Chris Monroe is the new facility administrator at Pioneer Place in Vale. (The Enterprise/Kezia Setyawan).

VALE – The first time Chris Monroe stepped into a nursing home more than 40 years ago he wanted to leave.

“I swore I’d never go back to a nursing home again,” he said.

Monroe said that first day in a nursing home in 1977 as a nurse’s aide helped define his future. Rather than staying away, Monroe has worked in skilled nursing since and the native of Orange, California, said he doesn’t regret it.

The week of Aug. 2, Monroe became administrator at Pioneer Place. He replaces longtime administrator Tom Hathaway, who retired. Monroe will oversee about 45 residents at the local facility.

The ability to make a difference and improve someone’s life propelled him in his career, he said.

“It isn’t just the resident you focus on. You have to focus on the family and other caregivers around them to make sure the goals are the same and that people feel comfortable in what they are doing,” said Monroe.

Pioneer Place is a government entity providing skilled nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation services.

A five-member board of local residents oversees Pioneer Place. The facility is funded by a local taxing district but by law that money can’t be used for operating expenses.

The taxing district proceeds are used to pay off the bond for the facility approved by voters in the early 2000s.

 Pioneer Nursing Home Health District was created in 1975 and in the 1990s local voters approved a bond measure that financed the construction of the facility. The current Pioneer Place opened in 2003.

Pioneer Place employs 70 to 80 people with a payroll of about $2.3 million.

Monroe was the administrator of Laurel Hill Nursing Center in Grants Pass before he took the Vale job.

Monroe, 63, said he enjoys rural settings.

“I like the comfortableness of a small town and the culture,” said Monroe.

He said he likes “the little accomplishments, like making someone feel better or making the family member feel better about what is going on.”

“I get a lot of satisfaction from when I see and talk to residents, getting to know their stories,” he said.

Monroe is already impressed with the staff at Pioneer Place and is familiar with the facility’s reputation for excellence. Pioneer Place was one of 17 nursing homes in Oregon identified in the 2018 HealthInsight Quality Awards. The honor is bestowed on nursing homes that prove their “excellence in providing high-quality care for their residents.”

Monroe said the professionalism of the staff at Pioneer is evident.

“They are warm and compassionate and intelligent. You can walk in the door and feel the warmth and the attitude the staff has. The residents are so well taken care of. I have been to a lot of facilities where you walk in the door and you want to leave right away. Not here,” said Monroe.

Hathaway won’t fade into retirement quite yet. He plans to help Monroe make the transition.

“The complexity of the job, you know, it is difficult to teach someone what they need to know in a matter of a couple of days,” said Hathaway. “When I started working there six years ago, I didn’t have anyone showing me the ropes. I spent my first year learning through the school of hard knocks.”

Hathaway. 66, said he began to ponder retirement last winter. He spent 26 years in the long-term care field in Oregon, Nevada, Idaho and Washington.

Monroe and Hathaway said one of the biggest challenges for Pioneer Place in the future will be coping with federal rules and directives and Covid response.

“A common complaint of administrators is the growth of government regulations,” said Monroe.

Hathaway said “the government regulates long-term care extremely heavily.”

“It is just going to be a lot more difficult,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway said the prospect of increasing regulations was a factor as he pondered retirement.

“Looking at what I had to educate myself on and learn with the new regulations, I thought, I have to reeducate myself completely for a job I have been doing for 26 years and I am at retirement age. So maybe it is time to step back,” said Hathaway.

John Nalivka, a member of the Pioneer Place board, said Hathaway “has done an outstanding job,” especially in preventing Covid from entering the facility.

“I attribute that to Tom and his staff. We are pleased with being able to hire Chris,” said Nalivka.

New tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-235-1003.

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