Women in Business: Q&A with Kathleen Gilmartin, CEO of Interim HealthCare

Kathleen Gilmartin, is a 21 year veteran of Interim HealthCare, the oldest nationwide network of home care, hospice and health care staffing franchisees, founded in 1966 and known for its continuum of care. As president and CEO, she leads the organization that has $800 million in system revenue and spearheaded its global launch last fall with the acquisition of UK-based Bluebird Care Franchises Limited, taking entire system revenue to just under $1 billion.

Kathleen entered the healthcare industry as a nurse and spent nine years in acute care supervisory positions in NY and NJ. She joined an Interim HealthCare franchise organization in 1981 in Ohio and the corporate franchisor in Florida three years later. Kathleen earned the title of COO of Interim HealthCare Inc. in 1997, CEO in 2008, and has revitalized franchise development and specifically driven hospice and personal care and support services expansion. She is active in IFA (International Franchise Association) and sits on the Board of Directors as well as the IFA's Women's Franchise Committee and Convention Committee. Additionally, she is a member of the Regulatory Advisory Committee for the National Association for Home Care & Hospice and a board member of the Alliance for Home Care Quality & Innovation. She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from D'Youville College in Buffalo, N.Y.

How have your life experiences made you the leader you are today?
I had the benefit of growing up in a strong family with my parents and four siblings, and everyone cared about each other. We weren't "The Cleavers," but the foundational principles of love, trust, accountability and integrity were instilled in each of us. As a leader you have to weather success and failure. My life experiences have taught that both, while not equally pleasant, are equally and extremely valuable on your personal and professional life path.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Interim HealthCare?
As a former nurse, I can guarantee than no two days will ever be the same in home healthcare. It's a 24/7 business and, whether it's managing a short term illness or a chronic condition, infant or pediatric care, homecare requires hard work and compassion. There's no way to do it halfheartedly.....whether you're in administration, as I am now, or have the privilege of working daily with patients in the home, you just have to love it.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
In any leadership role you have incredibly high days and rock bottom low days...the key is to keep the mental snapshots of the great days front and center so you don't lose focus and faith. I keep my office bookcase full of photos I love of family and friends which reminds me not to take myself too seriously. I'm also nuts about the ocean and pretty much anything related to the sea. I go fishing anytime I'm able and, even though my skills are so-so with catching the "big ones," I excel at catching blue runners for bait. We snorkel, dive and are amateur sailors too.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Interim HealthCare?
For me, they are one and the same. The biggest challenge is that day in and day out, it's a complicated, people-intensive business. It's inherently stressful and emotionally intense for homecare business entrepreneurs and the hunt never ends to recruit the best employees to provide patient care. The biggest highlight is that same complicated, people-intensive business is also a fantastically rewarding experience. It's a privilege to develop meaningful, personal relationships with clients every day.

What advice can you offer individuals hoping to establish a healthcare franchise?
I can promise you, it will be the most rewarding experience of your life. I can also promise you it will likely be the most challenging. By providing a continuum of care like we do at Interim HealthCare, you naturally transition from the physician's office or the hospital to the home. You get to know their habits, likes/dislikes and how they relate to their surroundings. Whether managing a short term illness or living with a chronic condition, it takes patience and dedication to teach people new ways of administering medications, preparing meals or caring for a wound or catheter. The variety of patients, from seniors to infants, requires developing strong relationships within the healthcare community. You find incredible satisfaction in helping patients get back on their feet, see the pride someone takes in caring for themselves again or sharing the sadness of saying goodbye to those at the end of life. Managing a homecare business is a very rewarding and important part of the total healthcare system. It's a 24/7 business and no two days will ever be the same!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I was fortunate to grow up in an environment that didn't focus on gender but rather on abilities and perseverance to reach personal goals. Do I think women have a tougher time than men reaching top spots in corporations? I really don't know. My own experience would suggest the answer is no, I've always been very focused, driven to achieve results, not easily discouraged and have enjoyed healthy competition from men and women throughout my career. I think you have to be comfortable in your own skin and strive to reach whatever career rung you desire.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
"Lean In" provides an important and relevant gut check and I applaud Sheryl, not only for the content of the book, but for her life's work. I would like to point to two other texts which have deeply affected me personally and directed my path: Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" in which I've made so many annotations, I'm in my 4th ragged copy; and The OZ Principle in which leaders write about how to accept responsibility by finding the Courage, the Heart, the Wisdom and the Willpower to identify and solve challenges and opportunities within their organizations. All three are inspirational texts.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
When I began my career in healthcare, mentorship wasn't really a buzz word. I thought my supervisors were supposed to give me guidance and reaction. It was only much later that I realized I needed to seek them out to learn more. I found many administrators, physicians and business leaders were willing to share their knowledge and insight once I asked them. Now mentorship is talked about as a formal process, but anyone can be a mentor and offer mentorship. It starts by find a common ground and then being inquisitive.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are many leaders I admire, but I tend not to view them as female or male. My admiration has more to do with their characteristics and behaviors as leaders, their sense of purpose and vision, their ability to communicate clearly and with passion for whatever business or organization they lead, their willingness to be open to new ideas and consider other viewpoints, and to demonstrate respect in their words and actions.

How will the Affordable Health Care Act affect healthcare franchises as it begins to be implemented?
The opportunities are incredible for home care businesses. Baby boomers are reaching retirement age in droves and driving the demand for care delivered in the comfort of their homes. Simultaneously, technology advances are allowing for smaller, faster portable medical devices that can monitor numerous conditions or diseases in the home setting and transmit information to physicians in their offices. Whether it's blood pressure, oxygen saturation, heart rate and rhythm, respiratory functions, body weight, nerve conduction (to name just a few), consumers can now exercise more control and accountability for their own care and are better stewards of their healthcare costs....which is good for all of us.

Home and community-based care has become our preferred setting for receiving care or treatment. The fact is that care in the home costs significantly less than care in a hospital, nursing home or rehab facility only reinforces the reasonableness of expanding the availability of homecare to all consumers.

To me, the challenges of providing safe, effective care at home are threefold:
1. Recruitment and retention of qualified nurses, therapists, aides, homemakers, companions and social workers to care for patients 24/7. Continuous clinical education program are also necessary to enhance skills and help clinicians stay relevant in their areas of expertise.
2. Rational reimbursement models that reflect the value of homecare and enable providers to be paid fairly for achieving desired patient outcomes (such as maintaining adequate self-care, reduced hospitalizations and avoidable emergency room visits) commensurate with their ability to influence patient compliance, satisfaction and outcomes.
3. Electronic health record systems that allow for providers across multiple health care settings to access pertinent, up to date patient information to facilitate care transitions from one provider or setting. Aligned with EHR systems, the standardization of healthcare data collection will facilitate evidence based care by clinicians and allow for more accurate benchmarking among providers to identify best practices across the continuum of care. The error rates associated with paper medical record systems is frightening and is a huge factor in pushing total healthcare costs higher.