Meet Vernon M. Baker
On July 26, Vernon M. Baker, the new President and CEO of The Pines, sat down with me to talk about his path to this new position and how he and his wife, Lisa, are adjusting to life in our community after their move from Charlottesville, Virginia. They have two adult children.
Mr. Baker earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in education from Virginia Tech and has worked in senior living facilities for over thirty years. My questions and his edited responses follow.
Jennie: You have degrees in education. How did you come to manage long term care facilities?
Vernon: At Virginia Tech the degree in exercise physiology and cardiac rehab was in the education department. I thought I would be a physical therapist and had the opportunity to work in the local hospital for two summers. The hospital had a contract with a local nursing home to provide therapy. So, I would go there with different therapists and absolutely fell in love with working with seniors.
During graduate school, when I worked at a men’s clothing store, still thinking that I wanted to do therapy, I realized I’d love to work in a senior care facility or a nursing facility. I became friends with a regular customer. When I told him that I wanted to work with seniors, he suggested I look into an administrative and training program in a nursing facility. I had no idea there was such a thing. Right out of graduate school I entered a training program with a nursing home corporation there in Blacksburg, and I’ve been doing this for 30+ years.
After completing the administrative and training program in May of 1991, I opened a new nursing facility. After some time, I asked my Regional Director how I could become a Regional Director. He told me, “Pick one of our most challenging nursing facilities, go there, and turn it around.” So, I had the opportunity to go to Charlottesville, later transferred to another company, and still later returned to the original company as a Regional Director. Three or four years later I was promoted to Vice-President of Operations, which meant I was traveling a lot. At that time my wife and I had two children, so I decided to look for work closer to Charlottesville so I could be home every night and be involved with our children.
I managed a nursing facility in Orange County for over 14 years. I began looking for a full retirement community that had independent living, found one, and worked there as Chief Operating Officer. The plan was for me to take over as CEO when the current CEO retired. However, he planned to work too long for me to finish my career as a CEO.
Last August the executive recruiter for The Pines reached out to me, and I was fortunate and blessed to have been chosen. I am extremely happy to be here.
Jennie: What features of The Pines attracted you to accept the position?
Vernon: The location. The Pines being in Davidson, a small college town like where I grew up in Blacksburg. The Pines community is a perfect size, and it has a great reputation. Its health care survey record with the state. The financial stability and disclosure statement. The expansion – any business willing to invest into its future attracts me. It means they’re progressive. Once I started the interview process I got to know the folks on the selection committee, board members, the leadership team, and the residents. All those things combined presented a perfect opportunity for me.
Jennie: Please share your vision for The Pines.
Vernon: First, we, the board, the leadership team, and residents, are working on a new 3-5 year strategic plan that will be finalized the first part of next year. I want to continue to define and redefine the meaning of community. I think the more involved and engaging we can be internally as a community, the stronger and better we will be as community partners in the town of Davidson and the surrounding area. My goal has always been exceeding the expectations of our current residents. I also want to attract future residents by doing the same for them. I also believe the residents and staff are my customers. I want to emphasize the wellness culture and lifestyle at The Pines. Statistics show that people who live in retirement communities typically are healthier, that they seek a wellness culture, and that they live longer and happier lives. I want to increase workforce quality through staff recruitment, staff satisfaction, and retention. I want The Pines to integrate technology to help resident engagement as well as safety and security. Technology will help the staff be more efficient, and it will improve communication among staff and residents. It will enhance just about everything we do here.
Jennie: What is the impression you and your wife have of the community of Davidson?
Vernon: Living in a small, college town is so attractive to me. My wife and I liked seeing people out pushing strollers, running, and walking. When we first visited on a weekend, there were people everywhere. We like that Davidson is environmentally friendly, with bike paths and greenways. Lake Norman was also a plus for us. While I was being interviewed, my wife spent the day getting to know the area. Every place she went, she would ask, “How do you like living here?” And every single person said, “We love it here.”
We welcome the Bakers to our community.
Jennie Clifton, a Concord native, taught high school Latin in Georgia, where she was a Tar Heel in exile until she and her husband Cecil, a Davidson graduate, retired here in 2011. They are now enjoying life at The Pines.