Rick Irwin, CEO, and Loriann Putzier, president and COO, started IntegraCare Corp. out of a desire to build something better.
The two were working together in the senior living community business, and found themselves having to ask more and more of employees, without enough owner/operator support for improvements. It was time for a fresh start.
“We found ourselves at a place where we couldn’t look at those folks and say work harder. They already worked ridiculously hard and made many personal sacrifices,” Putzier says. “We want to be with partners that want to be in this business and are committed to the longevity of what it is we do — and we did not have that.”
They knew they shared values and complementary skills: Putzier focuses on operations, human resources and leadership issues; Irwin handles the equity side, keeping up on industry trends and a vision for the product type.
“It’s sort of like mutually assured destruction. We both need each other to be successful,” Irwin says.
More than 15 years later, the two have 650 employees at 12 communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Each community can have anywhere from one to three levels of care — independent living, personal care/assisted living, and memory care or specially secured dementia units.
Finding extraordinary leaders
In a business where the ability to grow is tied directly to the people in the organization, the recruitment, retention and development of key positions is crucial.
At IntegraCare, that’s the executive director at the community level, who then recruits, retains and motivates the hourly team, the caregivers for the residents.
“This is an extremely challenging industry and it takes extraordinary people to lead it at the property level. And it is a lot easier to find the capital to build and develop these communities than it is to find the level of extraordinary people that we need to make and keep them successful,” Irwin says.
Putzier says their executive directors wear many hats. They encourage the hourly workers and deal with families who often haven’t reconciled with the situation and/or may have expectations that aren’t reflexive of the needs of the resident. In addition, they must keep regulatory bodies satisfied and run the business.
“It just is a lot of forces that are all very intense, all require the ability to step back, but you still have a great amount of work that has to be accomplished every day,” she says.
It requires a kind, patient, self-sacrificing person who puts in more than 40 hours and is called to make a difference in somebody’s life. That isn’t easy to find, Irwin says.
But what helps is that IntegraCare’s culture is firmly established and obvious, so new hires who don’t fit generally recognize it and move on by themselves, he says.
“Maybe that’s one of the things we’re most proud of — is that so many of our leaders and team members share the same values,” Irwin says.