Meredith Mills is COO and Senior Vice President of Country Meadows Retirement Communities, a role she was promoted to in mid-2018. Previously, she held the positions of VP of Strategic Planning, Executive Director of our Lancaster campus, Regional Marketing Manager and Marketing Director at our Hershey campus. Prior to her arrival at Country Meadows, she worked in management for two major retail companies. Meredith is a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College and has a master’s degree in health policy and administration from Penn State.
Why did you decide to join your family business at Country Meadows?
I worked here when I was in high school and got a lot of satisfaction from it. After college, I worked in e-commerce and marketing in Philadelphia. I enjoyed it as it could be exciting—for example, going to New York Fashion Week shows—but I found myself wanting to do something more meaningful. My husband Dan, who grew up in a family business, always wondered why I wasn’t considering my own family’s company.
I thought about this more as my grandmother and Country Meadows co-founder (Mary Jane Leader) was dying, and my grandfather (Gov. George Leader) asked when I was coming back to the company. It was incredibly important to him that Country Meadows remain family owned and operated, and he looked forward to having my generation involved. So, Dan and I left our jobs in Philadelphia to fill two open positions at the Hershey campus. We started here by learning all about senior living from the ground up. That was so helpful. Witnessing our co-workers’ commitment to what they do, we understood why they do it. We experienced firsthand the importance of caring for seniors and giving them choices in that care.
September 8-14 is National Assisted Living Week, a time to raise awareness and celebrate the role of assisted living homes in caring for seniors. What’s your vision for personal care and assisted living at Country Meadows?
People are living longer with chronic conditions but are staying in their homes longer. Most of them do best in a homelike setting of a retirement community where they receive daily support and have opportunities to socialize. We offer a connection between care and purpose. We provide an environment where older adults want to get up in the morning, be among peers and participate in activities they enjoy.
Our personal care communities aren’t required by state licensure to have nurses onsite 24 hours a day, but we do because we feel that’s key to providing the best care possible—something families should ask about when looking for a senior living community.
Comparing retirement communities isn’t like comparing real estate. Creating a compassionate retirement community is about so much more than constructing beautiful buildings. The people inside—impassioned, kind co-workers providing complete care for residents they love and respect—that’s what makes a truly excellent retirement community.
What do you look for in co-workers in personal care or assisted living?
We look for individuals who are more than just task-oriented. They must be thoughtful and compassionate, communicate well and enjoy the company of seniors.
People whom we hire should be open to change and new challenges. That’s because we’re always looking for innovative ways to be even better at what we do. We’re not afraid to try something—even if it doesn’t succeed, we learn from that, too.
Our co-workers are also collaborative; they work together to solve problems. They embrace our team-based approach and share observations about residents in order to best assist them.
We train our co-workers to ask, “How can I provide the most personalized care with dignity?” Each resident is different with a unique life story, so we delve into who that person is to offer the most individualized care and engagement.
What’s the difference between personal care and assisted living?
They differ a bit in their levels of care and, in Pennsylvania, they’re licensed separately. That’s not the case in many states. While both offer housing, meals and assistance with medications and daily tasks, an assisted living facility also may provide some skilled health care services. A personal care home only can help to organize or facilitate these services through outside contractors. The assisted living licensure in Pennsylvania also requires that a residence have a nurse on call or onsite at all times, the administrator of the building be onsite for a higher amount of hours and a dietitian be on staff or under contract. Country Meadows already holds itself to these higher standards for all our personal care campuses.
Many retirement community companies, including Country Meadows, have personal care homes that provide services very similar to those of most assisted living communities but have decided pursuing assisted living licensure would be cost-prohibitive. And in Pennsylvania, Medicaid doesn’t provide funding to cover the additional costs.
Most of your campuses offer personal living, but the newest one has assisted living services. Do you plan to go in that direction at other campuses?
Country Meadows delivers personal care in Pennsylvania at nine campuses, but provides assisted living services at our newest location, Forks Township in Easton, and in Frederick, Maryland as well. (In Maryland, both levels of care are covered by the same licensure and regulations.)
This Easton senior living campus is licensed for assisted living because it was built with that intent. That licensure carries additional facility costs—for example, every residence must have a kitchen. To institute that at existing campuses would produce substantial costs, and we don’t want to pass those on to our residents and families. We feel our current personal care licensure allows our residents to comfortably age in place equally well.
Many people who might otherwise be in a skilled care facility live here with their needs met through our coordinated care services at a much lower cost. Our nursing staff is highly qualified to provide health education and manage disease processes. Our sister company, Lifesong Hospice and Palliative Care, recently began on-site hospice services at our Central Pennsylvania campuses, although we also welcome residents’ or families’ choice for other hospice providers to offer support here. Additionally, we partner with BAYADA home health care to provide for short-term skilled nursing services, such as wound care, and Genesis Rehabilitation Services for therapy at all sites. We have certified wound physicians that round at all of our campuses and a medical director that sees residents at each campus.
We feel that regardless of licensure, the state regulations ask that we coordinate and plan appropriate care for the needs of our residents, and we are committed to partner with high-quality and vetted organizations to ensure we are connecting all of these resources for our residents. This allows them to focus on enjoying activities and retirement rather than being burdened by care coordination.
Tell us something about Country Meadows that many people may not know.
We are proud of the fact that seniors and their families see us a knowledgeable, trusted advisor. We will help anyone, even if they don’t move here. If they’re navigating a Medicare issue or comparing health care options, we will be glad to advise them. We exist to help seniors—it’s just that simple.
We know many seniors think of a move to a retirement community as “another change in my life” that can be frustrating or fearful. But whether their move is permanent or temporary for a period of recovery, we hope to show them that their lives can be better here. I speak not only as a Country Meadows co-worker but as a family member, too. All four of my grandparents have lived here, and one is still living here.
What sights do you most enjoy as you walk around Country Meadows?
Every day at Country Meadows, co-workers connect with residents as they would with members of their own families. I love to see them interacting—talking and laughing with each other, celebrating at special events or meeting challenges together. Our co-workers connect with our residents and their families, and it truly creates an extended feeling of family within our communities
Any closing thoughts?
I learned a lot from my grandfather while he was working here and later living here. He imparted his wisdom, expertise and passion to the second generation of our family—as well as to mine, the third generation. I have had the best role models possible and am happy and proud to be part of our family tradition of caring for seniors that my grandfather started more than 50 years ago.