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Runyon’s goal: settings that feel like home

In a world where bigger is often thought to be better, Charles Runyon strives for a model in which small is best. As the president and CEO of St. John’s Health Care Corp. on Highland Avenue in Rochester, he believes intimate settings provide more personalized care for the elders residing in his senior communities.

“What we’re doing is the right thing. It’s not always the best business opportunity, but it’s what elders want,” Runyon explained. “If you are doing the right thing, the right thing will happen.”

Runyon has been a nursing home administrator for 30 years, beginning with the Montgomery County Infirmary in Amsterdam, Montgomery County. The majority of his career has been with St. John’s; Runyon has been involved with many projects, including a $40 million renovation, the development of an on-site child care center and the building in Penfield of two 10-bed Green House homes, a nursing home residence not located on a health care campus, the first of its kind.

“I grew up in a small rural town where we took care of each other. That philosophy is here. It’s just a bigger neighborhood,” Runyon said of the Green House concept, adding that the goal is to have the staff permanently assigned to the “neighborhoods” so they can build relationships with the elders.

The Green House model refers to the idea that people continue to live and grow, Runyon said. It was a concept he learned from the company Eden Alternative Inc.

“Charlie has set a culture there, and it has had an incredible impact on their quality of life,” said Christopher Perna, president and CEO of the Eden Alternative Inc.

“Charlie believes elders should retain their autonomy,” he said. “He trains the staff to treat it like it’s the elders’ home. They decide when they get up, go to bed and what they will eat. Charlie is a forward-thinking CEO, which is not easy to be with the budget constraints and regulatory issues he has to handle.”

A big part of the Green House model is giving elders more freedom to choose how they want to spend their days. In addition to having control over when they eat or retire, residents can also choose which recreational activities they prefer. No one is forced to join group bingo games or sit in a room to watch television.

Runyon attributes part of the success to the fact that certified nursing assistants make up the staff.

“The question was, ‘How do we create an opportunity for elders to feel connected to staff? The CNA is a more diverse employee. They do all the care—the cooking and cleaning too. They learn the elder’s needs,” Runyon said. “It’s been four years and we’ve had tremendous success. There’s a waiting list to get in there now.”

Surveys of staff and residents show a 100 percent satisfaction rate, Runyon said. The goal is to find a way to implement the Green House method at the Highland Avenue location.

“People who are home with 24-hour care can become isolated,” Runyon explained. “But they don’t want to go in a nursing home with several other people. With this model they have socialization, but it’s not so big they feel lost in a large institution.”

Helping others is what gives Runyon the most happiness in his work.

“I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve had people help me grow,” he said. “And I can take what people have given me and help others along the way now too.”

3/18/2016 (c) 2016 Health Care Achievement Awards Special Section. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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