Dan Hames is the regional vice president of the Southwest Region for The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Here, he charts his path to long-term care and into higher-level positions at the Society, shares two pinnacle moments in his career, and emphasizes the importance of his faith in all he does.
The path to health services
In his first year of college at the University of South Dakota, he remained noncommittal, sticking with general studies. Then, his father drew his interest to business.
Still, Hames realized that being a general business major would not necessarily lead to a career. After taking “Introduction to Health Care Administration” and loving it, he decided to specialize in health services administration.
Between his junior and senior years, Hames worked as a nursing assistant at a long-term care facility in Sioux City. However, Hames did not envision himself continuing in the field; he preferred to work at a hospital.
An inflection point came when a charge nurse witnessed Hames helping an elderly woman eat a banana. He initially thought he was in trouble. To the contrary, she paused and said, “You need to work in long-term care.” Then she walked away.
Joining the Society
Upon graduation, Hames lined up a position with a long-term care company based out of Colorado and would be doing his administrator-in-training program in Crete, Nebraska. When he traveled to Crete to look for an apartment, he found that his mentor and numerous employees had just resigned, and he would be joining the organization no longer.
Hames returned to Sioux City and between time spent at the library looking for careers in long-term care (the old-fashioned job search method), he took a number of jobs — residential assistant in a group home, bartender, pizza “production professional,” furniture mover, corn detasseler, and so on.
One day, his father said he had a cousin who was involved in some way in health care, and they should get in touch with him. It turned out that his father’s cousin, Dan Guenther, was the administrator at the Good Samaritan Society in Alliance, Nebraska. Guenther, who retired after 41 years with the Society, encouraged Hames to apply. He did, and he was hired.
In January 1990, Hames began his administrator-in-training program in West Union, Iowa. Five months later, he took a position Manson, Iowa, a 50-bed nursing home. Then, it was on to Hutchinson, Kansas, a 90-bed nursing home with a dozen duplexes. Three years later, Hames landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at Monzano del Sol Village, a 120-bed nursing home with 158 apartments.
After another three years and being promoted to ever-larger facilities, Hames became an executive director in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a site with a wide range of offerings, including skilled nursing, apartments, assisted living and a home care agency. He also supervised the Society location in Alamogordo, New Mexico, at the same time.
Roles and responsibilities
In 2010, Hames rose to regional vice president. First, he covered Iowa and Illinois. Then, the East Region — Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, Tennessee. Thereafter, the Southwest Region — New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii.
In his current position as regional vice president of the Southwest Region, Hames oversees campus leaders and executive directors, with 20 direct reports, and seeks out new talent.
He also meet regularly with other regional VPs, providing input on policy and procedure; ensures compliance with federal and state surveys and regulations, which vary across his four-state region; and focuses on employee engagement and the GSS Way, the expectations of the Society.
In identifying what he most enjoys about his work, Hames first explains what he misses most about his previous positions: relationships with staff and residents. In reflecting on his nearly 12 years in Las Cruces, he says the connections were so strong that they’re “hard to describe.”
“You’re in the midst of a lot of emotions and health care needs and situations — and you work through them together,” he said. “And it’s a family and a love that I miss tremendously.”
However, that’s been replaced by his relationships with the leaders with whom he works. “Playing even just a small part in helping someone grow in their leadership and development and seeing how they build relationships and make a difference in people’s lives is the joy in my work,” he says.
In reflecting on his career, Hames identifies two pinnacle moments. He is, of course, proud of the quality care provided in Las Cruces, which, for example, came through with a deficiency-free survey in assisted living, nursing home and home care all in a single year — a rarity.
However, he cites two other milestones as most memorable.
One year, he ran for an elected position in the Society. While he did not win, he wrote in the newsletter about how he was disappointed in the outcome but that God had a different plan for him. In it, he cited August “Dad” Hoeger, founder of the Good Samaritan Society, who believed that helping even one person find God made the work worthwhile.
One day following that column, he received three pieces of mail. One, an anonymous card, criticized him for penning a reflection it deemed “self-centered.” The second bequested a large gift from an estate.
The third came from a woman in Massachusetts, who had recently visited their campus in Las Cruces to see her father. She had read Hames’ newsletter and shared the story of her visit, in which they sat outside in the gazebo and her father finally accepted the Lord after 25 years of her prayers. Her father passed away a week later. Her message thanked Hames and the staff at the Society for their physical and spiritual care, and Hames considers it one of the most important points in his career.
A memorial walk
The second pinnacle moment is when Hames and a team participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March, in memory of the World War II event in which Filipino and American troops underwent a deadly 60- to 70-mile trek that killed thousands, many from New Mexico.
The state is home to the New Mexico National Guard Bataan Memorial Museum and this event, a marathon and 15-mile race held every year at White Sands Missile Range.
About seven years ago, Hames challenged other Society leaders to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March in support of three overseas charities. Nine of them completed the march and raised roughly $13,000.
‘You need to be you’
When asked what he would share with other employees, Hames turns to his “artfully titled” document called “New Administrator Tips.” One of the most important pieces of advice he can share is that everyone should be themselves.
When he started out, Hames attempted to model his spiritual leadership on those he looked up to at the Society. However, he soon realized that this was an unwise approach. “I needed to be Dan,” he said. “There’s no right or wrong way to be a spiritual leader — you need to be you.”
Projecting into the future, Hames says his plan is to serve God as best he can in his role.
“Were it not for my faith, I would not do this work,” he said. “My faith that God wants me here is why I do it.”
Get to know Dan Hames
Hames grew up in Denver and Castle Rock, Colorado, in his early years before moving to Sioux City, Iowa, for junior high and high school, graduating from Bishop Heelan High School.
The University of South Dakota, where he earned a degree in health services administration.
Health care runs in the family. Hames’ mother worked as a home health aide; his wife, Debbie, a registered nurse, works for the Society on staff development.
His older daughter, Anastasia, is a graduate of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and works at the university in creative media, focusing on animation. His younger daughter, Emily, just began her junior year at St. Mary’s Catholic High School where she plays tuba and is a cheerleader.
Hames enjoys spending time with family and watching sports, closely following the Denver Broncos in football and the Kansas Jayhawks in basketball.