He has been on the job two months now, and no one calls him Mr. Dresser anymore.
Tom Dresser is the new administrator at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Martha's Vineyard, and already his personal style is clear. He wants to be friendly, accessible and professional. Success in the years ahead will depend on his organization's relationship with all its neighbors. The Martha's Vineyard Hospital is only down the hall. Mr. Dresser said this past week he is establishing Island contacts. He was familiar with the Island well before he took the job back in December. There is plenty of opportunity for this facility to improve its role in the community.
Just call him Tom, he doesn't want to be called Mr. Dresser.
Almost since its beginnings seven years ago, Windemere has struggled, descending into bankruptcy and emerging from it. Last year the Martha's Vineyard Hospital purchased the outstanding secured bonds held on Windemere, and now the facility is back on track, serving the senior citizens of this community in need of a safe home. There are plenty of good reasons for Windemere to succeed.
"There is a harsh reality: Don't think I can accomplish everything overnight," Mr. Dresser said. He said he is trying, putting his commitment to survival into policy for the institution. Last week he met with the hospital medical staff. He has met with his employees' union, and he is looking to meet with nursing service providers on the Island. Ultimately, Mr. Dresser is looking for future residents, people in need of his facility, after a storm of fiscal problems.
Mr. Dresser wants to assure the community that Windemere has a positive future. "It is definitely fixable. You shouldn't think that this is the only nursing home with troubles. If you look at the statistics, one out of seven nursing homes in Massachusetts has been bankrupt in the last two years. That is a very high percentage," he said. The reason? "It is strictly because the state would not give us adequate Medicaid funding."
Has the issue been addressed? "They are working on it, the potential is there. We can't think that because Windemere has had a rocky history that we are the only home that had a rocky history," he said.
Windemere isn't just a nursing home, but a complex of three distinctly different units. Unit One offers 25 beds to residents suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia-specific conditions. Unit two is 20 beds dedicated as a rest home.
Unit 3 is made up of 40 beds. It is a combination of long-term care and Medicare. Mr. Dresser said: "With the Medicare beds, the turnover is quick. We take people who slip on the ice and are in recovery. This is for people with pneumonia, on the mend. We get them patched up and send them home." Windemere is intended to offer a place for patients in need of a place to stay, those in transition from the hospital to home.
"We have very few people asking for the rest home beds, which I consider unusual," he said. "I am on the radio and using the newspapers to fill those beds. This is a lighter level of care and we are competing head to head with Long Hill and Brewer House. Our one advantage is that we take people regardless of their payer source," Mr. Dresser said. "Brewer House and Long Hill only take private pay, so we should be able to meet the needs of the community. Rest home residents are those unable to live independently but able to take care of themselves."
Rest home care offers three meals a day to residents. They don't have to worry about meals or housecleaning. There is always supporting staff nearby.
Alzheimer's and dementia-related illnesses represent the largest portion of patients at the facility, creating a special challenge for staff. "We have 75 people and 25 of them have the disease. We have five people in the community with Alzheimer's trying to get in."
There are three reason why the facility can't take more of these patients: "We don't have the beds available. We don't quite have the staff available. Some of our staff are not trained to handle that kind of patient. These are patients who will quite arbitrarily walk out of the door." Special care is required for these residents.
Mr. Dresser knows of several Vineyard people in off-Island nursing homes who would prefer to be here. "It is also for the convenience of their loved ones here," he said.
Before accepting the Windemere position, Mr. Dresser served for three years as administrator of the Royal Nursing and Alzheimer's Center in Falmouth, one of the top two facilities on the Cape that handle Alzheimer's patients. During that time, Mr. Dresser commuted from the Vineyard. Of the commute, he said: "I loved it." He and his wife, Joyce, have a home in Oak Bluffs. His wife is the former Joyce Cournoyer of Oak Bluffs; they were married in June of 1998.
It takes Mr. Dresser 10 minutes to walk to work from his home. He has worked in nursing homes as an administrator since 1980. He has worked in a number of facilities, beginning with Lenox Hill in Lynn, when he was an administrator in training. He has worked in facilities as big as 218 beds to as small as 60 beds.
Before becoming a health care professional, Mr. Dresser was a third grade teacher for 10 years at a school in Fort Devens.
To improve communication, Mr. Dresser has instituted a Windemere newsletter. It is written for the staff, residents and the families of the residents. "I don't feel people have communicated as well as they could," he said. "I started a newsletter, to let them know what we are doing. I got a lot of positive feedback. Communication is key to the operation of any organization."
Mr. Dresser enjoys the newsletter project: He started and ran a community newspaper when he was a youngster growing up in Holden. Communication brings people together, he believes. "You have to walk a fine line. Staff is my bread and butter. If I didn't have good people, then I would have major problems. Patients are why and how we are here and their families are the ones that give you reputation in the community. Families will complain when things don't go right and praise you when things are going well. Those are the three groups I deal with in great numbers."
To reach into the community in other ways, Mr. Dresser began meeting with all the health care providing organizations on the Island, from the doctors to the nursing care associations. "I want Windemere to be an integral part of the health care delivery service on Martha's Vineyard."
As another step, Mr. Dresser is moving the home away from contract labor hired from off-Island. Staff at Windemere recently offered their first training class for future nursing assistants. In the past the company hired an outside firm to do the training. "It may cost us a lot to do it now, but it will save us some money down the road. It is a big deal for us, being able to train our own people. I did this in Falmouth," he said, and it was highly successful.
Mr. Dresser has even taken steps to seek future employees from the regional high school. "I will meet with Kevin Carr at the high school. I am trying to get high school kids into this program," he said. They must be at least 18 years of age.
When it comes down to a mission, Mr. Dresser wants to bring the community into the center. As his first newsletter reports: "Windemere is on the move!"