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Homeland Director of Emergency Preparedness and Purchasing Kelly English: A passionate steward

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When buying Homeland equipment — from large purchases down to the right chair a resident needs to live and move comfortably — Kelly English makes one thing clear.

“I will never sacrifice quality to get a better price for something,” he said. “I’m never going to skimp on quality just to get a cheaper price.”

Kelly English joined Homeland in July 2023 in the dual role of Director of Emergency Preparedness and Purchasing. His career and degrees in law enforcement and homeland security prepared him for his crucial responsibilities in emergency preparedness. Still, he also takes his purchasing responsibilities seriously for their power to save money while upholding Homeland’s renowned quality and consistency in care.

English graduated from Penn State University, main campus, with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He spent 20 years with the Harrisburg Police Department, retiring in July 2022. For 15 of those years, he was a detective handling the city’s bomb-detecting K9. The role familiarized him with the city’s institutions, including Homeland.

His immersion in homeland security training inspired him to earn a master’s degree in emergency management and homeland security, with a concentration in cybersecurity policy, from Arizona State University’s top-rated program. Upon retirement from policing, he started talking with Homeland about bringing his skills and passion here.

Since joining Homeland in July 2023, English has overseen upgrades that directly impact the lives and wallets of patients and their families. With his knowledge of emergency preparedness and security procedures, he procured systems that leverage the latest technology to ward off threats and protect residents, staff, and visitors of Homeland Center and Homeland at Home.

In purchasing, English has renegotiated contracts to enhance Homeland’s buying power and, by extension, save money for the families of residents. Recently renegotiating the contract for alternating pressure mattresses – a fundamental need to keep residents safe and healthy – he helped Homeland retain the same high-quality mattresses but brought down the monthly fees.

He also ensures that vendors share Homeland’s commitment to the residents and their quality of life. After joining Homeland, he scheduled one of his first meetings with a local medical device supplier who, he knew, could provide the necessary pieces at a moment’s notice.

“This is a 24/7 facility, and our residents can arrive at any time with a new condition that requires specialized equipment,” English said. “I need to know that 24 hours a day, I can get a hold of something no matter where it is. It goes back to never skimping on the quality of care for our residents, so I believe in creating relationships locally with businesses to ensure that the supply chain remains strong.”

The team at Homeland has welcomed him.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Everyone has been extremely welcoming. It is definitely a family atmosphere, which is nice. It’s very supportive. People have been very receptive to me and to what I can bring to the table. It’s a very, very good working environment.”

Outside of Homeland, English and his wife have two kids – a 15-year-old son who plays ice hockey including with the Hershey Jr. Bears and lacrosse, and a 17-year-old daughter who plays lacrosse and field hockey. The busy family lives on a 4-acre farm in the Hershey area. There, they raise pigs, sheep, chickens, and ducks.

The farm is his wife’s passion, but a team effort, caring for livestock – another 24/7 venture – and slaughtering and curing their charcuterie meats. About twice a year, they team with a pair of Ohio butchers who come to the farm and teach interested students, such as organic farmers, their traditional curing processes learned directly from elderly artisans throughout Europe.

English likes taking on challenges, embracing them with his role at Homeland.

“I definitely come to work every day with a passion to keep all of our residents and staff secure and try to make the next day better than the last,” he said. “There is a lot of support throughout central Pennsylvania for Homeland, and I want to be a good steward of that and help Homeland be around for many years to come.”

Bryan Richards, Homeland maintenance: Accentuating the positive

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Bryan Richards always arrives a half hour early every morning for his 11am – 7pm shift.

“I look forward to coming to work,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I’m ready to serve.”

Bryan joined Homeland Center’s maintenance department in April 2023, quickly finding his place on the team that keeps Homeland’s rooms comfortable and livable for the residents.

Bryan calls himself a jack-of-all-trades, with diverse professional and personal experiences from nursing to Civil War reenacting. From a life that started in adversity, he has carved a philosophy of self-sufficiency, tolerance, and faith.

Bryan grew up in Johnstown, the second of six children. After his youngest sibling was born, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died at age 31. Bryan, who had been her caregiver, was 12 years old.

By then, the family was living in Lebanon, and soon, the children went to different homes. Bryan lived in a Berks County, Bethany Childrens Home for Orphans until he was a high school junior when he went to a foster home. At 18, he left foster care to live with his godfather, a pastor who had been a father figure.

“I learned everything you could possibly learn from him – cooking, basic life skills,” Bryan said.

Early in his career, Bryan worked for Kinney’s shoes and modeled for JC Penney Catalog in advertisement. In 2005, he earned his nurse’s aide certificate and spent the next 15 years working in hospice settings.

“When you’re doing care for people and you’re around them constantly, they’re like family,” he said. “I always treated them like family, I joined their journey and they always treated me like family.”

But as Bryan will tell you, he feels everything deeply, and after a time, the challenges of hospice became too much. While deciding on his next steps, he worked at the historic Paxtang Cemetery, groundskeeping and digging graves.

“When I say I’m a jack-of-all-trades, I’ve gotten my hands dirty in many things I was willing to learn with,” he said. “I did the work with dignity and passion. I do that in all my work. I try to go above and beyond.”

He then did maintenance for a Lebanon County nursing home before joining Homeland. Here, his primary duties include caring for residents’ rooms. There are TVs to repair, light bulbs to replace, and pictures to hang.

“You do things like that, and they just think the world of you,” he said. “I love to serve people. I’m a people person. It makes you feel good that you did something nice for somebody, and they appreciate it.”

It’s a fun and welcoming work atmosphere, he adds. Everyone pitches in.

Outside of work, Bryan is just as busy. He and his partner live in a circa-1900 home in Steelton filled with antiques. He does woodworking gardening and plays with their two adorable fur baby poodle mixes, Aspen and Kali.

“I just love it,” he said. “I’m an old soul.”

His roots in reenacting began when he was 19 years old and saw a troop of Civil War reenactors – now called “living historians” – in a parade.

“History is important, so we’re not doomed to repeat it,” he said. “A lot of times, we do, but we try not to. They don’t teach our kids what the Civil War is about anymore. That’s where we come in and educate them, and they think it’s interesting.”

Today, he belongs to the 93rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which one of his distant relatives had fought in during the Civil War. He currently is an active member of the Sons of The Union Veterans Of the Civil War.  He didn’t know initially that his great-great-grandfather, Steven Lance, served in the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. And many numerous relatives.

Not only that, but he had a relative that fought in the battle of Cedar Creek, which today is the only battlefield where reenactors may skirmish on the original grounds. Bryan attends the annual reenactment there, sensing the ghosts of the past all around.

“You can feel the emotion,” he said. “I would get that feeling, and the chills. I would close my eyes and try to envision what they would have felt. It’s an emotional time.”

Bryan also bakes apple pies and peach cobblers. His sisters always ask him to make the pierogies he learned from his mother.

“I used to sit in the kitchen and watch her, and that’s how I learned,” he said.

His mother’s example has reminded him, throughout life, to “do something for yourself.”

“Move on, because my mother would want us to do that and be productive members of society,” he said.

Bryan doesn’t retire for another 21 years, but he hopes to make Homeland his “home away from home” for the rest of his career.

“It’s a small nonprofit. It’s family,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody around here. Most importantly, it’s about the people who live here. They deserve our respect because they’ve lived their lives.”

A people person: Homeland Director of Personal Care and Director of HomeCare embodies trust

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When Jennifer Murray gives tours to potential personal care residents and their families, she shares Homeland Center’s amazing 156-year history of devotion to the community.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “A lot of times, people like our homey feel. It’s cozy and comfortable here. When I’m doing tours, everyone stops and says hello, and that makes visitors feel welcome. It’s all genuine. That’s how it is all the time around here.”

Jen’s role has expanded since she first joined Homeland in 2016. With a career in nursing – the only thing she ever wanted to do – and 11 years in administration, she stepped in as Director of Personal Care in 2017.

Now, she is in the dual role of Director of Personal Care and Director of HomeCare. Like the Homeland Center personal care staff, the CNAs of Homeland HomeCare help clients through their daily tasks, ensuring they take their medications, eat right, and get any help needed with bathing, dressing, or other needs.

Maintaining Homeland’s stellar reputation for quality across a new front isn’t hard because the foundation of quality “was already there,” Jen said.

“The staff we have in place are exceptional in HomeCare and Personal Care,” she said. “The HomeCare clients absolutely love their caregivers. They care. They get involved. They will let us know if something seems wrong. Their relationships with families are so good that the families will often call the caregiver to tell them that a loved one has been hospitalized before they call the HomeCare office. That’s the level of trust they have in the staff.”

Speaking of trust, Jen is the person you’ve seen in Homeland Center’s television commercials. She is proud to raise awareness of Homeland’s exceptional care, whether at Homeland Center or in clients’ homes.

Her dual role lets her give inquiring callers more options – perhaps letting them know about home care if a loved one isn’t ready for a facility or pointing out available personal care suites for someone who can no longer live at home.

Once in Homeland, residents flourish. Jen works closely with the maintenance department, housekeeping department, and the dietary staff to uphold living and dining standards. She also collaborates regularly with the activities department, cooking up a roster of fun that keeps residents engaged. For Assisted Living Week 2023, Homeland held a fashion show, and residents’ family members got in the spirit, wearing everything from a Rosie the Riveter costume to Hawaiian shirts and leis.

“I love that our families get so involved,” said Jen. “If we invite them to things, tons of family members show up. I’ve never worked anywhere else where families were so involved. Our staff love the residents so much that it’s not work to do special things for them.”

Outside of Homeland, Jen and her husband enjoy traveling to regional sights such as the Poconos, Niagara Falls, and the Finger Lakes. A Florida fishing trip her husband dreams of, postponed by COVID, is back on for next year.

Jen also loves to cook, and she carries on her childhood tradition of Sunday dinners with family, including her daughter and son, who recently returned home from military service.

With her love of decorating, she also brings seasonal cheer to her office in Homeland’s original 19th-century building. Fall décor includes pumpkin figurines and a plaque saying, “I love fall most of all.”

“Fall is my favorite season,” she said. “I like the cooler weather. I love everything pumpkin spice. I just love all of the smells and colors of fall.”

Jen can say, with complete honesty, that work is fun. She carries on the Homeland tradition of treating staff respectfully, recognizing that they have family and obligations outside of work. In turn, the staff focuses on the residents’ needs.

It all comes back to that word — trust.

“Our families trust that their loved ones are going to get the care they need,” she said.

“I’ve had people come up to me and just say, ‘Trust,’ because they hear me say it in the commercials. People see our name, and that’s what they will think of,” Jen said. “You want to have someplace where you can trust the staff and know your loved ones will be cared for. It’s part of Homeland’s legacy.”

Registered Nurse Assessment Coordinator Tammy Wiser: A resource gatherer for every resident

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Registered Nurse Assessment Coordinator Tammy WiserWhen Tammy Wiser announced that she was leaving her previous employer to work at Homeland Center, her company’s HR director responded surprisingly.

“I can’t even ask you to try to stay,” the HR director said. “Everyone who goes there never leaves. I don’t blame you at all.”

That was in April 2022, when Tammy joined Homeland Center as a registered nurse assessment coordinator (RNAC). It’s a crucial post, demanding that she be a healthcare provider, puzzle master, and detective. Her combined skills contribute to ensuring that every Homeland resident receives all the support they need to thrive.

In a career across diverse healthcare providers, Tammy prefers working for nonprofits like Homeland. “You can tell the difference,” she said. “I always loved the nonprofit atmosphere – the family orientation and the resident focus. You enjoy coming to work, not dreading it.”

Tammy grew up in the rural Huntingdon County town of Three Springs. Her mother was a seamstress at a local factory. Her father started his own auto mechanic business. At Southern Huntingdon High School, she was active in “a little bit of everything” – band and playing piano, cheerleading, 4-H.

The family also had a farm, raising beef and tending a garden. Tammy remembers shelling peas to help her mom can 44 pints.

Early in her freshman year of college, Tammy suffered a car accident that broke her nose and jaw. Her teeth required five years of reconstructive surgery. That experience led her to work as an EMT with the local ambulance company. In time, she returned to college.

With a Penn State degree in business management, she opened a business that she would have for many years, making custom wedding gowns and renting wedding items.

In the meantime, travel nursing seemed like a good opportunity, so she obtained her CNA certification and continued attending nursing school. She worked in various roles in nursing homes, personal care homes, and hospitals.

In one setting, she started preparing the MDS (Minimum Data Set), required for documenting Medicare and Medicaid-funded services for every patient.

Around this time, Tammy met her husband, who was serving as a military contractor in Afghanistan. They communicated online, and for their first in-person date, Tammy flew to Sydney, Australia, where he had gone for vacation.

Tammy continued working at nursing facilities through COVID. Each place had its challenges, so when she learned about Homeland through an RNAC job posting, she went for it. “Everybody’s been great here,” she said. “Everybody’s very pleasant.

Everyone has been very approachable from day one.” She continues preparing those MDS documents, which she compares to filling out tax forms. There are a lot of details to enter, and the filer’s signature attests to the accuracy of the information. In the end, these are the forms that help Homeland residents receive the most accurate payments for their optimal care plans.

Behind every form is an entire team entering how they help residents live their fullest lives, including aides, doctors, nurses, therapists, social services, dietary, and activities staff. It’s a living document, updated at least every quarter and more often if residents’ needs change. “When you look at that form, you should have a pretty good idea of that resident,” Tammy said. “We do the juggling. That’s what I like to do. It makes sure the residents get what they need.”

Outside of Homeland, the workday doesn’t end for Tammy and her husband, who works in a quarry. They bought 50 acres in Huntingdon County about three years ago and started a Christmas tree farm.

That one property grew exponentially when a neighbor offered to sell 90 acres. It meant putting off building a new home and living in an old house on the property, but the dream is coming true. “For the past three years, I’ve been planting Christmas trees,” Tammy said. Of course, there is always mowing, trimming, and spraying. They also have dogs, a cat, chickens, and a 29-year-old horse. “He’s still feisty,” said Tammy. “That’s my boy. He’ll follow me around. He’s like a big dog.”

At Homeland, Tammy loves meeting the residents and learning their stories. She is proud to play a part in gathering the resources needed to make their lives comfortable and fulfilling. “This is their home,” she said. “They need to feel it’s more than a place to stay. Homeland is wonderful at focusing on the residents.”

 

Homeland Center (www.homelandcenter.org) offers levels of care including personal care, memory care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Homeland also provides hospice, home care, home health and palliative care services to serve the diverse and changing needs of families throughout central Pennsylvania. For more information or to arrange a tour, please call 717-221-7900.

Homeland receptionist Kristen Tate: Giving with love

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Homeland receptionist Kristen TateWhen Kristen Tate accepted a part-time job as a Homeland receptionist in August 2022, she loved it so much that she wished it could be full-time. Two months later, a full-time position opened.

Now, Kristen is the friendly voice and smiling face greeting family, staff, and visitors from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“I just love meeting and greeting everybody,” she said. “I love the feeling they give me, and I give them in return. Good vibes bring good vibes.”

Kristen brings family ties to Homeland. An uncle and an aunt are residents. Her grandfather spent his final years here. One of her sisters, Jennifer Tate-DeFreitas, is Homeland’s Director of Nursing. They talk every day, calling each other’s extensions even though Jennifer’s office is steps away from the reception desk.

“I love it,” Kristen said. “She brought me breakfast this morning. We have breakfast. We have lunch.”

Kristen grew up in Steelton around the family business — Major H. Winfield Funeral Home, a fourth-generation family business. Her parents raised Kristen, her two sisters, two cousins, and two children her father met when he went on a death call and learned they had no one to care for them.

“My parents are beautiful, beautiful people,” Kristen said. “They love so hard. They taught us to love and to do everything with good intentions. Our intentions are never to get anything out of it, but to make sure we’re giving all that God has given us to share and bless others.”

After graduating as valedictorian from an all-girls Catholic school in Columbia, Pennsylvania, Kristen founded a hairstyling salon that is still going strong 29 years later, The Glam Spot, in Oberlin. She also attended Hampton University and Morgan State University, two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

She earned 110 credits, but after 9/11, her work and life took her away from school. She had two children, but in her second marriage, she suffered extreme domestic violence. On a February day in 2012, after a particularly savage beating, she found herself outside with the boys, ill-dressed for the bitter weather. A friend took her to the police station, where she pressed charges.

“It worked out that I’m okay, and my kids are okay,” she said.

Today, her older son, 24, is a men’s basketball coach at Harcum College. When his previous coaching job at a residential school ended with its sudden closure, he brought 15 stranded students from all over the world to Kristen’s home. They spent the summer sleeping on futons and mattresses, fed with help from generous family and friends. Most got into U.S. colleges, and all remained like family.

Kristen’s younger son, a rising senior at Bishop McDevitt High School, is involved in so many school activities that Kristen fears he needs a second page to list them on his college application.

“I pride myself on the fact that I have raised two amazing men,” she said. “God provides, always.”

As her younger son looks forward to attending an HBCU, Kristen herself is returning to school – accepted by Morgan State University. At the school she left years ago, she will finish her degree in health and human services. Helping a childless uncle navigate the social services network in his final years inspired her to want to enter the field.

“Who do people have when they don’t have anybody to stand in the gap for them?” she said.

Will she stay at Homeland when her degree is in hand?

“The social workers are all joking with me, saying, ‘We’re waiting on you to go to school so you can do this with us,’” she said.

When she’s not deep in her long workdays at Homeland and the salon, Kristen cooks dishes her grandmother taught her, travels, and enjoys family time.

“We still have Sunday dinner,” she said. “It’s all my sisters and our kids and our parents. It’s every Sunday. We don’t miss. I like family. I’m always with my family. We’re always doing something together.”

Homeland, she said, “is a well-oiled machine,” providing residents the best care.

“At this stage of people’s lives, they should have a nice, serene, beautiful atmosphere to live in,’’ she said. “Homeland provides that.”

Homeland rehabilitation: Serious fun helps long-term and short-term residents achieve their goals

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Director of Rehabilitation Liza Burkey

Recently, a resident who came to Homeland successfully rehabbed after a stroke and left for independent living. A couple of months later, flowers arrived for the rehab staff, with thanks from the grateful resident.

For Director of Rehabilitation Liza Burkey, taking time to build relationships is the key to success.

“It reminded me that we do make an impact on people’s lives,” said Liza. “You get to really know some of the residents and their families.”

Homeland provides exceptional rehabilitation services through a contract with Powerback Rehabilitation (formerly Genesis). Highly trained clinicians offer physical, occupational, and speech therapy, customizing services to help long-term and short-term residents achieve their highest quality of life.

Liza became an occupational therapist in 2013, working for a nursing home in her hometown of Millersburg. There, she fell in love with skilled care and found a post, through a Powerback contract, as rehab director in a local nursing home.

When the nursing home sold, she looked into working at one of Powerback’s other contracted sites. She had heard of Homeland from other therapists she had assigned there.

“You have to see the building,” they told her. “You have to see the staff.”

At her Homeland interview, Liza felt that the Homeland leadership team was “actually asking the right questions.” How would she contribute to care plans? How could therapy help in certain situations? It was a change from other settings where therapy was a service but not a collaborative one.

“Six years ago, I transitioned here, and I haven’t looked back,” Liza said today. “We feel like we are part of Homeland. They include us in all the different things they do for staff, which makes us feel wanted and like part of the team.”

For residents, that means seamless services. Liza continues providing OT while managing the physical, speech, and occupational therapists. She also attends Homeland’s daily clinical meetings, where department directors welcome her input and solutions. When nursing leadership wondered about any education they could provide staff on further minimizing falls, Liza prepared a one-page handout on safe practices.

The goal is helping the residents reach the goals they set for themselves.

And of course, residents just want to have fun.

“We’re going to pass balloons,” said Liza. “We’re going to play basketball. We’re going to play volleyball. A couple of therapists were doing an Easter egg hunt to work on residents’ mobility and balance.”

After all, she said, people still need to play.

“As adults, we forget to play, and it’s very therapeutic,” she said. “Yes, we have to be serious and reach goals and exercise and work hard, but if we can make it fun, we get better results.”

While some residents know about and seek out the benefits of rehab, others might be shy about speaking up, or perhaps they don’t recognize the slow creep of limitations that rehab can improve. To make sure that everyone is getting the rehabilitation services that help them perform to their highest abilities, Liza reviews resident records every three months.

Even a small improvement, such as being able to get into a wheelchair, helps residents feel good about themselves and their abilities.

“Being independent in one aspect of your day can really make a difference,” Liza said.

Through Powerback, the whole team has access to research, best practices, and continuing education to ensure that residents benefit from the latest rehab developments. The therapy room is fully stocked with weights, bands, therapy putty for hand exercises, patient-specific tools, and more.

“Our therapy room is small but mighty,” Liza said. “You’d be surprised at what we can fit in there.”

Outside of work, Liza stays busy with her husband and 2-year-old son. She enjoys yoga and Zumba and golfing with her husband when possible. They live in Millersburg, and Liza’s mom lives up the street, so they are back and forth to each other’s homes for dinner.

“Homeland is a great place to be,” Liza said. “Seeing the smiles on the residents’ faces and seeing the relationships and strong bonds my staff have created with them – it’s very rewarding.”