Three train to be nursing home administrators

February 05, 2002

Three train to be nursing home administrators


At 52, Kathy Bachtell is preparing for a challenging new career in an industry she said she's grown to love after 20 years as a nurse at Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown: Long-term health care.

And she's aiming straight for the top.

Bachtell is one of three local women training to head nursing homes as the facilities' administrators.

"I needed to find a way to advance in my career and this was a perfect opportunity. Taking on a lot more responsibility is a challenge but I'm seeking that," Bachtell said.

She, Carla Brown and Amy Olak have dedicated six months to a year of their lives to learn every aspect of nursing home administration - from food preparation to insurance practices - because they want to make a positive difference in the long-term health care industry, they said.

"There are people like the three of us who really care about enhancing lives," said Olak, 26, of Martinsburg, W.Va.


The women have studied thick books filled with nursing home legislation, policies and procedures.

They've trailed mentor nursing home administrators, or preceptors, and all department heads to learn first-hand the demand of the job.

"We have to learn all the processes so we can understand the problems and help fix them," Bachtell said.

She, Olak and Brown have measured handrails to make sure they comply with state regulations, ridden wheelchairs through nursing homes to gauge accessibility, worked with accountants to better understand billing and insurance procedures, interviewed residents about food preferences, observed nurses for compliance with regulations, and evaluated facility disaster plans.

They checked such internship tasks off long to-do lists. Then they did them again.

Maryland's intensive training program is "one of the best in the country," said Howard White, who oversees the nursing home administrator training program as executive director of the Baltimore-based Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators.

Examiners work closely with nursing home heads to groom new administrators, and monitor the trainees' progress throughout the lengthy training process, White said.

"We work with them hand-in-hand to try to come up with the best possible people to run the nursing homes in the state of Maryland," he said.

To qualify for the training program, applicants must possess at least a bachelor's degree and have lined up at least one preceptor to work under, White said.

They must spend part of their internship in a nursing home with 75 beds or more, he said.

The examiners "have to be sure I can walk into any nursing home in the state and be confident," Bachtell said. "I need to be an expert."

Program applicants are eligible for up to six months internship credit based upon their experience in long-term care, White said.

Olak, who holds a bachelor's degree in nursing, earned six months credit because of her nursing home administrative experience. She has worked as assistant administrator at Williamsport Retirement Village since 1999, and is training under the facility's administrator, Tim Berry.

Bachtell earned three months credit because of her background in dialysis, rehabilitation and nurse management. In December, she completed five months training at Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village in Boonsboro.

She is now working under the administrator she's being groomed to replace, Sandra Harbaugh at Western Maryland Hospital Center.

Brown, 34, of Hagerstown, spent the last four years monitoring all nursing homes in Washington County and investigating abuse and neglect complaints as an ombudsman for the Commission on Aging. Her experience was beneficial because it familiarized Brown with nursing home regulations, she said, but it didn't earn her any credit in the training program.

Brown trained for six months at Coffman Nursing Home in Hagerstown before transferring in January to Homewood at Williamsport.

Trainees and their preceptors submit individual and joint progress reports every four months. Examiners visit trainees at their nursing home facilities at the end of six months, White said.

Trainees must pass state and federal examinations - which focus mainly on laws governing the industry - and submit final reports to a credentials committee before the Board of Examiners approves their licensure as nursing home administrators, White said.

Bachtell and Olak recently passed their state exams and have applied to take their federal tests. Brown has not yet taken her exams, she said.

White called the three "very good candidates" for nursing home administrators because of their performance records, experience in the industry and commitment to the training program.

"They're doing very well," he said.

Olak's plan to become an administrator is a stepping stone toward her ultimate goal of working to shape health care reform laws, she said.

"I see that as global," Olak said, "a way of making a difference in the lives of many people."

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