at Golden Acres. In fact, there isn’t a function in the facility that she is not willing to take on herself or assist with as needed. She has learned how to run payer verifications for when the BOM is off; she reviews the 24-hour report and clinical documentation to identify skill in place patients; she coaches the MDs on peer-to-peer reviews for insurance authorizations, and also plays a vital role in the Keystone North market with the education and training of our other DORs.

Cara has sprinkled her expertise in the market by assisting in the training of three additional DORITOs that are now also DORs of facilities in Keystone. She has been asked to present at many therapy leader meetings, and even at the annual Ensign leadership meeting in Dallas this past year. PNSD has steadily been above $60 for well over a year (amazing!), and Golden Acres is always in the top few buildings for productivity and cost per minute. It has been truly amazing to watch Cara grow into this tremendous therapy leader and watch her partner with an amazing CEO, Rick Forscutt, and COO Karen Calma to finish out the trifecta here, and we are so thrilled to announce her new title as a Chief Therapy Officer (CTO).

Agatha Pedro, OTR, DOR, CTO, Timberwood, Livingston, TX
Agatha relocated from outside the state of Texas into a city with such charm, known as Livingston, TX, four years ago to help lead the therapy team at Timberwood. The shift from what she was familiar with could have been a tough adjustment for some, but Agatha stepped right in and embraced the city and facility with open arms.

The transition came with some growing pains such as a very limited therapy team, ever-changing department heads, and very linear therapy services that were offered. In a short amount of time, Agatha has nearly doubled her therapy team through strong partnership efforts with our Keystone Therapy Recruiter, Richard Johnson. Agatha made a conscious decision to create an interview process that was inclusive with other team members. She prides herself on her onboarding process so each new team member can be fully immersed with the Ensign experience.

There have been changes within the leadership team at Timberwood, but those changes did not impede the flow of progress. With humility and vocal confidence, Agatha supports the needs of other departments by being an actionable leader. Patient care has always remained at the forefront, as evidenced by Agatha’s competitive productivity standards that she maintains as an Occupational Therapist. She understands the operational demands of her role as Director of Rehab, but she knows that her clinical impact provides greater depth in the overall scope.

As a DOR, some may be intimidated to comfortably partner with their ED and DON … not Agatha. Agatha will initiate meetings, bring ideas, and execute tasks through strategic implementation processes. Prior to Agatha, the therapy department had very limited programs and led a very traditional process in the services that were offered. In four short years, the Timberwood facility now offers a variety of programs and therapy services that rival competitors.

Prior to the start of the pandemic, Timberwood was on track to have a strong growth in outpatient, far more than they have ever had in the past. The reputation of the therapy department created a pathway for patients to discharge and return for outpatient services. Agatha is LSVT Big certified; this is a world-recognized certification used in treating movement aspects of Parkinson’s disease. Long-term care programming has been a goal for Agatha, and she has steadfastly kept her focus there for the last two years. Through her passion for learning and intelligent risk taking, she has transformed long-term care at Timberwood.

We are half-way through 2020, and Agatha is projected to finish the year with her highest revenue performance to date. More importantly, the clinical backbone has remained solid. Therapy continually finishes with exceptional MSCA scores, and therapy has also maintained a vested interest in helping to support the quality metric performance. Agatha has only begun to tap into her potential as a therapy leader, and we are honored to recognize Agatha Pedro as Chief Therapy Officer.


Natalie Blasczienski Award Winner

Congratulations, Dawn Thompson, DOR, Victoria Post Acute Care — Winner of the Natalie Blasczienski Award
Submitted by Jon Anderson, Therapy Resource, Keystone

During our Annual Therapy Leadership meeting, I had the honor and privilege to announce this year’s Natalie Blasczienski Award winner. This award, established in 2019, in essence, emulates the spirit and incredible human being of Natalie Blasczienski. Natalie was a PT and DOR at Legend Euless, Texas (now known as Westpark). She was often described as a superhero for her patients, a mentor/coach for her therapy/IDT team, and a proud momma of two young boys. Natalie’s spirit and enthusiasm was palpable, and she enriched the lives of countless seniors, through her selfless dedication to helping others.

In the summer of 2019, Natalie was diagnosed with breast cancer (she was in her early 30s). During her chemo intervention, she persevered and continued to work full time, never skipping a beat, and later that year she went into intermission. We were so excited, for we thought she had beat it, but unfortunately she had a rare reaction to the chemo treatment that resulted in severe cardiac damage, and we forever lost her physical presence in March 2019. However, her spirit is still very much alive, as Natalie made so many of us feel like family. Many of us will never forget how powerful of a presence she was; she never knew a stranger. With this award, we honor Natalie and the award winner who is nominated by their therapy team.

Through a survey nomination process, therapy teams across our affiliates shared so many countless stories about how their therapy leader was deserving. It was an incredible response, and the committee had a very difficult time determining who the winner would be. Those who nominated Dawn gave the following answers to our questions.

How has your therapy leader displayed unconditional love to your team, facility, and residents?
This therapy leader often leads with “I love you all” or “I’m so proud of our team!” One staff member describes her favorite: “You have a crazy day of documentation — I’m picking you up a coffee, what kind?” Isn’t that cool? Additionally, the team notices that this therapy leader is often the last department head to leave the building and is frequently caught volunteering after hours to do games and activities for the residents.

How has your therapy leader shown unwavering dedication to bettering your therapy team? Facility? And quality of life for the residents?
This therapy leader is described as the Michael Jordan of Rehab, making an immediate impact from the start. In fact, the rehab program has grown tremendously through the tireless efforts of this leader in supporting and facilitating education and training of the many new program offerings. This explosive growth has led the facility to add a second therapy gym. Furthermore, communication between therapy and nursing has been dramatically improved by the rollout of several communications so that both know the patients individualized needs. Therapy can communicate with nursing through “Emojis of Care” while nursing can fill out a “Hey Therapy” card to let therapy know if any resident has had a change in functional level, strength, balance, etc.

How has your therapy leader stepped up in the face of adversity and shown leadership in times of turmoil?
This facility was one of the first Ensign affiliates, as well as one of the first nursing homes in her region, to have a COVID-19 outbreak. Little was known about COVID at the time, and many residents/staff were sick. This therapy leader led by example, through exhibiting unconditional strength, love and courage.

Bringing the Fair to The Pines

Submitted by Joleen Linn, Therapy Resource, Wisconsin
From August 31 to September 4, The Pines Post-Acute & Memory Care in Clintonville, Wisconsin, decided to bring the fair to our facility. During COVID-19, the residents in our building have been having a hard time not seeing family or friends, or joining the community’s fun events that have been canceled due to the pandemic. With a few good ideas and some event planning, we decided to make The Pines into a fair. Who doesn’t love games, prizes and delicious food? Each day throughout the week, we planned a special day for each and every resident and staff member to make their day a little brighter.

Bringing the fair to The Pines Post-Acute & Memory Care has given us the biggest smiles throughout the week. We are very grateful for everyone who helped us in preparing for this week. We all know this year hasn’t been easy due to COVID, but there’s always some way to make their days a little brighter.

Day 1: Polka music, sun drop slushies, cheese curds 
Roger Hartwig played music outside for everyone. He sang and played polka music with his accordion. Many of the residents sang along, danced and enjoyed the classic songs. Along with the music, the management team passed out sun drop slushies, cheese curds, onion rings, French fries and pickle pucks for everyone. We really wanted everyone to feel like they were at the fair.

Day 2: Bingo, bean bag toss and mini corn dogs
Today we had games spread out all over the building for residents to participate in and win prizes. One of the games the residents really enjoyed was playing bag toss. As the residents threw the bags through the holes, they got a chance to pick any prize they wanted out of the box. It consisted of calendars, candy and sweets, coloring books, stuffed animals and much more!

Day 3: Petting zoo with horses, dogs and goats 
Day three was one of the most exciting days for our staff and our residents. We had horses, goats and a few dogs for everyone to see and pet. First came the horses: Prima the brown horse and Mister the white one. Then we had Luna the rodeo dog and the goats!

Day 4: Cream puffs and indoor games
Homemade cream puffs by The Pines activities director Kim! She made over 60 homemade cream puffs for all the residents and the staff. We had many games, including tip the pyramid, bag toss, plinko and pick a duck!

Day 5: Water Balloons, burger cookout and ice cream bars 
Our last day, we had a cookout outside, including burgers and ice cream bars for all the staff and residents for lunch. We also had water balloons for a little bit of fun!

Therapist Profile: Joe Pergamo, PT/DOR, Puyallup, WA

Submitted by Jamie Funk, Therapy Recruiting Resource
Meet Joe Pergamo (pictured top left), the Director of Rehabilitation at Rainier Rehabilitation in Puyallup, Washington. Joe joined our organization in March 2019 and has become a huge part of the Pennant Washington team, not only as a stand out leader in his own facility, but also as someone who pitches in for any of our Washington facilities if they need help. He has even driven five hours (one way) to Walla Walla on a repeat basis when they were short a physical therapist.

“Joe is a remarkable leader! He has been instrumental in increasing the awareness amongst the staff at Rainier’s rehab team of the benefits of providing therapy services to residents to maintain their optimal function,” says Brett Watson, the ED at Rainier Rehabilitation. “He has demonstrated through his leadership how to improve the quality of life of our residents through consistent rehab interventions and skills. Joe is patient, kind and long suffering. He is not only supportive of his therapy team, but he gets in and supports nursing, activities, and business office staff with their needs. He does this while maintaining a strong productivity percentage.”

“Joe leads with humor, kindness, and the altruistic belief that therapy changes lives for the better. He is humble and leads by example with true ownership of his program,” says Mira Waszak, the Therapy Resource for Washington.

Joe was inspired to become a therapist because he wanted to work in health care and enjoyed working out and fitness. Initially, he obtained his PTA degree but went back to school to earn his Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy. He heard about a DOR opening at Rainier from a former supervisor who put him in contact with Mira to learn more. “I had spoken to Mira several times, and she was very helpful and encouraged me to become a rehab director. She provided excellent mentoring to ease me into the role. I met Brett and Stacy (the ED and DNS at Rainier) along with several RCMs, and I believed it was an excellent opportunity for me to be a director. I was impressed with Brett and Stacy’s approach and style and the way they cared for long-term care residents,” Joe remembers.

Joe’s favorite Ensign core value is Ownership. “I believe when employees take pride and responsibility in and for their work, it elevates everyone’s quality of care. Pride and ownership are contagious. When you are around other people who have ownership, it makes the ‘work’ more rewarding. You don’t want to let yourself, your co-workers or residents down. I feel that there are many owners at Rainier in the therapy department and throughout the facility and we all feed off of that positive energy.”

This affinity for ownership is not going unnoticed by the facility administrator. “Joe is faced with multiple challenges in caring for residents that have many needs. Joe is providing care to residents who need airway support — patients who need a level of care that is unique and challenging. He has not been afraid to get in and learn how to provide services to these individuals that have benefited these folks in many ways,” says Brett Watson.

Joe loves his facility and team because the entire facility is very devoted and dedicated to their residents. They practice holistic and selfless interaction with their patients. Joe is a strong believer in co-treatments and collaborative care and he works hard to be mindful of recommendations from all disciplines. “I always try to be open to opportunities to provide therapy services to improve residents’ quality of life,” Joe says. ”I believe all residents are therapy candidates and we just have to be open to all opportunities.”

When not working, Joe is spending time with his wife, son and three dogs. He is in the midst of a home and yard renovation and also makes time to exercise. He loves living in Washington, which he feels is the perfect mix of metropolitan life and breathtaking nature, home-town charm and cultural diversity. For any of you science fiction buffs out there, Joe’s favorite movie is the “Back to the Future” series.

“I call Joe my diamond in the rough,” says Mira. “He is very introverted but he doesn’t let that impact his effectiveness as a leader. I have had the privilege to treat patients with him side by side, so I have first- hand experience of his clinical excellence! On top of everything else that has been thrown at our leaders this crazy year, Joe has gone through some serious personal challenges but continues to show up 150% every day – #belikejoe!”

The feeling is mutual. “Mira is an excellent mentor and resource,” Joe says. “She provides motivation and encouragement every time we interact. Although I have only known her for just over a year, it seems like we have been friends for many years. Mira provides hard truth, sound advice, humor and truly listens to my concerns.”

Bringing Compassion to the Team

April Trammell from Beacon Harbor in Rockwall, Texas, recently joined our Compassionate Hearts Team. She shared some ways she is bringing compassion to her team:

A personal goal of mine is to be more present for my team. This means both physically present and to develop a greater awareness of my team’s individual strengths and needs. I decided to give them all a survey with questions that captured our CAPLICO values
1. Provide an example of a teammate’s compassion
2. Provide an example of a teammate’s accountability
3. Provide an example of a teammate’s effective treatment technique/out of the box thinking
4. Is there a topic/area of interest for your personal goals?
5. Provide a characteristic/trait you value in a teammate, in a leader, in yourself
6. What are your professional goals/leadership interests?

The responses from my team were overwhelming! I am reviewing one question’s responses per week in our team meeting so that each staff can see/hear the great things they have to say about each other/see in each other. Here are the examples of Compassion shared by my team:

  • Kristen and Tibitha checking in on me while I was out for surgery. They have been extremely understanding. Receiving a very nice bag of thoughtful health products from April when returning from surgery.
  • Reggie’s ability to make the residents feel more at home /at ease.
  • Blair always goes above and beyond to make sure her patients are well taken care of and that they have everything that they need.
    Blair brought in a warm outerwear garment for a resident to wear who is cold all the time.
  • OT taking time to have a video call for patients with family members
  • Esther always has nice things to say about a patient or co-worker no matter how challenging that person’s attitude is. Even when everybody gave up on Resident SH, Esther was still attentive to her needs.
  • Being kind to patients even when they are difficult and stubborn
  • Jessica! She is always willing to help in any situation. She is very passionate about each and every patient and is willing to learn.
    Reggie is always checking on each patient and making sure they always have what they need.
  • Rhonda- always eager to help.
  • One of our therapists going above and beyond their responsibility by providing shoes to a patient to help them ambulate.
    Neeraj going the extra mile and caring about patient’s pressure sores and mental health.
  • Reggie and Neeraj going above and beyond to help our patients.
  • Kristen Erickson was very compassionate on the COVID unit. She ran around each day going out of her way to get the patients clean and anything they needed.
  • All of the current team members are compassionate and have demonstrated it during COVID times.

Needless to say, COVID was our Moment of Distinction with so many Silver linings that came out of it. We are a stronger team because of it. This survey has been a moment of distinction for me personally and professionally. This has been a great team-building activity—some squeals of delight when names were heard, giggles, heads nodding in confirmation. Hearts are filled here!

Therapist Profile – Avenlea Gamble, DOR/SLP, Northbrook Healthcare

Submitted by Jamie Funk, Therapy Recruiting Resource

Meet Avenlea Gamble (pictured Left), a second-generation Ensignista who is the Director of Rehabilitation at Northbrook Healthcare Center in Willits, California. Avenlea has been coming to Northbrook since she was three days old, which may sound strange unless you know that her mom, Shawndee Gamble (pictured Right), is the facility administrator there.

This story is about Avenlea, but it is woven tightly with the story of her mother. Shawndee began working at both our Ukiah and Willits locations when she was 17 years old, first as a CNA, then in medical records, and then as an activities director. Avenlea would help out with bingo and one-on-one activities with the residents and developed a lasting love for the long-term care setting. Shawndee later entered the AIT program and has been the facility administrator at Northbrook for 13 years.

Avenlea began her healthcare career at 16 when she became a care partner for Northbrook residents under the Department of Social Services. She also served as a dietary aide, helped with HR, and basically filled in on any odd job that was needed. She loved helping her small, tight-knit community. Willits has a population of approximately 5,000, so Avenlea cared for many of her friend’s parents and grandparents over the years.

Avenlea loved growing up in a small town, and her graduating high school class had only 18 students! She knew from early on that she wanted a career in therapy and wanted to return to Willits to help alleviate the ongoing shortage of qualified medical professionals there. She ultimately chose speech therapy because it allowed her to support communication and give people a voice.

The University of Pacific is where Avenlea obtained her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Speech Language Pathology, and also where she met her now husband, Jan. An interesting fact is that UOP had the same number of students as the entire town of Willits. Despite the crowd, Avenlea loved her experience there and had great clinical exposure with patients beginning in her junior year.

Jan took Avenlea’s last name when they married since the family history meant so much to her (and she is the namesake for her family). Jan is an opera singer as well as an audiologist and works in a clinic in Santa Rosa. He has a passion for music but also for science, so audiology was a perfect combination of the two. You can find his music and online choir on YouTube. Avenlea says their home is filled with a variety of instruments and full of music most of the time. Her two cats, Belle and Jasper, are happy residents and can be found enjoying a view of the beautiful foothills through a sunny picture window in the Gambles’ house.

After graduating with her Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology, Avenlea worked in an acute care hospital setting in Stockton to complete her clinical fellowship year and earn her CCCs. It wasn’t long before a speech therapist position became available back home and she convinced Jan to join her in moving back.

Therapist Profile – Rebecca Hopkins, OT, Paramount Health & Rehabilitation

One of the newest members of our therapy team here at Paramount is Rebecca “Becky” Hopkins, OT. Becky comes to Paramount with a unique perspective as a clinician and a unique skill set. Becky was previously involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in months of difficult rehabilitation. She has sacrificed and worked very hard to get to where she is today. Many things that Becky requires of her patients, she herself has lived through. This has allowed each patient to trust her and form a special bond. Becky has a unique understanding of the difficulties and hardships involved in rehabilitation, both continence in personal dignity and quality of life. Overcoming incontinence has become a passion and focus for her in her Occupational Therapy career.

In the pursuit of that lofty goal, Becky has established an incontinence program, together with Gia Deeb her COTA, here at Paramount. Becky has lobbied for specific equipment, namely an ACP electrical stimulation unit that aids in reducing tone and spasticity along with eliciting muscle activity and control. This is done through a proprietary protocol called “PENS”. Becky has put together case studies to show its effectiveness prior to our facility purchasing the equipment. She has educated therapy staff on specific pelvic floor protocols to work on in combination with the e-stim modality.

In the short time of initiating this program, Becky has had remarkable results. Patients that were once incontinent of bowel and bladder are now either continent of both bowel and bladder or have demonstrated significant improvement. We are seeing a decrease in the use of supplies such as briefs and wipes. We are seeing the quality of life significantly increase with many of our residents as well as seeing a positive financial impact for our building through this program. As the word circulates of residents’ progress, Becky will often hear requests to come and work with them and bring her “black box.”

Therapist Profile – Matthew Wayne, PTA

Meet Matthew Wayne, our newest therapy leader in Idaho! He will be joining our Bennett Hills team in Gooding, ID, next month and brings with him several years of experience as a PTA in three of our Pennant operations.

A graduate of Idaho State with degrees in Physical Therapy Assistant and Health Science, Matt is looking forward to expanding his leadership experiences. He was inspired to pursue a career in physical therapy when he had the opportunity to shadow several brilliant PTs through a career exploration class in high school. Prior to that, he possessed a passion for helping people through personal training, and combining this training with his new knowledge of physical therapy shaped how he wanted to interact with people and their health through therapy.

Matt looks for positivity in his colleagues and practices that quality in his own profession. “I figure if I try my best in all things and give encouragement to others to do their best, then I have given all that is possible. It feels so much easier to make advancements in challenging circumstances when we have strong support and have positive words spoken around us and our situation.” He believes in building strong relationships with nursing and other facility departments through communication, collaboration, respect and having a lighthearted attitude. Matt is inspired in leadership by numerous colleagues and friends and most especially his wife, whom he says inspires him every day. At his core, Matt carries the biggest lesson learned from his parents: “To think decisions through, pray about them and follow peace. Most important decisions shouldn’t rush you to make them,” he explains.

When not working, Matt is busy enjoying the outdoors, both land and water, in beautiful Idaho. He is an avid exerciser and also enjoys traveling to new places with his wife, target shooting, reading, and going to auto/truck performance exhibitions. Like many of us, he also spends much of his off-work time improving his home and yard. Demonstrating his diversity in interests, Matt’s favorite movies include It’s a Wonderful Life, The Fast and The Furious, and The Greatest Showman.

Matt loves all of our core values but if asked to pick his favorite (at the moment), it is Passion for Learning because our organization has given him so many learning opportunities in the past two years.

We are looking forward to working with another strong Pennant leader in Idaho and can’t wait to see what great things are in store for Bennett Hills!

Broadway Villa’s Patient Success Story

Submitted by Jennifer Raymond, Therapy Resource – Northern CA

Shell was first admitted to BWV on Nov. 29, 2019, following a devastating CVA. At that time, she was nonverbal due to severe expressive aphasia, NPO on a feeding tube and had significant sensory disturbances. She was unable to follow a very simple command, required max to total assist to perform basic self-care and was unable to ambulate at all.

Prior to the stroke, Shell had been independent with all of her mobility, ADLs and communication and lived with her daughter. She had an extensive course of skilled care with all three disciplines and made impressive gains. However, she did not acquire the level of independence necessary to return home, so she was discharged from therapy to RNA and considered a long-term care placement at Broadway Villa.

As a true advocate, DOR Shobha Neupane-Gautam is always looking for ways that therapy can make a difference. During her daily rounds in April, she interacted with Shell and saw positive changes in her and the potential for her to do more. OT re-evaluated and began to see marked improvements during their treatments such that PT and ST also started new courses of care a month later.

Shobha writes:
“Due to our persistent/compassionate care and comprehensive approach, this resident is singing, dancing with rehab folks. She is able to perform functional transfer/ambulation/ADLs requiring supervision to modified independence. She is very interactive and demonstrates happy expression. Rehab folks have coordinated with IDT/family members, based on her progress. Family is ready to take her home and enjoy her life.”

Shobha’s approach demonstrates an ability to not simply interact with our long-term care patients every day, but to really “see” them as individuals who can change and grow and thrive. Thank you, Shobha, and all the Broadway Villa therapists for your commitment to facilitating the “Can Do” in the residents you serve, for never giving up on human potential and always believing in the power of therapy to change lives.