Future Leader: Christa Kelly, Vice President of Business Development, Villa Healthcare

The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with PointClickCare. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of care delivery across the senior housing, skilled nursing, home health and hospice industries. To see this year’s future leaders, visit Future Leaders online.

Christa Kelly, vice president of business development at Villa Healthcare, is a member of the 2020 Future Leaders class named by Skilled Nursing News parent company Aging Media Network.

SNN’s Future Leaders represent some of the most dedicated and innovative young professionals shaping the next generation of post-acute and long-term care. Nominated by their peers, each of our honorees demonstrates a commitment to improving the lives of elders — and making the changes that skilled nursing will need to serve the seniors of tomorrow.

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SNN sat down with Kelly to learn about her path into the industry, and where she wants to shape senior care in the years to come.

What drew you into skilled nursing?

I grew up a little bit in the industry. My mother, she started as a CNA, and she went back to school and became a nurse — and she ended up working in MDS for quite some time. Often in the summer, she would ask me to come and do some activities. I remember being as young as maybe nine or 10, painting nails and doing crafts.

I always liked it. But I went to college, and I thought I was going to explore and see what else was out there. I graduated in 2009, and as you know, there was a little bit of a recession. Jobs were not plentiful in that time, and thankfully, my family was in the industry. I have a cousin … she was an administrator, and she said: “You know, while you look for something in government, do you want to come work in admissions at Regency in Taylor, Mich.?” And I said, “Okay, I’ll do that.”

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Honestly, I fell in love with that building, and that building is still in the portfolio today under Villa; we were purchased, I think, two years ago, but I started in that building 10 years ago, and I never really left.

It brought me back full circle. Even though I went to go explore, and I really thought I wanted to be a politician, I came back home to skilled nursing — because of my family, and I really do believe in it.

So that explains how you got into the industry, but what has made you want to stay since 2009?

The connection that I get with families and patients. It never gets old helping families understand why placing a loved one in rehab or long term-care is necessary, and why it’s okay to feel a little bit of guilt. But it’s essential in life sometimes.

Even as a VP, I am not above sitting with a family and explaining to them why this is the right decision, and it’s okay. I follow up with them over and over.

I started doing it again in 2009, and it was so gratifying to truly help people — and it still is, to this day. It’s my favorite part of the job, even though I don’t really get to do it as much anymore. But I still love that, and the connection with the patients and just watching them either live here, which is great, or rehab and get better. It’s so gratifying, and I don’t think I could get that in another profession. I really don’t.

I have one patient that discharged; he was long term-care in one of our homes, and lived there for like four years. Finally, he really wanted his own apartment. I still go see him every month with groceries, and he’s been out of our nursing home, I think, two years.

In a sales position, you’re like, well: I don’t really want to lose the census, right? But it makes me so happy to see people getting better, and that we truly are making people better. The gratification from that, it’s like nothing else.

What changes do you want to see for the better moving forward, both past COVID-19 and generally?

Honestly, I would love for the industry to invest in staff a little bit more — and that’s just not Villa. I think that’s the industry as a whole. You can go on the internet and realize that nurses and nursing aides, they do not make comparable wages to, say, a hospital or long-term acute care center.

I think it really begins with investing time and education in staff, and that will change the industry. I think probably everyone will say that — especially now after going through COVID, and to be transparent with you, people resigning because unemployment might pay better. I feel like if we really invested in staff, and [they] were happy with their jobs, we may not have seen that crisis as an industry.

I could go on and on about what we could change in the industry, and what would make it better. We do have some buildings where the staff is so strong, and it changes the building. So I would love to see more investment in the staff, and I think other things would fall into place.

With that being said, too, I think it’s very important — and I saw this with Villa, which was amazing to see during this crisis: When staff were leaving and not coming to work, we had, even myself, corporate people pushing trays, getting dressed in PPE, doing whatever was needed to get through this crisis … We’re all there for the patient.

To learn more about the Future Leaders program, visit the Future Leaders homepage.

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