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One-on-one with… Debra Doyle

April 24, 2013
by Julie Thompson
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The concept of servant leadership was engrained in Debra Doyle’s life when she was too young to even understand the concept. As one of five children, she grew up watching her dad make house calls as a family physician and dedicate his life to helping those in their community. She quickly saw that healthcare was a means through which she could serve and give as she helped her dad in his office and even listened to her two aunts who were registered nurses.

Doyle’s family heritage may have been what inspired her first to become a nurse, but it has been her passion that has fueled her rise to the top of the long-term care (LTC) industry over the years. In September 2012, Doyle became the new chief operating officer of Erickson Living, a Baltimore-based developer and manager of long-term living facilities planted throughout the United States.

Doyle joined Erickson Living in 2002 as the senior vice president of operations, associate executive director and senior regional health services director. Under her leadership, Erickson Living’s independent living occupancy is up around 94 percent compared to the industry average of 88 percent.

In her new role, Doyle oversees all of Erickson Living’s community operations as well as a variety of other things such as healthcare sales, information technology, operational programming and health and wellness services. Her responsibilities touch the lives of more than 23,000 residents and have a significant impact on the 12,000 employees trained to deliver what is known as the Erickson Way Values—the core programs and services that comprise the Erickson Living lifestyle.

Long-Term Living recently sat down with Doyle to talk about her new role in light of the ever-evolving needs and requirements of the healthcare system and, in particular, the LTC industry.

PLEASE PROVIDE A BRIEF THUMBNAIL OF ERICKSON LIVING CORPORATE.

Erickson Living is a developer and manager of senior living communities. Currently, we manage 16 large-scale campus-style communities in Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. Our communities are home to more than 22,000 residents and more than 12,000 people who share a commitment to service. Our board is committed to promoting an active quality of life for seniors and ensuring affordability to middle-income seniors, while making a life-care commitment and fostering growth. The amenities at our communities include on-site restaurants, stores, an aquatic and fitness center with full-time trainers and a medical center staffed by board-certified primary care physicians.

WHAT PREVIOUS POSITIONS GROOMED YOU FOR THIS EXPANDED ROLE IN THE COMPANY?

I am naturally a person who has a lot of my plate and likes to be doing more. Going down the healthcare administrative path and trying to impact policies so that it could be a better experience for people was always something that was challenging and exciting and got my juices flowing. So it just became natural for me as I went from both the hospital setting and worked in occupational health. My experience working as a staff nurse at Johns Hopkins while working in occupational health gave me experience in acute care and the business side. This early opportunity gave me the vision of how you can match operations and healthcare in a way that ties the business pieces to it.

I also spent time working with companies’ total life concept programs that were about health and wellness. I also spent 12 years in the acute hospital setting as a chief of nursing. In that role, I spent 365 days a year trying to impact the experience and quality of service to our patients. I have always loved seniors and what they contribute, so when the opportunity came for me to move from the hospital setting to the continuing care retirement community (CCRC) industry and to work with Erickson, it was a match made in heaven.

WHAT IS ONE SOURCE OF COMPETITION THAT THIS INDUSTRY OR YOUR COMMUNITY FACES? 

An individual’s home is really our greatest competition because their home is their status symbol. They don’t have a mortgage—they own that—and this is their greatest level of achievement in their life. Now, you are asking them to move out of their home, which is part of who they are.

The CCRC industry is facing the whole healthcare challenge as you can imagine with health sequestration issues and the Affordable Care Act. For us, it is slightly different because we do have large medical practices that operate in all our properties. We have care coordinators, we do manage residents with healthcare providers outside the community and in the hospital setting. We are all affected by the Medicare reimbursement rate and our residents are affected by their healthcare insurance costs.

WHAT DO YOU CREDIT IN ERICKSON LIVING'S PROGRAMMING THAT ACCOUNTS FOR YOUR ABOVE-AVERAGE OCCUPANCY RATES? 

We believe we have a good value for the price paid for our residents. It is high- quality, high- touch and high- experience. We target the middle-income market that is interested in socialization and a lot of interaction through groups, clubs, the theater and education.

Our residents are very important and in every one of them there is a gift and a story that they bring to the community that creates a very rich environment. I think that is why we have such a great resident experience. We have the ability to tap into that and make people feel valued and offer residential programs based upon what they want not the rigidity that has already been created. Our culture is created by a vision that is non-negotiable and one to which everyone can align.

AS COO, WHAT ADDITIONAL AREAS ARE YOU GOING TO ADDRESS? WILL THIS INVOLVE UPDATED TECHNOLOGIES, SERVICES OR STAFF TRAINING?

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