Model of Motivation

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Clari Gilbert
Clari Gilbert

Reaching the top of any profession is no easy feat. But for Clari Gilbert, it was just a matter of time.

"I applied for everything in sight," she explains. An immigrant, Gilbert climbed from certified nursing assistant in a hospital to senior vice president of operations at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services in the Bronx, NY. She now oversees four nursing homes and an annual budget of $175 million.

Gilbert's achievements earned her the Professional of the Year Award from the New York Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in May.

"There are a lot of Claris in our field, but she's really pretty special," says NYAHSA President Carl Young, citing Gilbert's dramatic rise from the hospital floor to the corporate office.

One of her huge gifts to the profession is a willingness to share the secrets of her success with others. Gilbert does not miss an opportunity to emphasize the importance of ambition and education.

Mentoring is one of her passions, she says.

"I've always had this thirst for leadership, only because I saw so much in so many people, but so many of them didn't have people to motivate them to do more," says Gilbert, who retains her lilting Caribbean accent.

Because of Gilbert, many have succeeded in rising through the ranks of her organization, often leaving to take a higher position somewhere else.

"She loves to see when you go on," says Almira Cooper, a CNA at Gilbert's facility and a friend since childhood. "She never wants you to stay in one place."

Energetic and approachable (but tough when she needs to be), Gilbert has been an especially important role model for blacks in long-term care. She does not hesitate to say that there are not enough minority leaders. This becomes obvious when attending national conferences, she says.

"At one time, I'd go to the conference and say I can count them on one hand," Gilbert says. "Now, it's two hands."

Because of the lack of black leadership, in fact, Gilbert founded the Black Long-Term Care Executives Group to unite minority administrators and provide mentoring opportunities.

Gilbert, who immigrated to the United States with her husband and two daughters from the island of St. Vincent in 1973, acknowledges success did not come easily. Her daughters say they know the Museum of Natural History in New York and the library intimately. Gilbert would take them there when she needed to study. The struggle has paid off, however, giving her a lifestyle she may not have had otherwise and a rewarding career.

Her advice to aspiring professionals: "Know what you want and go for it."

Initially, Gilbert didn't know she wanted to work in long-term care. She got her first healthcare job as a CNA in a hospital in 1974. She worked there while attending nursing school. A few years later she secured a job as a staff nurse. One older hospital patient whom she grew to adore helped steer her to long-term care, she said. One day after dressing his pressure ulcers, he died. A nurse told Gilbert he died with a smile on his face.

"Mr. Hyman is my credit card. He is always in my heart," she says.

In 1984, she became the director of nursing at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, which later merged with Beth Abraham.

She is credited with bringing culture change to New York City in the 1980s when she set up neighborhoods at CNR and hired neighborhood directors.

Although work fills most of her life, Gilbert, a born-again Christian, also makes time for church. She has four children and four grandchildren. Her husband, Albon, is retired.

Now 60 years old, Gilbert says she would like to retire with her husband and go back to St. Vincent. But she still has a couple nagging goals on her mind: One is earning her doctorate degree. Another is writing a book. She already has a title picked out: "If You Only Knew."

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Clari Gilbert
Senior VP of Operations
Beth Abraham Family of Health Services

Resume
1977
Receives A.A.S. degree in Nursing from New York City Community College, Brooklyn

1982
Earns B.S. degree in Nursing from Long Island University, Brooklyn

1984
Accepts position as director of nursing at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation

1985
Graduates with M.A. degree in Nursing Administration from New York University

1989
Appointed
assistant
executive
director at CNR

1993
Becomes
associate
executive
director at CNR

1996
Named senior VP of operations at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services
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