Sarah Prewitt Smith admits she aspired to the role of Rogue Valley Manor executive director, but much later in her career.
After 10 years at the iconic senior community on Barneburg Hill in south Medford, the 32-year-old finds herself in the role long before she anticipated, and on the heels of the most tumultuous upheaval in the institution's 52-year history.
Pacific Retirement Services quietly passed the mantle to Smith earlier this month, even before negotiators finished hammering out an agreement ending a rancorous year in which former Executive Director Kevin McLoughlin was sacked, leading to a revolt among the residents that redefined the relationship between the management firm and Manor.
"I knew I wasn't going to get another opportunity like this again, at least not in the Rogue Valley," Smith said. "It's definitely a time of transition for the Manor, but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge. I really felt I was the right person to do this."
Smith now oversees more than 500 Manor employees, including 15 department heads, who work with nearly 1,000 residents in the original Manor, Terrace and Skyline Plaza buildings, more than 300 cottages and eight single-family residences. She and her husband, Gary, have a 1-year-old child.
"I know the culture of the Manor, I understand the Manor, understand the operation and what it takes to be successful," Smith said. "Being here and experiencing the transition it's gone through during the last six months puts me in a great position leading into the future."
Smith earned accolades as head of the Manor's marketing efforts for the past five years, a challenging economic period across the globe.
"We've done a lot of things with respect to our marketing efforts as a result of the economy," she said.
During that period, the Manor doubled its marketing presentations across the country, but primarily up and down the West Coast.
"As a result, I think we've hit our stride," Smith said.
Manor resident Jim Stocker, newly appointed to the reconstituted Manor board and a member of the steering committee, said the response among residents has been universally positive. (Correction: see below)
"She's been working under Kevin, whom we all revere and love here, and she's had a good, loyal team working with her," Stocker said. "She has a lot of interpersonal skills, managing by walking around, perceiving and understanding needs."
The former head of Scott Paper's international operations said that in his 31/2; years at the Manor, Smith has recruited 220 new residents.
Smith graduated from Phoenix High School in 1998 before earning degrees in health education and Spanish in 2002 from Linfield College in McMinnville.
"I didn't go to college with the idea of working in the long-term care industry," Smith said. "But I ended up back here and found a job at the Manor and immediately loved it."
She earned her administrator's license in 2007, knowing it might lead her out of the Rogue Valley. PRS's administrative training program often requires a move out of the area because of limited local opportunities.
"My hope was that sometime in the future I would have an opportunity to be assistant administrator and then executive director," she said. "I just didn't think it would happen under these circumstances."
Mike Morris, chief operations officer for PRS, has been the Manor's interim executive director for four-plus months.
A national search for McLoughlin's replacement pared the applicant list to five — three outside and two within the organization. But there was little doubt about the top choice.
"You could see she was prepared," said Stocker. "She knows the game and what it takes. She's got some learning to do in the financial areas and more technical areas, but she greatly impressed the search committee."
Smith is all the more confident because of her management team, which she considers the best among continuing care communities in the West, if not the entire country.
"This takes a lot of communication," she said.
The recently ratified agreement between PRS and the Manor residents has her answering to both boards, unlike her predecessor.
"I jokingly say that I already serve a thousand masters, so what's two more?" she said. "Through all that's gone on over the past six months, one thing that hasn't wavered has been our commitment to the people we serve on a daily basis. It's not a scary thing to me. There might be some disagreements, but at the end of the day we all want one thing — what's best for our residents."
Morris said Smith was committed to building a positive, cooperative relationship between PRS and the Manor.
"She's demonstrated an ability to bring people together and work with all stakeholders," he said. "She understands the Manor's history, worked closely with the team up there and has the staff's confidence."
Correction: The committee Jim Stocker is a member of has been corrected in this version.