GUILDERLAND — Former Ellis Medicine CEO Jim Connolly is back in a direct patient care setting, serving as administrator of a Guilderland nursing home after a stint in state government.
“What is really nice for me personally is it’s a smaller scale than I’ve been involved with in the past,” he said of The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Guilderland, a 127-bed facility in Guilderland Center. Connolly feels more connected to staff and particularly patients in this new role, because unlike hospitals, where he has spent most of his career, nursing residences are not just places to receive medical care, they are home.
There’s a satisfaction in making it the best home it can be, Connolly said.
The Long Island native and Saratoga Springs resident worked in hospitals for more than 40 years, building to leadership positions at hospitals in Buffalo and Glens Falls before taking over as president and CEO of what was then Ellis Hospital in 2007.
Connolly presided over massive changes during his tenure there, as Ellis, St. Clare’s and Bellevue hospitals were ordered by the state to merge into what is now Ellis Medicine.
He retired from Ellis in early 2015 and went to work for the state Department of Health’s Office of Health Insurance Programs, working to help implement the state’s new Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment program. It was his first job out of a health care setting, but the goal of DSRIP — helping build a healthier population — was not unfamiliar.
Work Ellis had done with under-served portions of the population in Schenectady County was very similar, Connolly said. “I could talk to people trying to launch community initiatives,” he said.
At the end of July, he moved back to a patient-care facility: The Guilderland nursing home. He said he worked in similar settings early in his career but never was an administrator.
Connolly joined the facility in an era of change.
The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Guilderland is the former Guilderland Center Nursing Home, which had a history of labor strife and poor ratings from state and federal regulators. It landed on the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Special Focus Facility list, a nationwide “worst-of” roster of nursing homes with a record of serious quality problems.
The Grand Healthcare System began operating it in 2014, then acquired it in late 2016 and embarked on a rebranding campaign and renaming the facility.
The Queens-based system operates five other nursing facilities in the state that are rated from two to five stars on the five-star scale maintained by Medicare.
The Guilderland facility is off the Special Focus list now, but it still has only a 1-star Medicare rating.
The more than $1 million worth of physical upgrades that have been made are much easier to complete than the turnaround in culture that needs to happen, Connolly said, but he found that turnaround well underway when he made his first visit there.
“It was very obvious when I went to interview,” he said.
He also heard positive assessments from a lot of knowledgeable people he knew from other stages of his career.
Daily patient census is running around 123 to 125, nearly full capacity, Connolly said. Some are short-term inpatients undergoing physical therapy and rehab before going home, others are long-term residents who are no longer able to live independently.
Looking forward, Connolly said, the staff will be the biggest asset and biggest challenge as The Grand Healthcare System continues the turnaround.
“The staff is very committed to care,” he said, adding that on a daily basis he sees the love that they show the residents.
The hard part comes when an employee leaves for another job.
“The world of health care has tremendous challenges when it comes to recruiting people,” Connolly said. “I think you have to take a long-term look at recruiting.” This includes efforts to train, lead, mentor and retain employees once they are recruited.
Connolly said he wants to be part of the turnaround, and it won’t be the first rebuilding project he faced.
Ellis Medicine, he said, was essentially created from scratch by merging three organizations with three different cultures.
Solving problems is an inescapable part of modern health administration, Connolly said.
“I think probably everybody who’s in health care is engaged in that now.”