Meet Ashlie Howard: Transitioning from a National Contract Therapy Provider to Blue Stone Therapy
Minneapolis, Minnesota: How can leadership be a calling for some and not for others? How can going from a large, cut-rate national company to a regional contract therapy provider be a good thing? How did Ashlie Howard end up at Blue Stone Therapy?
All good questions. We first met Ashlie last summer (2020) in the height of the pandemic when we transitioned her community to Blue Stone. There she was- wide-eyed, alert, excited and looking like she had things completely under control. Her team had just been through a roller coaster of emotions due to the change in therapy companies. It had to be a difficult time, but there she was leading her team. I noticed there was a sense of quiet confidence about Ashlie as she stood at the helm, unfazed by all the changes. Ashlie is clearly a leader.
I was there with our senior leadership team on day one for the start of services. As we are checking in Ashlie and the team, we asked our new therapists how the transition is going for them. I overheard Molly Hamilton (DPT) talking with Zach Kanis about her experience. Here's a part what she shared-
"Being informed of a loss of contract was a time of anxiety and uncertainty for our therapy team. As a team, the majority of change of contract scenarios that we had heard of, or seen ourselves, were negative. However from the initial contact with Blue Stone, everything was positive. Interviews were conducted with empathy and understanding. Blue Stone provided us with training and support for an efficient and seamless transition. Day one we were ready to go, just focusing on the patients and delivering therapy.
When comparing Blue Stone to other companies I often think back to a comment made during orientation: “Do what is best for the patient” In my experience and interactions during the transition I have found that Blue Stone genuinely means this! In POC, orders, billing, treatment options, Blue Stone really wants you to do what is best for the patient. The shift in prioritizing patient needs and being respected as a professional is a major positive for the building and our therapy team."
This seemed like something Ashlie had under control. I had to interview her to find out how she became a Rehab Director in the first place because she seems like a natural. Meet Ashlie Howard, Rehab Director-
What's your leadership story?
I have been in the therapy “world” for 11 years officially. I was a Rehab Aide in both acute care and OP settings both before and during my schooling to become a Physical Therapy Assistant. Upon graduation from my PTA program, I began working in the SNF/TCU setting.
Within a year and a half of my graduation, I was offered the Director of Rehab position at a former company. I had decided at the time to focus more on patient care and declined the Director position.
Instead, I continued with my Therapy Coordinator role and continued to learn the leadership side of the SNF/TCU up until approximately another year and a half later, when I was again offered the Director of Rehab position at a former building.
I accepted and officially began in the role right as PDPM was becoming a reality, then soon after found out that company had lost the contract in that building. A few months later, I transitioned to another building over an hour away. I was there a short time, as the DOR position at Woodlyn Heights opened up, and I transitioned buildings again in December of 2019.
How did you get into leadership?
Leadership has always been a goal of mine. In college, I was promoted to assistant manager/leadership roles in my retail jobs. Once I finished my undergrad, I held other leadership roles and duties throughout my time as a Rehab Aide. After graduating from PTA school, it was only about a year into my career when my former Director of Rehab promoted me to Therapy Coordinatorand began to teach me about the leadership positions in the rehab world.
How did you get your position at Blue Stone Therapy?
I had previously been with a contract therapy company for 5 years, which was most of my PTA career. This past summer, I was informed that that contract company would no longer be the therapy company in my current building Woodlyn Heights.
I was fortunate to have the backing of the Executive Director at the time. She encouraged me and provided information for getting in contact with Blue Stone Therapy. I was able to interview with Blue Stone and fortunately was able to stay within Woodlyn Heights now as a Blue Stone Therapy Rehab Director!
What's your favorite part about specializing in geriatric rehabilitation?
There is never a dull moment, or the same two days. I enjoy being an advocate and cheerleader for my patients. Most of the time, my patients are coming to this building with an unplanned health crisis – a lot of the time they are scared, sad, and not feeling well.
My favorite part is being able to be there for our patients and showing them what they are capable of doing to increase their quality of life and return back to the life they loved prior to their illness/injury. This past year, especially, while very difficult for so many obvious reasons, also showed how important we are to our patients’ lives.
Because of the pandemic, most patients have been unable to see family and friends while in the TCU/SNF. This adds an entire layer of being an advocate, cheerleader and supporter to our patients during a very difficult time, now complicated by something so unexpected and unknown.
How do you cultivate a positive culture with your team?
It is so important to me that each of my therapists knows the value they bring to this team, the community we serve, and Blue Stone Therapy. I strive to ensure my team feels comfortable coming to me for needs, which creates an open line of communication.
I also think it is important to ensure every individual on my team is respected as individuals who have lives outside of work hours and encourage each therapist to share their outside lives with the team. I want each person on my team to know they are appreciated and they matter to the success of each patient and team overall.
Personally, the best way to create a successful team atmosphere, and a positive culture, is to make sure everyone feels they are an important part of the team, and respected and appreciated for the job they do.
What are your top 3 Blue Stone Therapy Core Values and why?
Superior customer support, doing the right thing, and treat others with respect.
I think these three break down the most basic human need – to feel valued and important. The unfortunate thing in our country’s healthcare world is, at times, the hustle and bustle. I feel like this can (unintentionally) create a situation where patients feel as though they are “just a number” or “just a diagnosis”.
However, of course, our patients are PEOPLE and they deserve to be treated like we would treat someone in our family. Focusing on these three core values ensures that we are being advocates for our patients, that we are treating them as human beings and that we are providing them with a kind, high quality and focused/individualized treatment plan to ensure their specific needs are met.
No matter what each specific patient is dealing with, they will have a bright spot in their day when their therapist is in their room – because they matter, and their care matters, and we will always do the right thing while providing them with a high quality treatment, and ensuring they are treated with respect as PEOPLE.
Do you have a team success story you would like to share?
I have been blessed to have kept a majority of the team I had when working for the previous contract therapy company. The therapists on this team are a group of caring, compassionate, empathetic and smart.
I am frequently getting thanked for the job my team has done, and for being so pivotal both in the physical part of patients’ rehab and progression, but also the mental health aspect. I am consistently proud of the care my team of therapists gives to each of our patients.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I enjoy spending time with my two daughters, my family, and my friends. I also enjoy spending time at the gym. When not in a pandemic, I love attending Wild hockey games and Twins baseball games as well. And spending time outdoors in the summer months!
What’s a fun fact about you many people don’t know?
I spent three years living in Washington State, which is also where I went to PTA school! It has been a goal of mine to work in therapy since I was in junior high and injured my knee while playing soccer. I always thought I would be a sports rehab therapist, but once in school I was drawn to the geriatric population! I also love tennis shoes!
Where’s your favorite place in the world?
With the people I love. I have been completely blessed with an absolutely amazing support system in my life – from family and my daughters, to friends. I don’t have to be anywhere fancy, as long as I have the people in my life that I love with me. With that being said, traveling and finding a favorite place in the world is something I have on my to-do list!
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
To be able to do things while I sleep – or to allow my body to sleep and feel rested while I got to go do fun things I want to do! There’s never enough time in the day!
If you could tell anyone anything about Blue Stone Therapy, what would you share?
This company is absolutely amazing! It is so incredibly refreshing to truly feel like I am appreciated as a Rehab Director or therapist, and that the job that I am here to do matters! Blue Stone Therapy feels like a family. Everyone should want to work for this company, and every patient should want to be a patient of a Blue Stone Therapy team!
About the Interviewer
Jay Pfalzgraf is the Vice President of Business Development at Blue Stone Therapy, the leading specialist in SNF contract therapy. He is passionate about helping senior living communities enhance lives through exceptional rehabilitation services.
About Blue Stone Therapy
Headquartered in Urbandale, Iowa, Blue Stone Therapy is the leading specialist in Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) therapy services. The company was founded in 2009 and provides specialized Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology services to healthcare providers in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
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