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Jennifer Sheets, CEO of Interim Healthcare and Caring Brands International, says a preventable hospital error led to her father’s death: “My commitment and passion for high-quality, process-driven healthcare (are) still greatly fueled by the horrific event that absolutely didn’t need to happen.”
Climbing the Career Ladder: Seventh of 10 profiles of healthcare executives and their careers.
Jennifer Sheets might have had a career in insurance instead of healthcare. Her family owned an independent insurance agency, TP Frye and Associates in Bristol, Virginia, a small town in southwest Virginia that straddles the Virginia-Tennessee border. The agency, which is now called Frye-Shaffer Insurance, and is owned by her brother, sold all types of insurance: auto, home, business, boat, health and life. When she was 10, Sheets was a part of the “licking and sticking” crew, as her parents called it, that was responsible for readying the bulk mailings after school each day. By the time she was old enough to drive, she was inspecting and taking pictures of insured properties. As a college student, she became a licensed insurance agent, processing new applications and quoting renewal rates.
But Sheets wanted a career in healthcare. She studied nursing at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. After graduating, she went to work where she believed she could make a big difference in people’s lives: the trauma and transplant intensive care units at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, and then she moved to the Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“Starting my career as an RN made me aware of the dedication and heart it takes to serve others,” Sheets says. “Although I no longer work at the bedside, I maintain my license today and use many of the skills I learned on the job: empathy, problem solving and communication.”
Sheets scrambled up the career ladder in a hurry. She held various leadership positions, first as a director at Regency Hospital Company, which focuses on rehabilitation for patients, and then assumed clinical leadership roles at several providers, including Kindred Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky, where she became CEO in 2008 when she was just 35. Sheets says her career and focus on quality and care at home was shaped by her father’s death from a preventable clinical error.
“My father went from being a company founder, president and CEO who ran five miles a day to being in a comatose state within minutes because of an easily prevented hospital error,” Sheets says. “He underwent a very routine outpatient procedure (but) post-procedure orders and protocol were not followed. He went into respiratory arrest and sustained a severe anoxic brain injury that took his life. My commitment and passion for high-quality, process-driven healthcare (are) still greatly fueled by the horrific event that absolutely didn’t need to happen.”
From that point on, she says, she was committed to working to ensure that people can age in place and stay in their homes as long as possible: “I moved into the home health and hospice space because I know that this is where people want to be, where the outcomes are better, and it’s how we can keep people from needing to go to the hospital in many situations,” she says.
Sheets has been president and CEO of Interim HealthCare, a home healthcare and hospice provider and staffing company in Sunrise, Florida, and its parent company, Caring Brands International, for two and a half years. She says she sees herself as a “lifelong nurse who just happens to be in a CEO role right now.” When reflecting on her life and career experiences, Sheets advises anyone, regardless of their career path, to make sure they’re staying hungry for knowledge and looking for where they can provide the greatest impact. “Do something you love and are passionate about,” she says. “That’s the key to being successful and continuing to move up the ladder.” And Sheets says anybody taking care of patients needs to see every patient as somebody’s family member. And to keep caring: “If you ever get to the point where a bad outcome doesn’t bother you, quit. You’re not in the right profession.”
Briana Contreras is associate editor of Managed Healthcare Executive.