Profile: Idriz Limaj
Idriz Limaj, COO, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Post Acute Division, LifeBridge Health
As the oldest of eight children growing up in Macedonia, Idriz Limaj, RN, understood the importance of taking care of people. While he planned to become a physician and had completed vocational nurse training, at age 17 his plans changed after his father had a stroke and became bedridden.
“I had to find a job,” Limaj says. He's now the chief operating officer at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore. But 20 years ago, he was working long hours at a coffee shop in Macedonia, making $150 a month.
A family friend convinced him to apply to an international aid group working with refugees from the Kosovo war. Limaj had learned English largely from watching movies, and his nursing skills were in demand. Being paid every week — and the concept of advance pay — was amazing, he remembers.
In Kosovo, he met a UN volunteer, Michelle, and the pair began dating. After he visited the U.S., they married, and Limaj dove into completing his education in Boston.
“I was trying to move into the nursing field,” he says. He worked full-time, first as a CNA, then LPN and finally a registered nurse at a Cambridge hospital, while also studying to obtain a bachelor's degree in a full-time program.
“I slept in the parking lot a lot,” he says. He'd change into scrubs and splash water on his face as he went between school and home. While he received scholarships, he also was thrilled to learn about “time and a half” pay for nurses.
“Anytime I was at home, I felt like I was losing money,” he says with a laugh.
Limaj, 38, landed his first management job at Hebrew Senior Life in Roslindale, MA, where he started as a charge nurse and became an operations leader in 2009.
By 2012, he had completed his MBA and become Hebrew Senior Life's Chief Nursing Officer and director of Resident and Family Care Services. Paul Hollings, who was Hebrew Senior Life's executive director at the time and is now the administrator at Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services in Lawrence, MA, says Limaj showed “a lot of leadership ability, and he was always reading everything.”
“He takes things seriously, but never himself seriously,” Hollings says. “In 15 years, everyone will know his name.”
Limaj's path to Baltimore and Levindale began in early 2015, when he met with LifeBridge Health CEO Neil Meltzer and Sinai Hospital president Amy Perry. That led him to Brian White, the vice president of post-acute services at LifeBridge Health.
“I wanted someone who was progressive, dynamic and had experience with continuum of care,” White says. “I was having a hard time finding it and Neil and Amy called me and said, ‘All of those things you wanted in someone? We think we just met him.'”
His current job is not without challenges, specifically being apart from his wife and three children: Annika, 12, Malin, 10, and Axel, 5. The brood continues to live in Massachusetts with the family dog, Sierra, and Limaj travels back every weekend. He also calls his mother in Macedonia on the way to and from work to “stay true.”
He says he gains energy from being around people. But in his down time, Limaj says he's “a news junkie” and loves America and its politics, although his wife has put her foot down about him ever running for office. He devours management books, and continues to want to tackle new projects.
“I never say no,” he says, “unless it's illegal or unethical.”