Determined to make a difference in skilled nursing

Theresa Schultz is one of those people you feel like you’ve known for years within minutes of meeting her. When I and Long-Term Living editors Sandi Hoban and Kevin Kolus recently visited the Director of Care Delivery for Cardiac Rehab and Organ Transplant Recovery/Rehabilitation at HCR ManorCare – Rocky River, a skilled nursing facility in Cleveland, I was immediately drawn to her warm hospitality, hearty laugh and outgoing nature. Strolling the facility’s hallways, staff and residents alike stopped Theresa every few feet for advice, updates or simply to chat. She took time for each person, and her visitors looked on with a mixture of amusement and awe as she exchanged banter with one elderly woman who, while determined to return home as soon as possible, described her experience at ManorCare as positive and restorative.

In fact, the reason we were there that day was because of a random meeting between Theresa and Kevin on a flight earlier in the year to Washington D.C.: Kevin was on his way to LeadingAge’s Future of Aging Services Conference and Theresa was headed to Capitol Hill as part of a lobbying contingent from the American Heart Association. Theresa told Kevin about the cardiac rehab patient education program she and her team had implemented and explained the essential need for wellness education and promoting lifestyle changes among residents. This is a woman who knows how to network and promote the causes she’s so passionate about.

During our visit, Theresa shared the source of her drive: “My inspiration [to start the program] came from losing my mom. She suffered a massive heart attack and died four days later. I poured my heart and soul into this program.” Theresa went on to say that while there is no cure for heart disease one “can manage symptoms and quality of life. Seventy-seven percent of patients in these education programs have huge outcomes and prevent readmissions.”

The aesthetics of this ManorCare were lacking; like many SNFs, it was dated and could benefit from an extensive facelift. But the residents I spoke with didn’t seem to mind—they talked about the good food, the dedicated staff (retention rates are high) and the fun programming (limbo dancing for wheelchairs during a previous Cinco de Mayo celebration were frequently brought up).

Toward the end of our visit, Theresa was informed of the passing of a former resident. Tears welled up in her eyes and she took a deep breath. I couldn’t help but express some surprise that someone who had been in the field for 29 years would react so strongly to a death. Theresa just looked at me for a moment. “If you don’t feel the pain of a person’s passing then you are in the wrong business. It doesn’t get easier and it shouldn’t.”

Theresa Schultz, like so many others in long-term care, exemplifies the best qualities of a leader in a constantly evolving and challenging profession. Sharing her story and those of others like her is rewarding and uplifting. You can read more about Theresa and ManorCare’s cardiac rehab patient education program in the upcoming July issue of Long-Term Living.

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