McKnight’s Senior Living spent some time in the Ecumen C-suite for this installment. Ecumen President and CEO Shelley Kendrick, the company’s former senior vice president of operations and chief operating officer who began serving in her current role February 4, and Melanie “Mel” Sullivan, who at the time of our interview was preparing to start April 1 in a newly created role at the company, senior vice president/chief people officer. Both talked with Lois Bowers about tackling one of senior living’s biggest challenges.

Q: Shelley, senior vice president / chief people officer is a new position for Ecumen. Why did you believe it was important to create it?  

A: This is a very exciting time in our field, as Ecumen works to identify innovative solutions for our customers today and in the future. When it comes to our people, we want to be laser-focused on how we can be the best possible employer.

As everyone here knows, I’m always talking about making sure that our teams have what they need to do their jobs even better. One element of this is ongoing training to consistent standards of excellence, and another is about recognizing individuals for their unique gifts and helping them grow in their professional journeys, so they choose to stay with us.

I’ve known Mel for many years. I know her strategic vision will help us do some exciting, innovative things. And her mission-focused perspective is so well-aligned with Ecumen.

Q: How many people does Ecumen employ?

A: Approximately 3,000.

Q: Does Ecumen have any unique workforce-related challenges?

A: I know that we share many of the same workforce “opportunities” with others in our field and in the healthcare field. We will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of our customers and our workforce.

Q: Mel, what attracted you to the role at Ecumen?

A: It was a combination of many things — knowing both Shelley and [CEO Emeritus] Kathryn Roberts professionally for many years and having great respect for their leadership of Ecumen. I’m truly honored to be joining Ecumen, to work alongside this large team of dedicated people in their mission of service. 

Q: You join Ecumen from a similar position at Constellation, a collective of medical insurers and health service organizations, and also have experience as CEO and chief operating officer at Twin Cities Orthopedics and St. Croix Orthopaedics. How do you think your previous experience will benefit Ecumen?

A: Healthcare delivery is about creating an environment where people can provide the best care possible to the customers. This applies to all areas of the care continuum, and it’s something that I am passionate about supporting. Ecumen delivers exceptional care, and it is provided by highly committed and talented people. My healthcare experience provides a strong foundation for this work.

Q: Regarding human resources, in what ways is senior housing and services similar to the areas of healthcare in which you have worked, and in what ways is it different?

A: It’s similar in that both reflect a time of change, and sometimes uncertainty, in people’s lives. As care providers, we can be the constant, the stability, the assurance.

Both areas can be challenging. We need to support and recognize the extraordinary efforts being made. It’s different in that senior housing and services has not always had the visibility as a career path for young professionals.  This is changing with the dramatic growth in the field.   

Q: Do both of you envision new initiatives in the human resources area at Ecumen?

A: We’re expanding the outstanding work we’re currently doing. We want to continue to evolve to recruit and retain outstanding employees, conducting strategic workforce planning to help set the stage for the future.

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