Priorities, Plans and Perspectives: Mark Parkinson, President and CEO, The American Health Care Association – Skilled Nursing News

In this Priorities, Plans & Perspectives interview, Skilled Nursing News sits down with Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of The American Health Care Association, to learn how he has optimized his organization’s effectiveness while maintaining focus on quality of care and resident experience.

Read on to discover how Parkinson identifies opportunity amidst chaos, and what resources he looks to when he seeks perspective on leadership, news and industry trends.

Skilled Nursing News: What was your first job title in health care or health care technology?

Mark Parkinson: My very first job in health care was as an owner of an assisted living community. In 1993, my wife, Stacy, and I were practicing law and happened to tour an assisted living community. They were brand new in Kansas, where we resided. We fell in love with the concept and decided to risk all that we had to build one. We wanted to create a facility that was so great that people wouldn’t mind leaving their homes.

SNN: How has your perspective changed since your first day in the industry?

Parkinson: We quickly learned that our goal was impossible and naïve. No one wants to leave their home. It doesn’t matter how great the senior living setting. Leaving your home is a huge emotional jolt. Once we realized that, we began to work with our residents and their families on making the transition as painless as possible.

SNN: Who made the greatest influence on your perspective?

Parkinson: We were inspired by the success that Jack Vetter of the Vetter organization had with building top-of-the-line skilled nursing facilities. As we learned how to operate, our biggest influencer was Quint Studer, who was, and is, the recognized expert on patient and employee satisfaction in hospitals. We took his principles and applied them to assisted living and skilled nursing.

SNN: How do you define and execute your professional priorities, and can you name three of them? Also, how do you look at planning when a large degree of uncertainty is involved?

Parkinson: We believe that for an organization to reach its maximum level of effectiveness, it must be driven by a mission. People and organizations that have a compelling purpose do much better than those without one. In our senior living business, in my time as Governor, and now as president and CEO at AHCA/NCAL, we have always had a stated mission. Our mission at AHCA/NCAL is to improve lives by delivering solutions for quality care. That’s what we live for. It’s what we do. It’s the context for the decisions that we make.

In addition to being mission driven, I believe that people and organizations who are driven by metrics also have a better chance to succeed. As a result, we set measurable goals and hold ourselves accountable to them. This makes it very clear what we are working to accomplish, and if we are being effective.

SNN: How do you keep track of your professional plans and progress? What do you do when something does not go according to plan?

Parkinson: Chaos and uncertainty are generally not good for organizations, but both allow leaders and well-run organizations opportunities to shine. It’s not hard to run an organization when everything is going well and when the wind is at your back. The real test is how you function when everything around you is falling apart. We’ve been tested multiple times over the last couple of decades. Those times include 9/11 and its aftermath, the Great Recession of 2008-2010 and the current pandemic. In each instance there was enormous uncertainty and fear, and in each of those instances, we came out of them, or in the case of the pandemic, we will come out of it better and stronger than ever. The key is for leadership to not panic. Instead, we need to assess the real damage, what can be done to repair it and develop a plan to move forward. Leaders who articulate that plan, work it and stay steady while reassuring their team that there is a way out will shine during a crisis.

SNN: What do you listen to, read or watch to gain perspective?

Parkinson: As the president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, the most important source of information for me is our members. I gain the most when they tell me what is happening in their buildings in real time. To keep up with the relevant political news, I read the New York Times and the Washington Post. For D.C. information, I’m constantly looking at The Hill, Politico, CNN and Roll Call.

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Amy Stulick

A Buffalo transplant living in LA, Amy has worked as a business journalist for more than two years and has been in the profession for seven-plus. She is an avid (sometimes poolside) science fiction reader, nature lover and roller derby novice.

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