Villa St. Francis hopes to become the Catholic choice for long-term care
by Caitlin Thornbrugh
OLATHE — An on-site dental clinic. A new director of nursing. Alzheimer’s Association staff training. A resident food committee. These are just a few of the changes Rodney Whittington Jr. has implemented during his first three months as the new CEO of Villa St. Francis here.
The young and energetic new CEO believes one of the Villa’s foremost challenges, however, is getting the word out to the Catholic community about its services.
He said if he could communicate one thing to area Catholics, in fact, it would be that Villa is working hard to let people know there is a Catholic option for long-term care, and that he could use their help in spreading the word.
“I know that first and foremost people are going to choose us based on the care they will receive,” said Whittington. “We do want them to have the faith and confidence that that piece is in place.”
“But above and beyond great care is the Catholic mission,” added Whittington. “We really do want to be the Catholic choice for long-term care.”
Whittington goes on to describe the Villa as “uniquely Catholic.”
“We have nuns that provide nursing care, which is an amazing element that clearly separates us from other facilities,” said Whittington. “And they’re just great, positive people to be around. They really make a difference in our culture here.”
Villa also offers daily Mass and has two resident priests: Father Bob Burger and Msgr. Ray Burger.
In the fall of 2013, new enrollment at Villa — a Catholic, nonprofit, skilled nursing facility sponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas — started declining. And while Villa has always had a high standard of care, there were personnel, census and budget problems that needed to be addressed.
Jerry Ney, a Holy Spirit, Overland Park, parishioner and former CEO of St. Joseph Care Center, was brought in. With his consulting firm, Ney Business Consulting, Inc., he started orchestrating a turnaround and selecting new leadership.
Though Ney describes the nursing home industry as both “brutal” and “demanding,” he said Whittington has already started “making capital improvements and program changes to stay competitive in the Johnson County market.”
Whittington’s background in the industry and considerable experience turning around other struggling facilities made him the right person for the job, said Ney.
As well as having an entrepreneurial spirit, said Ney, Whittington “has a comfortable demeanor that puts staff, residents and vendors at ease.”
Board member Dan Church also described Whittington as personable, with a “very stable and calm presence.”
Whittington earned a bachelor’s degree in life sciences and gerontology with an emphasis in long-term health care administration from Kansas State University, after which he went on to work in numerous facilities throughout Kansas, including ones in Topeka, Liberal, Coffeyville and Russell. He successfully turned around several of those that were failing.
“I do enjoy . . . making an organization healthier than when I got there,” said Whittington.
With the help of director of finance Larry Nelson, and the support of the board of directors, Whittington says he has been able to make “good decisions rapidly” at Villa St. Francis. This includes utilizing a different pharmacy, a new laboratory and therapy equipment provider, as well as purchasing some equipment Villa was previously paying a rental fee for each month.
But at the heart of Villa’s past and future is its Catholic identity.
“Rodney has a commitment to seeing that Catholic sacraments and Catholic traditions will be supported at Villa,” said Ney.
Whittington sees the chapel, dedicated in 2013, as the “focal point of our building and our mission.”
“A lot of facilities will have a chapel, but it’s kind of an afterthought or a room that’s been counterfeited to be a chapel,” said Whittington. “Here we literally did an expansion to add a beautiful chapel.”
An event hoping to spearhead this goal is coming up next month. In honor of Villa’s 70th anniversary, a benefit dinner and auction is being held at Church of the Ascension on Oct. 24.
There will be a prime rib and salmon dinner, prepared by Knights of Columbus Council 10932, as well as performances by the Driscoll School of Irish Dance and violinist Alex Shum of the Kansas City Symphony.
“We are in a unique time of our history,” said Whittington. Villa is seeing a rise in admissions, “but we still have to continue. We’re just a few months into this. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Whittington is not intimidated by the challenges ahead. He described great support from both the board of directors and his staff.
“I think it takes time for improvements to become tangible,” he said. “It’s like planting a garden, I guess. We’ve prepared the soil, planted the seeds, we’re watering it every day. We’ll experience the growth soon.”
70th Anniversary Benefit Dinner
- Friday, Oct. 24
- Church of the Ascension Parish hall, 9510 W. 127th St., Overland Park
- Social hour — 6 p.m.; dinner — 7 p.m.
- For tickets and information, call Gloria Adams at (913) 768-4323
- Special guest: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
- Featured performances by Driscoll School of Irish Dance and violinist Alex Shum of the Kansas City Symphony
- Silent art auction
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