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Just one more question

November 1, 2009
by Gary Tetz
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Like the great TV detective Columbo, Long-Term Living columnist Gary Tetz (Funny You Should Ask) always has one more question. In this bimonthly feature, he talks with long-term care leaders about anything that pops into his mind. He's as surprised as you are that they'll speak to him, and apologizes in advance for whatever inanity he might blurt out in the pressure of the moment.

I had heard nothing but glowing testimonials about Jennifer Scully, and it took only one paragraph of her bio for me to feel inadequate and underachieving.

From about every point on the continuum, she's been helping deliver quality care to the elderly for more than 30 years. Before founding Clinical Resources, she served as executive vice president of clinical services for Mariner Health Care, providing oversight and direction to almost 500 long-term care facilities in 27 states.

Jennifer is a registered nurse, licensed nursing home administrator, and paralegal, and holds certifications in more areas than I have strength to type. Just a few days before we talked, she received the Ernst and Young Winning Woman Award for 2009 in recognition of her entrepreneurial efforts.

She started the conversation with an apology, so as a contrite Canadian, I liked her already.

Good afternoon, Gary. Sorry I kept you waiting.

Oh, that's no problem at all. You were just at the American Health Care Association convention, correct?

Actually, I had to cancel.

You left rows of disappointed people sitting expectantly in a conference room?

No, that's not the case at all. I was there with everyone in spirit.

You're not related to former CMS administrator Tom Scully are you?

No relation.

Good, because he was accused of withholding information from Congress. I'd hate to think you were involved in something like that.

No, not the same Scully.

So here's what I'm struck by. You just won the Winning Woman Award, and I just stayed up half the night working on my taxes.

Oh no!

My 2008 taxes.

(Inappropriately long laugh) I have no sympathy for you.

See, I need a consultant slash life coach. Does your company offer that?

No, we don't.

Your résumé is longer than a Joe Biden speech, and you've accomplished a lot. What has kept you in this profession all these years?

When I came into this arena in the early '90s, I'd come from a critical care background, and I was struck by the many challenges that I saw. Working in long-term care, there's always an opportunity, always something new to learn, and I love it. There's never a dull moment and that's what keeps me going. I've also met dedicated people, very passionate people, educated people, innovative people. I've built a network of friends and colleagues that is really heartwarming to me. So yes, I love long-term care.

And you must love seniors, too.

I believe in taking care of our nation's elderly. Every time I interact with our seniors, I'm always impressed by the wealth of knowledge they have, but we live in a culture where we don't necessarily respect and revere them. If I can do anything over the years, it's to instill in others the desire to respect our elders and help them in any way we can.

What do you do, exactly?

My business is providing management personnel to nursing homes, assisted living, and CCRCs across the country. We don't do direct care staffing. We do the leadership positions.

How much are you away from home every year?

Probably 50% of the time.

What's the worst airport in America?

Let me see. Eureka, California. The person who tickets you is the same one who takes your luggage and flies the plane.

Have you ever recruited a future long-term care administrator while waiting for a plane in an airport bar?

Oh yes, absolutely. And I also met two FBI agents who were investigating Medicare fraud.

So there's no time wasted on the road.

Exactly.

What has this recession done in the areas you represent?

There are many people out of work, so we are seeing literally mountains of résumés, but the number of truly qualified candidates who carry compassion and dedication for our nation's elderly are few and far between. So you have to be very selective. Unless you find someone who has the same focus and commitment you do and fits the culture and vision of your company, they're not going to be the right hire.

What are the most common mistakes people make in trying to hook themselves up with a great career in long-term care?

Two things stand out for me in particular. We see a lot of very talented people who don't have professionally presented résumés. I would say that's probably more so with nurses than other positions, maybe because there's a certain modesty associated with that profession, and they don't do as good a job putting their successes and skill sets on paper.

Shouldn't the regulatory system have taught them not to leave anything out?

You are absolutely right. Maybe they're so busy documenting everything else that they don't take care of themselves. Now that's a caregiver.

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