Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer

Maybe the key to excelling in today’s skilled nursing landscape lies in looking toward the best practices of restaurants and hotels, rather than your competitors.

That’s at least part of the mindset for Tim Fields, who is the CEO and cofounder of Ignite Medical Resorts. The Illinois company has championed the use of what it calls “Super SNFs” as a way to stand out above their competitors and look a little prettier in the eyes of hospital partners and managed care plans.

Just last week, Ignite held a ribbon cutting and opening celebration for its second facility, in the Northland neighborhood of Kansas City, MO. This latest SNF incorporates “rapid rehab” along with “uncompromising luxury,” the company noted, offering state-of-the-art private rooms, a swanky café, an onsite restaurant with its own executive chef, and a spa with hair and nail services.

Fields — who was an exec with Symphony Post Acute Care Network before venturing on his own — told me he was sick of SNFs being left to fight over healthcare scraps.

 “I’ve found our industry to be very archaic,” he said. “We’re the bottom of the totem pole in healthcare. We’re always getting the last of what comes down the pike from hospitals and physician groups, and I think for us to be able to utilize things from the hospitality industry is very key.”

The Ignite CEO says he likes to set the tone with new employees from the first day. New hires at the Kansas City facility are started off with hospitality-based customer service training, hoping to send a message that “you’re not in a typical nursing home anymore.” They place an added emphasis on everything from smiling when families walk into the building, to being nice to coworkers, and also focus on the concept of being “onstage” when with customers, which is Disney uses with its park employees.

“I think it sends a message when it’s the first thing you hear when you sit down as a brand-new employee is we’re talking about hospitality training and customer service,” he said.

As Fields discussed with our editor, Jim Berklan last year,  technology and data are key to Ignite’s model. With a setup where a lot of residents are coming in and out quickly, caregivers need to understand data in real time, and stay on top of the triggers if a resident’s condition starts moving in the wrong direction. He feels that SNFs for too long have been a “laggard” on the technology front, which is keeping them stuck at that bottom spot on the totem pole.

He was always befuddled why a woman who’s in a hospital to give birth has all sorts of bells and whistles to alert nurses if anything is awry. “Yet, in our industry, we’re taking care of very, very sick 85- or 90-year-old, frail and elderly patients, and we have no technology to help us. We are just sort of hoping that are nurses can catch changes in condition.”

Ignite also has an onsite pharmacy in KC, hoping to cut another old, outdated process of waiting for deliveries to arrive. That way, if they get a new admission at 11 p.m., pain meds are already on hand.there and ready.

Fields is focused on “stepping up our game” and appearing as an attractive partner to hospitals, physicians and other referral partners. He wants to be ready as networks continue to tighten.

Ignite is eyeing further growth, looking to acquire another facility in Kansas City, and break ground next spring on a third there, with two more in the works in Milwaukee and Illinois. Fields doesn’t want to get too big too fast: He believes in the short-term rehab space, being small, nimble and hands on will be to the company’s benefit. He’s not looking to have a hand in everything, preferring to specialize, which is where he believes the industry is headed.

“I think you’re going to continue to see a divide between providers having to pick,” he predicted. “Do they really want to be focused on long-term care and Medicaid, or do they want to be focused on short-term care? It’s hard to have a foot in both buckets. Right now, our industry is becoming very specialized on both sides.”

Follow Staff Writer Marty Stempniak @MStempniak.