Judy Budi, incoming president and
CEO of Graceworks Lutheran Services.

Joining a growing list of women recently named to lead senior living organizations, Judy A. Budi (pronounced “buddy”) will become the president and CEO of Centerville, OH-based Graceworks Lutheran Services effective March 2, the nonprofit organization announced Tuesday.

Budi will be the eighth CEO and the first woman CEO in Gracework’s 93-year history. She will succeed Willis O. Serr II, who in September announced his intention to retire after 23 years as CEO and 30 years with the organization.

It was her 24-year tenure with the company that helped solidify her new appointment, Budi believes.

“I understand the organization’s mission vision and values. Here, we call that Faithful Caring,” she told McKnight’s Senior Living. “When we care with people with compassion and we’re competent when we do our job, we practice our Graceworks values so that we ultimately have stability. We help others achieve stability in their lives, and as staff we have to have stability in our lives to be able to support our residents. It’s who we are, and it’s how we deliver service. And I think having an internal person who understands that already helps that transition for the organization, male or female.”

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Budi currently is Gracework’s vice president of residential care, acting as the chief operations officer for Bethany Village — a retirement community offering independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing and rehab to approximately 700 full-time residents and almost 800 annual rehab clients; Graceworks Enhanced Living, serving people with developmental disabilities at 41 sites; Graceworks Housing Services, HUD Section 202 affordable housing with 713 units — Graceworks is No. 43 on LeadingAge Ziegler 200 list of the largest not-for-profit providers of affordable housing; and Graceworks at Home, a home health and personal care services agency. Overall, Graceworks provides services in more than 60 locations in southwestern Ohio, eastern Indiana and northern Kentucky, with 1,200 employees.

Her appointment comes after a four-month nationwide search during which external candidates were interviewed.

“For me it’s validating — that by doing that, they still recognized that the person who would best lead the organization was already here,” Budi said.

“Ultimately, the board determined that Judy was the best person to continue the Graceworks vision,” Graceworks Board Chair Jeffrey Teeters said in a statement. “Judy is adept at navigating the changing landscape of healthcare, which is essential to so many of our services for seniors and other vulnerable populations.”

Serr said he was “delighted” with Budi’s appointment. “Having promoted and mentored Judy in her current position for 15 years, I know that she is exceptionally qualified for her new role,” he said in a statement. “I have great confidence that all Graceworks services will continue to thrive and reflect quality under her leadership.”

Budi came to Graceworks in 1994 after working in hospital food service management and quickly realized a big difference between that healthcare environment and senior living.

“What I noticed was the real difference of getting to know the people whom you’re caring for, and it really is their home … You kind of become part of their family,” she said. It’s a factor she believes senior living offers workers who might be tempted by jobs that have similar pay elsewhere.

“Nurse aide salaries are not much different than what a person working the cash register at Walmart or Kohl’s, or someone working at Amazon, is going to make,” Budi said. “That’s tough, so we try to really stress that this is a vocation. It’s meaningful work, and you get back from it. It’s not just clocking in and getting a paycheck. This is really about making a difference in somebody’s life.”

Budi joined Graceworks as director of food services for Bethany Village and later worked as administrator of residential services for Bethany Village and Graceworks Housing Services. She was promoted to her current position in 2003.

With an undergraduate degree in dietetics and a master’s degree in nutrition, how did she go from food services to COO?

“The skills and knowledge that it takes to manage a dining program, from the financial management to the personnel management, the regulations — you take those same skills and can apply them … across programs,” she said.

During her time at Graceworks, Budi said, she led a committee helping the organization achieve CARF accreditation; became a licensed nursing home administrator; helped launch the home care company; learned about HUD financing; and managed the maintenance, grounds, laundry and housekeeping departments — sometimes outside of the bounds of her formal position so she could grow professionally.

Now, the member and immediate past board chair for LeadingAge Ohio said, “I think it’s going to be an exciting time to lead the organization.”

Since the start of 2019, Kimberly Lody has been named president and CEO of Capital Senior Living and Shelley Kendrick has been named president and CEO of Ecumen. Katherine Potter was named president and CEO of Five Star Senior Living in December, and Lucinda Baier was named president and CEO of Brookdale Senior Living in February.

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