Judy Ryan instilled a focus on quality care and education

Good Samaritan Society’s first woman president was also first clinician to serve in top job

Judy Ryan, former CEO of Good Samaritan Society

The fifth president and CEO of the Good Samaritan Society (1998-2003) hasn’t really left the organization. Judy Ryan, RN, PhD, FAAN, lives across the street from National Campus at Good Samaritan Society – Prairie Creek in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The 85-year-old jokes she’s residing “in independent living and I’m struggling to stay independent and living.”

A short walk to Society headquarters and the Vermillion native can visit the Ryan prayer garden and building.

“(I’m) a little embarrassed in terms of the Ryan building to tell you the truth,” Dr. Ryan says about the two-story office space bearing her name.

It’s a well-deserved honor for one of the Society’s humble servants. Dr. Ryan, an accomplished nurse, is also the first and only clinician to have held the top job.

“It was a blessing to me, it honestly was. It was the finest five years of 47 years of being in health care administration,” Dr. Ryan says.

‘Felt more like a call’

A part of just the third nursing class at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Dr. Ryan’s health care career is headlined by executive roles with the American Nurses Association, the Lutheran General Health System as well as the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and College of Nursing.

That experience all preceding a vigorous recruitment to the Society in 1998.

“Felt more like a call. I was 61 years old at the time,” Dr. Ryan says about joining the Society. “(I was) all ready to retire to the mountains and the ocean where we had chosen to live. I just couldn’t say no.”

Dr. Ryan remembers finding out what one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit providers for senior care and services was made of during her first few months.

“I was able to experience the fact that what we said we were, we were. Our commitment to being Christ-centered, being resident-centered, being staff-centered and being community-centered held up,” Dr. Ryan says.

“It’s almost more a Christian organization than it is simply a care deliverer.”

Focus on quality

Providing faith-based care to older adults and doing so with the highest quality was her focus as president and CEO.

Dr. Ryan’s mother Nelle Andre was a nurse, and her father Hugo Andre, a doctor. Hugo, a World War II veteran, was part of the faculty at the University of South Dakota Medical School.

He would take the family to his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, every year to catch a Gopher football game for Nelle’s birthday. Dr. Ryan later attended the University of Minnesota where she first earned a certification in public health and later a Ph.D. in hospital and health care administration.

You can probably tell education is important to Dr. Ryan. So is collaboration.

She strove to build consensus around quality with other industry leaders in her first few years at the Society.

“What started there is what is being committed to (now) in long-term care,” Dr. Ryan says.

Prior to and during her time, the Society used its own satellite to stream educational materials to the field. She started an annual conference for CNAs and supported the creation of a clinical career ladder. Dr. Ryan was also a strong proponent of electronic health records and data.

When asked if these efforts made work easier for caregivers in the field, she replied it made it “possible.”

“It’s working together and just opening your eyes and recognizing that God puts resources right in front of us if we get wise enough to recognize them,” Dr. Ryan says.

‘Earn our future’

As the Society approaches 100 years as an organization, Dr. Ryan likes to remember the founder Rev. August “Dad” Hoeger’s contributions.

“Hoeger just wouldn’t say, ‘Oh we’ll come and build a nursing home here.’ He would wait for some time until the community had reached out and said they would commit to working in partnership there. Whether it was land, whether it was dollars,” Dr. Ryan says.

She says when groups unite for a common cause it makes everyone stronger.

“Just his concept of how to be innovative enough to put pieces that fit together. Sometimes it really seemed like it was not a sane thing to do. Sometimes people that dream aren’t considered very reliable. He honestly did bring together all sections of the Lutheran church to try to address community-based issues like aging and illness and strength and moving forward together,” Dr. Ryan says.

Looking back to Dr. Ryan’s own president’s report during her final annual meeting in 2003, the leader asked co-workers for a simple favor.

“Our pledge to one another in 2004 is to earn our future and to continue to partner with others to accomplish that goal whenever possible,” Dr. Ryan proclaimed.

Words that can still ring true as the Society pushes “Ever Forward.”

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Posted In Nursing and Nursing Support, Sanford Stories, Senior Services