Editor’s Note: McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Senior Living are profiling the McKnight’s 2021 Women of Distinction honorees daily July 6 through Aug. 9. To see the 2021 McKnight’s 2021 Women of Distinction awards ceremony, register for free here. For additional profiles of McKnight’s Women of Distinction, visit this page.

Marissa Kalama headshot
Marissa Kalama

Marissa Kalama has known from a young age that she wanted to work with older adults, but her main inspiration came from her own grandmother, someone she calls “Superwoman.”

As soon as she was able, Kalama started to fulfill her goal of being like her grandmother. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with an undergraduate degree in health science and two minors, one in development and family studies and one in sociology. She began volunteering at a senior center nearby during her undergraduate years and got a job in the accounts payable department at Manor Care after graduating. After transferring to the admissions area, Kalama realized that was where she fit in. 

Not long after, she went to the University of Illinois-Chicago to earn a master’s degree in healthcare administration; she also worked at another senior center in the area during the program. After graduating, Kalama worked in a hospital transitions position before finding a position open at Villa Healthcare in Lincolnwood, IL. After serving a few different positions for the company, she moved into her current position as the national director of admissions and Villa referral management.

In 2018, Kalama created the Villa referral management department, something she continues to expand with an eye on company-wide coverage. She manages this team and confronts any new problems or difficulties that arise in admissions. Last year, this responsibility meant helping out with many of the effects of COVID-19 on Villa’s 34 facilities.

Under her guidance in the midst of COVID-19 surges, Villa centers changed their admissions processes based on availability and isolation requirements. There were additional challenges regarding changes within hospitals and how admissions teams were able to view hospital referrals. Two new positions were added to the team to help with new difficulties, and Kalama helped those individuals get up to speed quickly.

Colleagues say Kalama’s diligence is evident by the way she initiated cross-training employees for when others are out sick and she frequently checks in with her team to support them in and out of work. 

Best of all, they say, she has maintained her remarkable levels of compassion and care throughout the most difficult time in U.S. long-term care history.

The McKnight’s Women of Distinction program is jointly administered by McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Senior Living. The program’s Diamond sponsor is PointClickCare, and the Roundtable Sponsor is Paycor.