Nate Schema is the new vice president of operations at The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society. Here, he recounts his 12-year history with the Society, voices his optimism for the new affiliation with Sanford Health and expresses his firm commitment to servant leadership.
Joining the Good Samaritan Society (twice)
Schema was born and raised in Faribault, Minnesota, and graduated from Bethlehem Academy, a private Catholic K-12 school.
“They certainly taught me a lot about what it was to be a Christian man and a Christian leader from a very early age,” Schema said.
After graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, Schema joined the Society in their Administrator-in-Training program. Schema says God then called him to Lovington, New Mexico, in the southeast corner of the state among the oil fields.
“At the time — 23 years old — I was up for an adventure and willing to do about anything,” he said.
Lovington became the place where Schema began his hands-on experience in operations and also happened to meet his wife, Alex, a native of the town. She taught at the time but heard the calling to return to school to become an occupational therapist.
That decision took the couple to Albuquerque, where Alex enrolled at the University of New Mexico, and Nate took a position with a for-profit long-term care organization for one year. Then, a position opened up at the Society in Albuquerque, and Schema returned to the organization where he’s worked ever since.
Belief in holistic health care
“I think the Good Samaritan Society has made me a better person. It’s strengthened my faith. It’s strengthened my belief in how health care should be delivered more holistically, especially with those who are aging and in need of services,” Schema said.
He and his wife remained in Albuquerque for four years before the Society brought Schema onto an enterprise role overseeing post-acute strategy.
That decision took the couple to Sioux Falls, where he oversaw various operational initiatives for two years and then became the regional vice president (RVP) of operations for Nebraska, a role he remained in for five years.
As RVP of Nebraska, Schema oversaw a portfolio ranging from 18 to 22 locations that served anywhere from 30 to 800 residents. While in this position, he continued to live in Sioux Falls, sometimes commuting as many as six hours to their furthest location in Alliance, Nebraska.
New roles and responsibilities
On Aug. 1, Schema officially began his new role as VP of operations, though he’s essentially been in the position since mid-June.
“In this role, you need to be able not only to go deep, but your breadth of responsibility, your scope, is so much wider,” he said. “The diversity of the role is just so much different.
“I think what I’m excited most about is the opportunity ‘to bring a little more cowbell’ to operations. In other words, mix it up a little bit to get folks engaged and excited.”
When asked what he enjoys most about his work for the Society, Schema says, “I’ve always loved being able to live out my faith while working with good, talented people — like-minded people who are here to serve.”
Leading as coach and mentor
In reflecting on his accomplishments, Schema points to the relationships he’s been able to build.
At the recent Annual Operations Conference, he saw Cynthia Lockhart, a woman he hired when he first started out in Lovington. They hadn’t really spoken for years save for a few emails. Schema consistently promoted her when they worked together, and she continued to rise after he left.
At the conference, while at a picnic at the Sanford House, she gave him a big hug. At that point, Schema said, “I realized that I’m proud of the people I’ve been able to coach and mentor, and they’ve taught me a lot as well.”
Looking forward, Schema expresses his excitement about the integration work with Sanford Health.
“Sanford’s mission and vision is identical. So I think now we’re just able to take it to the next level,” he said.
The integration work, Schema says, gives the Society an opportunity to recalibrate. The new strategy consists of three essential goals: the path to profitability, integrated care delivery, and organizational growth.
“Within those three things, there’s a ton of work and a ton of details,” Schema said. “We need to be open to change, but in doing so, we need to be decisional. I think, in the past, maybe we’ve struggled to tweak and adapt as efficiently and quickly as we should have. We have to have fun along the way, but we have to execute.”
Despite the daunting task before him, Schema sees only opportunity and predicts nothing but success for the Good Samaritan Society. “We’ve always had a great reputation. Some might say we’re a sleeping giant,” he says.
Schema is a firm believer in servant leadership.
“We have to continually remember why we’re here and why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said.
Get to know Nate Schema
- Education: Luther College and Concordia College-Moorhead. He graduated from Concordia’s health care administration program.
- Family: Wife, Alex, and two sons — Jackson, a fifth-grader, and Deacon, a kindergartner. Schema’s mother works in health care, assisting people with developmental disabilities, and his father owns an insurance company.
- Hobbies: Coaching Jackson’s sports teams, playing football and basketball, watching his home-state teams. He can’t wait for the Gophers’ men’s basketball team to play at the Pentagon this fall.