At Country Meadows, birthdays are paid holidays, employees celebrate work anniversaries and everyone gets a Christmas ham. Employees are treated like family at the family-run business of caring for frail and aging adults who need nursing or personal care.
That atmosphere, staffers say, is why Country Meadows — a $136 million operation based in Hershey with three locations in the Lehigh Valley — is not only one of the Top Workplaces among large companies in the Lehigh Valley surveyed by WorkplaceDynamics, but also has been named "Best Workplace in Pennsylvania" for nine of the past 11 years. Other campuses are in South Hills, York County, Mechanicsburg, Lancaster County, and Frederick, Md.
"You get a lot of rewards," said Patti Ann Rohrbach, a 14-year employee who rose through the ranks to become vice president in charge of the 703 nurses, aides, therapists and others who operate Country Meadows' homes in Upper Macungie Township, Bethlehem Township and Wyomissing.
Among those rewards are $2 meals that include soup, salad, sandwich, coffee and dessert; interest-free loans; a $500 bonus for referring new hires; and benefits such as free dental care for employees who work as few as 26 hours a week and choose one of two health and vision plans.
"It's those extra little benefits," Rohrbach said. "When you add them all up it's part of the culture at Country Meadows."
Country Meadows began 50 years ago when former Gov. George Leader and his wife, Mary Jane, founded skilled-nursing facilities known as Leader Nursing Centers. The family started personal-care and independent-living facilities called Country Meadows Retirement Communities in 1982. The nursing homes were sold and their sons Michael and David now run Country Meadows as CEO and COO, respectively, with brother-in-law Ted Janeczek as CFO.
Mary Jane Leader died in 2011 at 92, but her husband, the former governor, lives on at a Country Meadows home in Hershey. So do many of the workplace benefits and tenants the couple established from the start.
"Members of the Leader family are very accessible to co-workers. They want to be the best in the industry and ensure residents are being taken care of the best we can, and they give co-workers the training they need and ask for their opinions," Rohrbach said.
While George Leader was governor, Pennsylvania started the Office of Aging, nursing home inspections and the first licensure program for practical nurses. This past June, at 94, George Leader was still championing the rights of the needy by speaking in favor of drug and alcohol treatment for nonviolent inmates.
Under the slogan "Life gets better," Country Meadows helps older folks take better care of themselves in their own homes or in one of a variety of Country Meadows' retirement homes. Some 2,885 residents at all locations and 883 at the three Lehigh Valley campuses receive assistance with medicines, dressing and bathing, memory support, rehabilitation and restorative care.
Brenda Kennedy, fitness director for Country Meadows of Bethlehem, said she gets as much as she gives when developing exercise classes for all who live on campus, from nursing home residents with dementia to those who can come and go as they please.
"Every day my residents rescue me," she said. "There's not one day they don't teach me, humble me with their wisdom. ... I live vicariously through them."
Similarly, management is open to popular therapies such as massage, yoga and meditation, said Kennedy, a certified Reiki therapist.
Country Meadows helps residents stay connected to the communities in which they used to live, said Wendy Balik, whose job as community life director is to make sure all residents, even those in wheelchairs, get to go shopping and to churches, restaurants and banks in their former neighborhoods.
Every year, residents decide on one big community project they would like to do, Balik said. This year it was delivering turkey dinners to 25 families in need. Residents raised the money and employees donated canned goods to distribute a week before Thanksgiving.
"Between the co-workers themselves and the residents, we make a great team," she said. "Everyone has their own department and title but you wouldn't know it: We all jump in and help wherever needed."
In other outreach efforts, Country Meadows is the prime sponsor for the Alzheimer's Association Walk To Cure in Pennsylvania, donating money for every mile walked. The company sponsored the 2011 Greater PA Chapter Memory Walk and contributed more than $40,000 to United Way, matching 50 percent of all employee contributions. Country Meadows donates more than $150,000 a year for research to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders.
The private retirement community hired 365 people the past year and anticipates hiring another 300 in the coming year.
Ann Wlazelek is a freelance writer.
COUNTRY MEADOWS RETIREMENT COMMUNITY
• Founded: 1982
• Ownership: Private
• Sector: Senior living
• Locations: 3
• Employees: 703
• Website: countrymeadows.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times