Jeanna Hittinger chuckled as she recalled a conversation last fall on the phone with some of Consulate Health Care’s board of executives. Storm season had approached, with Hurricane Michael impending, along with the need for Sea Breeze at Panama City to evacuate. As Executive Director of Heritage Health Care at Tallahassee, Hittinger needed to make a decision fast. How many of the remaining displaced patients could they take in?
She says she paused and looked over at Heritage Health Care’s Director of Nursing, Linda Woolridge, who gave her a thumbs-up and a sly smile. At that moment, Hittinger knew they were on the same page.
“We’ll take them all,” Hittinger said, in response to static on the phone line. This major undertaking was not the answer the executives had anticipated.
She says the Heritage entire staff went above and beyond to take in 24 additional residents at one time, making them as comfortable, secure, and feeling at home as much as possible.
She explains the true team effort: “We had our own challenges here, but we felt it was the right thing to do, to assist the residents from Sea Breeze. The staffing stepped up, and even other facilities throughout Florida came to assist us, because we’d maxed out and filled our whole 180-bed building.” She says the staff even stayed extra days and nights, and re-supplied the new residents with items they’d had to leave behind.
However, as one might imagine, Hittinger didn’t start out making such major decisions in the face of impending natural disasters.
In fact, she began as a receptionist in a different nursing home, where she met a mentor and her first administrator, the late Jackie Dykes, who encouraged her to go to college and become a licensed administrator. Hittinger explains that this encouragement not only altered her career, but also motivated her to hopefully change others’ lives: “I have since tried to do the same—to help others get their administrator’s licenses and find their success.”
She quickly succeeded in her endeavors, arrived at Consulate Health Care, and began climbing up the ladder. She serves as a prime example of the career growth opportunities that Consulate provides to young professionals starting out and discovering their passions, callings, and career goals.
From a young age, Hittinger seemed to know her calling, and displayed a passion for senior care. “You really have to have a love for the elderly in your heart if you’re working in this industry.” She recalls being back in her twenties, doting on the senior residents and possessing such deep admiration for them. She says the core value “passion” hits the heart of it all for her. “With passion, comes along the love for what you do, and in that, you can coach and inspire others.”
In fact, this passion and love for seniors has transcended into a family legacy, as her daughter is currently studying to become a nursing home administrator, set to graduate later this year.
Nowadays, Hittinger feels proud of how far Heritage Health Care has come, and calls it a “diamond in the rough.” Hittinger has been Executive Director for just under a year, but already the care center has made exciting improvements and additions. We could hear the excitement in her voice as she described the brand new Alzheimer’s unit that Heritage has added, and how much it’s needed in the community.
While emphasizing all the improvement and potential that Heritage Health Care has developed, Hittinger stressed that the biggest challenge they’re facing right now is the disconnect between who they’ve become and the surrounding community, as many people remain unaware of everything they have to offer. Hittinger would like to change that.
At the end of the day, in helping those around her and exercising her passion for high quality, compassionate care, Hittinger says she tries to live by the Henry Stanley Haskins quote: “What lies behind us and what lies before us…are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ultimately, it seems that the passion that lies within Hittinger has propelled her to make great strides—not only for herself professionally, but for her co-workers, residents, and the overall thriving well-being of Heritage Health Care at Tallahassee.