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Waveny CEO Heather Neff Featured in National Publication, "Management Today"

Waveny CEO Heather Neff Featured in National Publication, "Management Today"

Posted on March 14, 2011

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By Kathryn Jones, "Management Today"

Even though Heather Neff is honored to be the first female CEO of Waveny Care Network, a senior healthcare services provider based in New Canaan, Conn., she prefers not to focus on the subject of gender. “I tend to just focus on being a good critical thinker and always making sure my ideas are well thought out so I can bring value to the situation,” she explains.

“I think women in general have been a driving force in healthcare,” Neff adds. “Although I am the first female CEO we’ve had here, I’ve followed in the steps of previous chairs of the board who were women, so I think the organization appreciates leadership and talents for what they are, no matter who is bringing them to the table.”

It was a matter of happenstance that brought Neff to Waveny Care Network in April 2007. Throughout college and graduate school, her intent was to become a hospital administrator, but when her mentor, Peter Hofstetter, encouraged her to intern at a skilled nursing facility for eight weeks, she found her calling. “I felt that I had found my niche,” Neff recalls. “I liked the relationships you were able to develop with residents over a longer period of time. I did my master’s thesis in Alzheimer’s and dementia, and realized that although I like healthcare in general, my focus was really in caring for older adults.”

After graduation, she accepted a fellowship at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center and was later hired as director of performance improvement and risk management. One of the vice presidents took the chief executive position at a continuing care retirement community and brought Neff with him to serve as administrator and then vice president of operations. Eight years later, she was invited to interview at Waveny for the CEO position. “I was interested, but not sure I was going to come here because I was happy with the job I had,” she says. “But when I saw how unique and special Waveny was, I knew I belonged here.”

Collaboration, Not Competition

What makes Waveny Care Network unlike other senior healthcare providers in Neff’s opinion is the fact that the people of the town of New Canaan felt they needed a healthcare facility to care for older adults, gathered the money through fundraising and opened Waveny Care Center in 1975. The now 76-bed skilled nursing facility began as a community-based care center with a focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia, along with other types of long-term and short-term rehabilitative services such as those required following knee surgeries or hip replacements.

Then, Waveny opted to expand its program and service offerings by adding The Village, a 53-unit assisted living residence completely dedicated to people with memory loss, and acquiring New Canaan Inn, a 41-unit independent living community three miles from the Waveny campus. Because older adults are often faced by numerous health-related challenges, Waveny established the Brown Geriatric Evaluation Clinic, which provides patients and their families with individualized needs assessments. It also developed one of the nation’s first adult day programs, where participants still living in the community can visit from two to six days a week to socialize and receive other essential services they may require throughout the day.

“So, as you can see, the community saw a need to enhance and grow this continuum of care to be able to support the aging members of the community, although we do care for older adults in the surrounding communities, as well,” Neff says. “Seeing how much the town, our board and staff were in sync regarding caring for older adults, it really matched my own beliefs and goals as far as what I wanted to do. I would like to see us collaborate on a greater scale with facilities similar to ours. Sometimes in healthcare, people are too focused on the competition, the walls go up and you’re not able to achieve those greater goals.”

She believes organizations like Waveny need to work together to come up with solutions to issues that affect the industry. For instance, federal and state governments are placing more regulations on the industry with regard to clinical and financial reimbursement paperwork. “We’re being asked to provide the same level and standard of care with fewer resources and an increased complexity in charting and documentation,” Neff says. “Providing care at the level we want to requires a large corps of staff members and we want to be competitive in our wages and provide education opportunities for our staff, but with decreasing resources, that’s become a more difficult thing to achieve. Fortunately, community support allows us to continue to be one of the premier long-term care providers in the State,” says Neff. “We are deeply grateful for the generosity and loyalty of our donors and the community.”

“In the field of healthcare, we have to keep in mind that our job is to care for people,” she continues. “We’re centered on residents, patients and clients, but we’re also working with family members, close friends and other community members. So, no matter who you are and what department you’re in, you have to have compassion and remain focused on the goal of providing person-centered care. I think everyone brings a different expertise to the organization, and we’re able to tap into different talents and skills to come up with the best ideas.”