Rodney E Whittington Jr, CEO of Villa St Francis Discusses COVID-19 and Senior Living

The HL Restoration Impacting Midwest Industries vlog series is where our very own Steve Tutt speaks with our industry partners and others about what they do, their passion, and the great things they are doing in the Midwest all while having a little bit of fun! Click here to view all of our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel! Click here if you cannot view the video above.

Steve Tutt: Welcome back to HL Restorations Impacting Midwest Industries. Our guest today is Rodney Whittington with Villa St. Francis. How are you, Ronnie?

Rodney Whittington: I am doing great. Thanks for having me.

ST: You’re looking good, man. Quarantine’s been treating you well.

RW: Not too bad, right? Thank you.

ST: Are you still working from home, or are you still going in every day?

RW: I go in every day. I stay kind of isolated to myself, letting the clinical team do their thing with the residents and just trying to isolate and keep the contacts down with everybody in different ways right now.

ST:  They say it’s going to change big time moving forward with a lot of different companies. I don’t know about the senior living side of the world, but I know to talk to commercial property managers and things like that, they see some big changes.

RW: Yeah, we battle viruses every year, and this is a new one, and we’re waiting on a vaccine, but we’re kind of well versed at keeping infections down and under control. This definitely is a new wrinkle for us for sure, but we’re business as usual, but it looks a little different from visitors and stuff like that.

What Sets Villa ST. Francis Apart from Other Senior Living Facilities?

ST: Let me ask you this, Ronnie. With this being Impacting Midwest Industries, can you tell us a little bit of how Villa St. Francis is impacting the Midwest industry when it comes to senior living?

RW: Yeah, so I would say that we’ve tried to take a real active role in being a leader and being on the cutting edge and doing things first because we’re a larger building, and we have resources to do that. We have a big team, and we can have different people researching different things, whether it’s the vaccine, the test, or the current CDC guidelines. So we’re trying to stay studied up and really be on the cutting edge so that we can help educate other communities that are trying to take care of the elderly. We’ve done webinars, different podcasts, and we want to help educate people and help people have confidence in the process that, although there’s been some terrible headlines, there’s a lot of really good things happening in nursing facilities all over the United States.

Here in the Midwest, specifically, a lot of work has gone on, and it continues to happen to keep people safe and make sure we’re doing the very best we can to something that is very deadly to the people we take care of.

ST: So what separates you from all the other senior centers?

RW: I would brag in a few ways. First, we’re a five-star facility rated by CMS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which means we’re in the top 10% of communities in the United States. So we’re really proud of that, and it took a lot of work to get there.

As you know, when you get to the top, it’s hard to maintain it, so we’re very active in maintaining that level of care and the quality measures that go along with that. We’ve taken a stance that we need to be a leader, and we need to make sure that because of our presence in the community, the elderly and their loved ones have confidence. You never want to fear going to a nursing home, and we want to make sure that our presence in the community builds confidence and not fear.

ST:  Now I’ve got to say, I’ve met a lot of your staff, you know, and I’ve encountered a lot of them, and they’re so kind, caring, happy, and helpful. What is your secret when it comes to keeping those people motivated and keeping their morale up? What’s your secret and leadership?

Leading a 5-Star Team

RW: I’ve been doing this 22 years now, and I didn’t start out doing it great. The first time, to be honest with you, I was fresh out of college and thought I knew everything, and I was just going to rule the world and dictate to everybody how we do things, and it was going to work out marvelously. I quickly learned that that’s not how people respond positively. So I learned that we would have to adopt an employee-first mentality, and there’s a one to one correlation between the way you treat an employee and the way they treat your customers. When I first said that out loud, it felt counterintuitive to people because they’re like, “Well, it should be residents and patients first and patients first.”

While that is a notion that feels right in your head, I realized there’s one of me, and we have a small leadership team to take care of 170 people at Villa St. Francis, and we have 250 employees to do that, we’ve got to treat them really well. They’ve got to have confidence in us and what we’re asking them to do and why we’re asking them to do it. It’s a listening, leadership mentality. We’ve got to listen to those 250 people about their work environment, what they need to excel, and what they need from us. Whether it’s a financial resource, a piece of equipment, or emotional support and somebody to talk to through a struggle they’re having. We’ve got to really be engaged with our entire team and listening to their feedback and what their needs are.

So we’ve created this work environment that everybody is excited to come to work, they are happy, and that’s one of the things that I’m most proud of is that we have people constantly that are in and out of other nursing facilities and they identify the difference. Our employees are engaged, they talk to you when you walk past them, they look happy, and they genuinely are. Those are the kinds of the things we focus on every day as being that employee-first employer.

ST: So how long have you been in the senior living world?

RW: I’ve been doing it for 22 years, and I’ve been at Villa St. Francis for six years. A lot of our success is based upon the leadership that has been with me almost that entire six years. We’re really active about making sure there’s a talent pool coming up all the time.

Senior Health and Safety During COVID-19

ST: Yeah, that’s great. I’m going to ask you the next question, which I hate even to ask because everybody has this subject they’re talking about, right? But the only thing I really want to know, Rodney, is with COVID-19. I know you’re protecting your residents, but what I would like to ask you is what advice would you give an elderly person that is still living in their homes that have not had to make that move to a senior living care facility?

RW: I would just say first if they’re following the CDC guidelines, that’s the number one thing. Keeping your contacts with people down, washing your hands. If you’re going to be in public, minimize those times as much as possible right now, at least until a vaccine is available. One of the things that aren’t being talked about enough, Steve, is that we’ve got to address the mental and emotional side of this because it’s one thing to avoid the virus not to get sick, but when you’re at home for so long, and you’re being told to stay at home and not have visitors, not see your family you can’t do the things that fill your spirit.

I would advise them to stay in contact with their friends the best they can, whether it’s through FaceTime or the phone, I would urge people’s family members to reach out to them right now. They need it now more than ever because they’ve been isolated, and that’s one of the biggest struggles of an elderly person in their home or in a facility is the isolation from people. It just seems like as years go on you, you lose family, you lose friends, you lose your peers, and then pretty soon you’re isolated and not having much contact and visitors. So now more than ever call your grandma, call your aunts and let them know you’re thinking about them and love them.

ST: That’s great advice, Ronnie. Thank you for sharing that with us. Now, I love the community. I’m always coming by and seeing you guys, but what can we do for your community with Villa St. Francis with everything going on? What can the community do to help in any way?

RW: So we’ve had a great response from our community friends with PPEs, cards for the residents, masks, hand sanitizer, but we can always use monetary donations. If you’re able to, and a lot of people aren’t right now with the economy, but any small donation helps. You can go to our website at, and you can make an online donation – but you can do a lot to show support.

We’ve had people come by and do art on the sidewalk and signs out in front to encourage our employees that are coming to work. Anything like that just to recognize the long term care industry because as you watch the news, there are a lot of hard-working people that are really doing their best to take good care of people and there’s a lot of good going on too.

ST: One last question. I know you have an awesome event, and I was there last year, and it was huge. It was scheduled earlier this year but had to be rescheduled because of COVID-19, but do you have a new date that you’ve picked?

RW: We do. So our “Faith in Bloom” event was rescheduled from April 29 to August 21, so it’s a Friday evening this year. It’s usually been around lunchtime, but we moved it to an evening to celebrate our 75th year of our ministry in the Kansas City area. So we’re going to do it at night time dinner, it’s going to be big, it’s going to be beautiful. We’re so excited about it.

People can go to our website if they want to get tickets or want to support it, make a donation. We are doing a live and a silent auction this year, so if you happen to have a fun item that you’d like to donate, that would be helpful to us.

The goal of the event is to raise awareness about Villa St. Francis. As I said, we’ve been around 75 years, but a lot of people still don’t know who we are, what we are, or haven’t heard of us, so we really have taken this event the last several years to tell our story. Second, the purpose is to raise funds. We are the largest provider of Medicaid, long term care in the state of Kansas, and for people that really doesn’t mean anything, but to us it means we get reimbursed less than our actual cost to take care of somebody and that’s for 80% of our patients currently.

As you can imagine, that’s not a business you’d want to get into if 80% of your products were sold for less than what you bought them for, so we rely heavily on our donors to take care of us and take care of our residents. We’re really proud of the success the events have had, it’s really special to get all of our friends in a room and celebrate what we’ve done in the last year.

Rapid Fire Questions with Rodney E. Whittington

ST: It was a fantastic event, and I encourage everybody out there and be a part of this. Okay, we’re going to lighten things up and keep the laughs going, Rodney. Are you ready? I’m going to ask you some questions, I’m going to ask them quick and fast, and we’ll see what you come up with. First one, who is living the dream right now?

RW: Michael Jordan.

ST: Do you believe in aliens?

RW: Maybe.

ST: Who would you put on a Mount Rushmore

RW: Ronald Reagan

ST: Why do you think manholes are around?

RW: To allow more men to get in.

ST: If you had a choice between two superpowers, being invisible or flying, which would you choose?

RW: Flying. I dream of flying all the time.

ST: What’s your favorite NFL team?

RW: The Dallas Cowboys. But I will say since the Chiefs hired Andy Reed away from the Eagles, I’ve been a huge fan because he was kicking our behinds at Philadelphia for a while there.

ST: Rodney, thank you so much for joining us on this journey with us at the Impacting Midwest Industries. But truly people if you want to get involved you want to help out please go to the website or contact Rodney at Villa St. Francis or his team at (913) 829 5201  and see how you can help.

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