Martha Perez serves as the Administrator/Vice President of Haven of Our Lady of Peace. She began her healthcare career in 1992, the start of 28 years in the field of long-term care – her purpose and passion in life.
Born in Guantanamo Bay, Martha was two years old when her family left Cuba and applied for U.S. citizenship. Once that was obtained, they settled in Pensacola, where she grew up and married. Upon her husband’s retirement from the Air Force, they moved from Italy back to Pensacola, and Martha began job hunting.
She became employed as a nursing home receptionist in Gulf Breeze, which was a temporary position. But she enjoyed it so much that she stayed until a permanent job opened up. She was hired and then transferred to a sister facility in Pensacola. After that, she kept accepting different opportunities there and moved up the ranks: medical records, AP/payroll, business office management, and human resources – all of which she enjoyed. But at that point, Martha had succeeded in just about every position available, and was left wondering what to do next. Then it occurred to her, “Why don’t I get licensed and run the facility myself?” So, she did.
In long-term care, an individual must be federally, and state licensed. She applied to the licensing board and got accepted. The next step was serving as an Administrator in Training (AIT) under a licensed preceptor. She did a year’s internship, took the boards and passed, becoming licensed in 1999. She began work as a facility administrator and that was the start of her tenure in long-term care, a field she will never leave.
However, the Haven of Our Lady of Peace was the nursing home where Martha most wanted to work, so she kept applying there, year after year. Finally, she was hired as its administrator. She affirms, “This facility truly takes care of its people. It doesn’t just provide a beautiful environment, it is fully stocked with supplies. Just open up the closets and look.” She emphasizes this because she experienced a work environment where the supplies were not adequate to take care of the residents, which greatly troubled her.
The Haven was rebuilt and modernized in 2001. Instead of the long corridors associated with traditional nursing homes, its construction features four, homelike living areas or “neighborhoods.” Each room opens to a common dining and activities area, and to a central nursing station. Martha lists the services that the facility provides: short-term inpatient rehabilitation, wound care, IV therapy, medication management, diabetes education, hospice care, and a secured Alzheimer’s disease care unit. The care team includes doctors and an ARNP specializing in geriatric medicine, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, nutritionists, activities, and Chaplain.
What she finds most fulfilling in her daily work is the opportunity to connect and make a difference. She explains that If she were employed in hospital operations, she would be an administrator thinking about putting processes together and limited to “rounding” on the leadership team. She would never get to know the people she was serving – the patients. While at the Haven, she has the luxury of becoming totally familiar with all the residents and their families. “Every single day, I interact, walking the hallways, going into their rooms. I know their quirks and routines. If I make a decision, I literally get to know how it affects the end user. Residents can call me, or wheel to my office to complain. This is not something you get to experience in any other healthcare operations’ environment. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”
It surprises Martha that a lot of people in this area don’t know that Ascension Sacred Heart has a skilled nursing facility. The Haven is not only a long-term provider but offers short-term rehabilitation as well.
She is concerned that in the health spectrum, seniors sometimes get forgotten. Yet their needs are just as important as other segments of the population, and she will always advocate for their care. She adds that it can be a difficult populace to serve, and she understands why many people are reluctant to work with seniors because it involves end-of-life patients. “Yet,” she says, “More than anything, this is an amazing place to work. Senior care can be so rewarding.”
When she isn’t working, Martha is an avid runner, enjoys boxing, loves pro football and is a huge Jacksonville Jaguars’ fan. When her son was born in 1996, he left the hospital fully decked out in Jaguar’s attire, from hat to tiny shoes.
Looking to the future, Martha hopes Ascension Florida will look to expand its services to the senior population. The need is there: Pensacola and the Emerald Coast’s communities are significant retirement areas with a huge senior population. She envisions Ascension Florida becoming the foremost provider – in Pensacola – of the best senior care possible. And she would like to see more done to inform the community of what the Haven offers to seniors, as it is an integral part of the compassionate, personalized healthcare provided by Ascension Sacred Heart.
This is an excerpt from Stories from the Heart. Click to read more.
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