Joe Mason, the 28-year-old administrator of Prairie Manor, a nursing home in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, recently joined us on the LTC Heroes podcast. In our fascinating discussion, Mason gave us some insight into how he advanced in the industry so quickly and what he is doing to revolutionize elderly care.
The trajectory of a prodigious administrator
As a child, Mason followed his mother to work at a nursing home. His lively engagements with delightful seniors touched a special place in his heart. “There were some people at my mother’s facilities that I’ll just never forget,” he beamed. One couple would always have a dish of candy waiting for him. Another man laughed so hard that he would fall back onto his bed. There are more great stories from elders than can be counted, Mason came to realize. “These people are amazing,” he thought to himself at the time.
When he entered college and began to consider career possibilities, Mason knew one thing: he wanted an office job where he gets to wear a suit. But that opens up a lot of options. “I started out at a tech school, earning my associates,” he recalls. “It was then that I gained a passion for personal health and fitness and really developed an interest in weightlifting and running,” he said. Mason sought a way to combine his love for business formal attire with his passion for health. “I thought, well maybe I could just run a health facility, a clinic, or a hospital,” he said.
And then it clicked. The memories of shadowing his mom in nursing homes as a child came rushing back. It was as if every step up until then had been leading to this moment. “I thought, these amazing people need help. They need leaders to help run their facilities with great care,” he said. “And I thought that it would be such an honor to give back to them, as they helped shape me as a child.”
Now at the top of his field at such a young age, Mason realizes just how fortunate he was to have it all come together as it did. “In hindsight, it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made in my life, besides marrying my wife,” he remarked.
Culture Change in LTC
One of the advantages of Mason’s age is that he is extremely open to change. That not only means staying on top of the latest technology, like electronic medical records software but also remaining attentive to the needs and desires of both staff and residents. And he steps out of his comfort zone in an effort to connect with all of those in his facility.
A good administrator is aware of the fact that residents are not customers or even patients. An LTC facility is where residents spend their days and nights, rest, socialize, and continue the journey of life. They are, in a word, their homes. And residents should never feel that they are otherwise. That’s why he makes them a part of the process.
Mason provides his residents certain forms of freedom and choice that might not occur to the minds of administrators more set in their ways. Perhaps Ruth wants her walls painted Raleigh Peach. No problem. Or maybe Bernard would like to take a walk without the help of a nurse. Well, that’s just fine according to a policy Mason learned from a former teacher: “The resident has the right to fall.” Sometimes bibs can be humiliating for people who, despite their frailty, are still adults. That’s why Prairie Manor’s empathetic administrator removed them from the dining rooms.
These are all part of what Mason calls the “culture” of LTC, which is the key to revolutionizing care. “Culture means continuously pushing more toward resident-centered care, making it a home environment for them,” he stated. Building that culture, though, requires the entire facility to buy in. That is why Mason is a big believer in employee satisfaction.
Embracing LTC Culture as a Team
While LTC facilities become the homes of their residents, that is not the case for those who provide care. Bridging that gap is a major task.
“This isn’t where the staff lives,” he said. “So culture is different there.” Mason, though, does not want employees to be solely motivated by money. That is why he develops staff culture by regularly expressing his gratitude for their hard work and checking in on them to make sure they are content. “We need to grow a culture where we’re happy here and more of a team,” he said.
Mason, who is outspoken about the challenges of being an introvert, also does his part to build the culture by making himself available as much as possible. Rather than quickly shuffling back into his office after using the restroom or filling up his water bottle, he will intentionally take a stroll down a hall or strike up a random conversation. “That’s a method I use to make sure I’m strengthening communication and building relationships,” he said. And people are taking notice. “Both residents and their family members appreciate it,” he said.
A caring, compassionate leader, Mason never ceases to express concern for those around him. He shared that he likes the break room because it is where he can ask people about their families. “I ask, ‘How’s your husband doing? How are your kids doing?’, and I’ll learn something about them that I wouldn’t normally know,” he remarks.
With that kind of awareness and dedication, it is no wonder that Mason has ascended the career ladder of LTC so rapidly and has established himself as a pioneer in the field.
You can read more about Mason and the process of becoming a nursing home administrator here.
Rapid Fire Q/A
What is one lesser-known book, newsletter, or industry resource that you would send me to understand long-term care?
LeadingAge is a huge resource for me. On a not-so-long-term-care-related topic, Ted Talks. I love TED Talks. I regularly listen to them and have found that they help me become a better leader.
Name one mentor that has influenced the way that you deliver care in our industry.
Chad Stroschein, the president of Caring Professionals. He gave me my first job at 21 years old. He had that faith and confidence in me. He helped me with my own confidence as well. He is a man of faith, and I am as well. He taught me to embrace that faith in my professional life as well as my personal life. He’s a wonderful guy, so big shout out to him.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Putting out those fires, having those tough talks, and being more present is the most important thing for me personally. And I would tell myself to have that confidence and not be afraid to pick up that phone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. People are generally nice, and they don’t want to upset you or hold you back. So if you just talk to them and ask questions, they’ll help you.