Driving Leadership; Kim Townsend

Kim Townsend, President and CEO of Loretto Health and Rehabilitation joins Bill Berthel of Emergent on this episode of Driving Leadership.

A highly respected female leader, Kim discusses three types of advocates every leader needs in their lives, the essentially important healthcare work being done by her organization in Central New York, and some wisdom from her accomplishments as an author.

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*Note: The following text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors


Bill Berthel: Welcome to another episode of Driving Leadership. I’m really excited about today’s guest, Kim Townsend. She is the CEO and president of Loretta. She’s got an amazing leadership story, and there are just so many great things going on in this historic and innovative healthcare facility here in Central New York.

Come on, let’s go for a ride.

Hey, Kim.

Kim Townsend: Hey, Bill.

Bill Berthel: Thanks so much for doing this with me today.

Kim Townsend: Oh my goodness. Thank you.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely.

Kim Townsend: I’m excited for our drive.

Bill Berthel: We’re gonna have a lot of fun. So it’s, it’s still ahead. It’s busy today. Is it always this busy?

Kim Townsend: Yeah.

Bill Berthel: Oh, that’s awesome. Okay. Good, good. When we arrived early this morning, it was nice and, and calm.

Kim Townsend: Oh, no.

Bill Berthel: The, the, the campus comes alive.

Kim Townsend: Oh, that was a moment. That was just a moment in time.

Bill Berthel: So can we take a little ride?

Kim Townsend: Yes, let’s do it.

Bill Berthel: Yeah. All right. Awesome. So tell me a little bit about where we are. There’s some rich history here. I know.

Kim Townsend: Yes. absolutely. So Loretta was founded in 1926. On three foundational principles. The first was partnerships, the second was innovation in the desire, and the third was the desire to solve big social problems. So in 1926, the partnership was the Sisters of St. Francis. And the Syracuse Diocese. And the innovation was right here. They formed the first home for the aged in North America.

And because in 1926, if you were a person aging in the community and you did not have family members to care for you, Then you wound up at the county poor farm, which was a debtor’s prison. Okay. And the sisters and the diocese felt that that was an undignified end to a good life. And, you know, that was before there was Social Security, before there was Medicare, before there was Medicaid.

Right. There were no. Social, safety net programs. And so this is the original Loretto rest, which we still today.

Bill Berthel: Can I go back there or what’s Yeah, yeah. Okay.

Kim Townsend: And that is where we do our memory care housing. And it’s called The Heritage Now. And it was actually the first housing program for individuals living with memory care diagnoses, Alzheimer’s or related dementias, the first one in New York State.

And that was over 30 years ago. And still operating in, doing a wonderful job today and just part of the rich history.

Bill Berthel: I know we had a conversation, I don’t know, a month or so, maybe longer. I’m terrible with timelines. I so enjoyed our conversation. Yeah. And this is great to share the same space with you. I love your leadership story. Can you share that with me for our viewers? Because again, our, our intention here is to really demystify leadership and make it as approachable and as human as possible.

And you’ve got a fantastic story.

Kim Townsend: Well, thank you, Bill, and I’m just so honored to be here with you today. It’s just so great to have this conversation and to touch base with your viewers. Right. The people that are tuning into you. So just really honored by your time and their time, but thank you.

Yeah, my leadership story is not the traditional path. I did not graduate from college until I was 35 years old, so I was a non-traditional student. And at the time that I graduated, I had three children soon to be a single mom. And earned my bachelor’s degree, my MBA and my law degree in a period of six and a half years.

Bill Berthel: That is just phenomenal.

Kim Townsend: And people were like, I don’t even know how you do that as a mom of three. And what I tell people is, you can do whatever it is you need to do. Yeah, yeah. Particularly if you’re a mom trying to take care of your kids. Yeah, yeah. And be a good example to my three daughters. Just a non-traditional path. Started out in accounting. And moved to the legal department At Welch Allen, was there for 14 years and just had so many great experiences And earning experiences there. But really as I looked at my career while I was at Welch Allen, I was working very closely with many of our our customers who were in the safety net.

Right? So these are federally qualified community health centers. These are clinics. All over the world. And I really caught the bug Of what they were doing. I could just see how with very little resourcing they were making a tremendous impact In the communities in which they were serving.

Bill Berthel: Describe that safety net a little bit. So what is that? That and that bug you caught?

Kim Townsend: Yeah. Yeah. So the safety net is really, in a place where you’re predominantly taking care of individuals who may be Medicaid eligible or they may be uninsured. Just a broad spectrum. Most people who are there for various reasons, but they were just doing such incredibly impactful work that I really purposed at one point, probably about five years before I left Welch Allen, that boy, if I ever get the opportunity to move from the supplier side, to the provider side where I could really have a more direct impact, I’m gonna do that.

Bill Berthel: That was attractive to you?

Kim Townsend: And that was super attractive to me. So when the opportunity came up at Loretto, I was just all in and have been here for 10 years now.

Bill Berthel: As an outsider looking, and it seems really obvious to me that it’s so much about service. In everything. In in your leadership, in how skilled nurses are serving the residents or the patients. Just coming in today, how we were greeted with warmth, right? Tell me about how you build that culture. Tell me about what it, what it’s taking.

Kim Townsend: Well, you know, I think it, I think it’s a couple of things and, and you’re absolutely right. So a few years ago we did an employee engagement survey.

Because we really wanted to see, first of all, do, do all of our, the people who are here at Loretto understand what our mission is. Right? And our mission is to be a family of exceptional people who care for or and about each other. So we’re a family with the people we care for.

That’s, yeah. But we’re a family with each other. So did people feel that? And did they really see how the work that they do, had a direct line to that mission. And we found in our employee survey that 88% of employees said, I understand what we’re trying to do here. I understand our mission and I can really see how I’m a part of that.

Yeah. So it it’s just magic when that happens. But I think it’s, it’s tone from the top. And by the top, I don’t mean me. Although certainly it’s important for me to walk the talk. But you know, the tone from the top can be your supervisor or your line manager who really, you know, kind of impacts your day-to-day experience at work.

So we really work hard at, at kind of making sure that. What we’re trying to accomplish is, is really stout throughout the organization at every level. But it’s challenging, right? In a place where there’s, you know, 19 different sites and programs, 2,400 employees, that can sometimes be challenging because we are such a geographically dispersed organization.

But really working at that middle manager level. And helping them to understand what we’re trying to do. We found that to be just such a critical critically important thing to do.

Bill Berthel: So I know you have some great growth stories. I’d like to hear some more of those that folks were able to really spread their wings here at Loretto. Maybe who comes to mind? You don’t have to name them necessarily course, if that’s embarrassing for them, but

Kim Townsend: Of course. Yeah, no, there are so many people that come to mind.

Yeah, because I think that one thing that we do really well here at Loretto is if you are a person who’s coming in. With a mind to grow, you will have tremendous opportunities to grow and you will have them relatively quickly here. Because we are a large safety net provider. It’s always all hands on deck. And that really allows people to step into their greatness. A lot of opportunities. Yeah. So one of the people that I think about that comes top of mind, came to us when she was 18 years old, right out of high school. Started if the front desk of our hr department, which is a hard place to be, right?

Because not everybody that shows up at HR is there to wish you a good day. Right. You’re usually there because it sometimes a challenge.

Bill Berthel: Analogous to the complaint department. Right?

Kim Townsend: Abosolutely, and just did such a great job there, that when the opportunity for came for her to move into the labor side, we gave her one of the smaller businesses to be the labor liaison, the human the HR business partner.

For that. And, and now three years later, she really, one of our you know, labor leaders here, she’s, she’s an HR business partner Who manages a large portfolio and does it extremely capably while she’s going to college. Right. Yeah. Because she was young. She came in when she was 18, so we’re supporting her through tuition reimbursement. And that’s just the just such a typical story of growth here, because that’s the opportunity. Right. We’re not, we’re not a super hierarchical organization. We’re not a turfy organization. I describe this as like one of those organizations where it, we really can do anything because we do have that kind of all hands on deck mentality where, you know, if you’re a person that’s interested in working in a particular area, that may not be what you’re doing now, you can absolutely do that.

Bill Berthel: Kim, amongst all your amazing accomplishments, you’re also an author?

Kim Townsend: Yes.

Bill Berthel: Tell me about, tell me about your authorship.

Kim Townsend: Yes, so I actually have two books. So the first one is Lifecircle Leadership, and the second is Lessons in Lifecircle Leadership.

Really what Lifecircle leadership was for me was the opportunity to tell the Loretto story. And just how what happens here at Loretto has shaped my leadership style. And just a great opportunity to talk about things like pragmatic altruism, which was one of the principles in the book.

Which is, you know, really doing good is good for business. And we always hear that, that’s easy to say. But I think we’ve all been in conversations with leaders who are like, wow, I would really like to do more for my employees. But I can’t. Or I would really like to invest more in my community, but I can’t. For whatever reasons. And I just encourage people that when you’re creative about what you can do, not what you can’t do. But if you’re creative about what you can do. Then you can do great things and it will be great not only for you as an individual and that you feel personal satisfaction, but it’s great for your organization and it’s great for the people that you’re impacting.

So one example of this that we do here at Loretto, Is our free diaper bank. So several years ago we were talking to employees. And they were saying that they were having challenges coming to work, because they didn’t have diapers, to be able to drop their children off at childcare, whether that was a family member.

Nobody wants to take care of a baby that doesn’t have diapers.

Bill Berthel: Of course. No. That’s, that’s an essential need.

Kim Townsend: That’s right. It’s an essential need. And people didn’t have that. So we created Loretta’s free diaper program. So if you are an employee at Loretto every month and you get 50 free diapers or pull-ups.

And that’s for parents and grandparents because we have a lot of grandparents. About 50% of the people in the program are grandparents that are assisting raising their grandchildren. So every year we give out 170,000 diapers. It’s a lot of diapers, and I can tell you it is an extremely well appreciated program. People love that program, and that was just something that came out of what could we do, right? We, we can’t do everything, but we can do some things. What could we do? Well, we can help people with those.

Bill Berthel: Thank you.

Thank you for this conversation, Kim. This has been absolutely enlightening for me personally, and I know our viewers are gonna tune in and just learn so much from you.

Thank you.

Kim Townsend: Thank you, Bill, it’s been a pleasure.

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