When Life Care Centers of America was incorporated in January 1976, Cleveland, Tennessee, was a much different place. Life Care looked different then, too. The fledgling company only included six buildings in two states, but its leadership was already following a vision for success.
"The resident is our highest priority, and associates are our greatest asset," asserted Forrest L. Preston, the company's chairman and founder.
Today, with more than 200 nursing and rehab centers in 28 states, Life Care still operates by those guiding principles of putting residents first and employing highly skilled and passionately dedicated associates who serve residents with love and compassion. At the corporate offices in Cleveland, many of those associates have committed themselves to long-term careers with Life Care, and, amazingly, 18 of them have been with Life Care for 25 or more years – more than half the life of the company.
"I was drawn by the mission of serving and loving others, particularly the elderly," said Beecher Hunter, Life Care president, who has been with the company since 1986. "Today, the culture of Life Care is still rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic, understanding that obedience to God is best measured by service to others."
Hunter isn't the only associate who was attracted to Life Care because of its culture and dedication to serving others.
"The spirit of service is why I've stay with Life Care for so long," said Brenda Quick, director of reimbursement, who will celebrate 35 years with Life Care this fall. "I appreciate knowing that my work has an impact (albeit indirectly) on every resident we serve."
The focus on residents and service is a keystone of Life Care and the reason many associates have committed long-term careers to the company.
Credentialing manager Cindy Walker has been with Life Care for 29 years. Before moving to the corporate offices in 2015, she spent 25 years at a local facility, where she saw associate interactions with residents on a daily basis: "The commitment to exceptional care of our residents is why I've stayed. I have seen this firsthand."
"We are all one big team," explained Barbara Swafford, director of IT support. Swafford, who has been with Life Care for 30 years, enjoys her work so much that she commutes more than two hours every day to and from work. Her favorite part of working at Life Care is "helping others on a daily basis," she said. "I love it when I am able to make someone's day better by helping resolve their issue, no matter how small it may seem."
Others have stayed with Life Care because of positive relationships with co-workers.
"I have stayed because my fellow associates are the greatest," said Joan Hughes, a senior application support analyst who has been with Life Care for 36 years.
"I love the ladies I worked with every day," added Kathy Howard, senior corporate payroll specialist and 32-year Life Care associate. "We share good times and help each other through bad times."
Special projects designer Joe Pardue, who designed Life Care's logo and has been with the company for almost 27 years, agreed: "I love the culture of Life Care and love working alongside friendly Christian associates."
"The people I work with both directly and indirectly are amazing people," said Kay McMahan, a support analyst who will mark 30 years with Life Care in May. "It's hard to find someone who isn't willing to help out."
"Although the company has grown in size over the past 37 years, there is still a small company, family atmosphere," explained Terry Henry, senior vice president of accounting, who will celebrate 37 years with Life Care in April.
The family atmosphere and support of associates is another reason that so many associates have joined the Life Care family and never left.
"I was encouraged by supervisors to pursue my goals," said Becky Smith, a 27-year associate who now serves as director of clinical systems. "I was able to advance in my career, continue my education and earn my bachelor's degree while working [at Life Care.] We are all family. I work with various departments outside of Information Technology, and everyone truly cares about the facilities and the residents, as well as each other."
Vicki Hood has had a similar experience. "Life Care has given me opportunities to further my education, to promote and grow in the company and to excel professionally," said the corporate and Eastern Division director of business development, who has been with Life Care since 1985. "I feel that Life Care leadership really cares about me and my family. They have proven that during key times I my life."
Life Care's commitment to service makes involvement in the local community a natural outlet for associates. For many, those community ties are a treasured aspect of working for Life Care and another reason why associates stay with Life Care for extended careers.
"Life Care is very involved in the community, and that is important to me," said DeeAnn Pullen, who has been with Life Care for 26 years and currently serves as the director of application development.
Maintenance assistant Eddie Radford agrees. Radford, who has been with Life Care since 1990, is inspired by Life Care's mission and values. "Commitment means a lot to me," he said. "I try to do anything for everybody at work. I love helping people. I work the Share Your Christmas every year for the Chattanooga Food Bank, and during my years at Life Care, I have worked packing shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child."
For director of purchasing John Kitterman, who will celebrate his 27th year with Life Care in April, the motivation in coming to work every day is simple: "I am motivated by the feeling that I have a part in caring for the resident and providing a service that allows our facility associates to focus on their core objectives. I walk in the door every day saying to myself, ‘I can make a difference today and will let nothing stand in the way.'"
The commitment to service and a heart for others seems to be a quality you can find in every long-term Life Care associate.
"Associates in Life Care see their work as more than a job," explained Hunter. "It's a ministry in the lives of they serve."
As Life Care moves forward into a new decade, the company is fortunate to have so many talented long-term associates who love what they do and who love others just as passionately. They are truly our greatest asset.