New Parkside CEO looks for ‘great’ future

Valerie McGhee, newly hired CEO at Parkside Homes, holds Gigi, who arrived with McGhee as the Parkside therapy dog. McGhee has been a leader in senior care programs and centers in Kansas and Missouri.Valerie McGhee been a leader in the long-term-care field since earning her under­graduate degree at Missouri State University in 1977.

The Kansas City native, who earned a graduate degree from the University of Missouri, has professional experience in the mental health field, and has taught in the field of aging at Wichita State University.

As an administrator, her resume includes leadership roles with Wesley Medical Center in Wichita and several prestigious, corporate-owned retirement centers in Kansas—most recently Via Christi Villages in Manhat­tan—and even a 1,500-resident, high-end community near Chicago.

So, how did McGhee come to be the new chief executive officer of Parkside Homes in Hills­boro?

It’s all about timing and connections.

“I started looking for a change about a year ago—looking at the Kansas City area and just all over,” she said. “There was nothing that piqued my interest.”

Then McGhee got a call from Eric Heubert, the interim administrator at Parkside representing ARI, a Topeka-based company that offers consulting services to single-site, non-profit retirement communities, assisted-living facilities and skilled nursing homes.

“I know the people at ARI and have known them for many years,” McGhee said. “I’ve worked with them. They reached out to me when I was at Via Christi.

“He asked, would you consider this, and I said probably not,” she said with a smile. “But there was something about it. I just kept thinking, wow, this a single, stand-alone, not-for-profit, religious based—all of which are huge to me.”

From urban to rural

McGhee said her decision to come Parkside surprised her friends and coworkers, given her urban background.

“People were like, oh my god, how are you going to survive in a predominantly Mennonite community of 3,000?” she said. “I said I don’t think it’s going to be that tough. I don’t have anything to hide, I am who I am, and I know what I want to do.

“I’m here for the residents, I’m here to empower staff, I’m here to make this the best possible place for the staff and residents whom we serve,” she said. “To me, it’s nothing but a bonus that it’s religious based, so people get it—you don’t have to convince them.”

Her early impressions have been positive.

“The work ethic here is phenomenal,” McGhee said. “There’s a lot of opportunities here to be great—we’re already extremely good. That excites me.”

Unified vision

McGhee said she and the Parkside board are on the same page when it comes to Parkside’s future.

“As to the financial strength, I’ve heard from several people that Parkside is in terrible financial straights,” she said. “No, they’re not. This is a darn good situation. Can it be better? Absolutely.”

McGhee said resident census is key for an organization like Park­side.

“The only way you can pour money back into the physical plant, and make upgrades and thing like that, is to keep your census up,” she said. “How you keep your census up is to provide the best possible care—and great food.

“The food here, I would say, is phenomenal and it’s something to be proud of.” she added. “Food is one of the most important things to people in retirement living. It always has been and always will be. It’s food, probably No. 1, and security—or you can flip these.”

Room for upgrades

While McGhee is excited about the cutting-edge Park Homes built on campus a few years ago, she sees room for upgrades in other areas.

“The big thing for me is first impressions,” she said. “It looks old and it looks rundown in some areas. I’m not OK with that, the residents who live here aren’t OK with that and the staff aren’t OK with that.

“Knowing again that it takes a lot of money, and knowing that it takes time to kind of prioritize what needs to be done, I definitely want the community to understand all the levels of care.

“I think even for people who live in Hillsboro, they know about nursing, they know about the Park Homes, because they’re so unique and so nice.

“When you look at what people elsewhere in the state have going, you have to hand it to them here,” McGhee said of past leadership. “They did a great job and they were way ahead of the game. You have to hand it to prior leaders for kind of going out on the limb.”

Another goal is to fill the duplexes in Park Village.

“A lot of people don’t understand that we have the duplexes—and they’re darn nice, extremely nice,” she said. “They’re not all sold, but they need to be.”

Rehab services

McGhee also wants to promote the rehab care Park­side can provide through its relationship with Genesis Rehab Co., the largest rehab company in the country.

“They know what they’re doing,” she said. “There’s no reason why people can’t come here after they’ve broken a hip or knee replacement, whatever, and have excellent rehab care, then go back home.

“That’s what we want them to do,” she added. “People are sometimes fearful that if they come here for rehab care, we’re going to keep them here. No, we want you to go home.”

McGhee said she wants to be on the job at least a month before initiating changes.

“I do a lot of asking questions, a lot of walking around, a lot of evaluating what systems work well and which ones probably don’t,” she said of her leadership style.

“I can lead, but I do a lot of listening. One thing that you always have to do when you walk into a new situation is allay fears. What is she going to do? Is my job secure? Is she going to micro manage? No, never. That is not me.”

Beyond the job

McGhee, who is married to husband Mike, have two grown children: a daughter and her family who live in the Kansas City area, and a son and his family who live in greater Manhattan. They also have three grandchildren between the age of 4 months and 7 years.

The couple is in the process of buying a house near the Parkside campus, and McGhee said she likes to be involved in the communities in which they live.

“I’m one of these very positive people, I always have been,” she said. “I like to say, what is it that we can do better to benefit the people who live here in the community?

“I’m competitive, too,” she added. “I don’t like to be second to any other community or organization. I want to be the best. The people who work here, and the residents, deserve that.”

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