Profile -- Resolute 'family' man: Paul Diaz, President and CEO, Kindred Healthcare

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It would certainly seem that Kindred Healthcare is living up to its name. The word "kindred," which is synonymous with family, is a good fit for a company that has not only opened its arms to tens of thousands of employees and residents, but also to a range of business opportunities.

"We don't see Kindred as just a long-term care company. We see it as a diversified post-acute company that serves many patients along the pretty fragmented continuum of care," says Paul Diaz, president and CEO, Kindred Healthcare Inc.
Indeed. Besides operating 248 nursing centers in 29 states, Kindred runs 73 hospitals in 24 states.
The Louisville, KY-based company also operates KPS, a growing pharmacy division, and the Peoplefirst Rehabilitation Division, which was launched in January 2004. These four distinct businesses make Kindred among the nation's most diverse healthcare services companies.
"We have clearly seen opportunities to grow. We see a lot of synergies among these divisions, and we believe they're a good place to invest capital," Diaz noted. "It's about providing quality care that reflects our core values and principles of service."
Diaz isn't one to turn down growth opportunities on the personal side, either. At just 43, he's already carved out a remarkable career path.
While practicing law, he befriended a nursing home administrator client who changed his life, and ultimately, his career direction.
That client was the late visionary Harvey Wertlieb, founder of the Wertlieb Educational Institute for Long-Term Care Management. Diaz and Wertlieb -- along with partners Roger Lipitz and Marvin Rabovsky -- started their own company with an 84-bed nursing center in Kensington, MD.
The company became Allegis Health Services and was sold to Mariner Health Group in 1996. Diaz served as CEO and vice-chairman for Allegis and then became executive vice president and COO for Mariner. Kindred recruited him away in 2002.
"I was with Arthur Andersen for some time, so I had good financial skills, and I obviously had the legal part down, which helped quite a bit. But I've had wonderful mentors along the way who helped me in other [key areas] of this business," Diaz explained. "Roger [Lipitz] taught me the business side and Harvey taught me the business from the patient and employee perspective. Then there was Eddie Kuntz (Kindred's former president and CEO, and current chairman of the board), who recruited me to Kindred and helped me understand the broader governance issues -- how to lead, while still allowing people to find their own paths."
Diaz didn't require much grooming for the role, according to Kuntz, who said he was seeking someone with a broad skill set to take over.
"I wanted someone with good managerial and leadership skills, who was clinically attuned and understood the fundamentals of the business," Kuntz said. "That person, without a doubt, was Paul. It gave me a great sense of pride to be able to retire as CEO and have the company not miss a beat."
In some ways, Diaz's path may have been destined for healthcare. Growing up in Miami, he spent many hours in the hospital where his mother worked in the business office. His grandfather was a surgeon in Cuba. He feels he adopted some valuable traits from both.
They taught him a hard work ethic and his mother, a single mother of three boys, helped sensitize Diaz to his own staff's personal issues, he says.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita underscored Kindred's commitment to its family of staff and patients. Aside from executing swift evacuations, Kindred assisted about 250 New Orleans-area employees who work for Kindred Hospital New Orleans or its KPS and Peoplefirst rehabilitation subsidiaries. Kindred also donated $250,000 to The HOPE Fund to assist company employees with urgent needs, and established a job bank within the company's network.
Although Diaz is undeniably pleased with the direction Kindred is taking – most notably, expanding its care services -- he isn't willing to rest on his laurels.
"I think we're still a work in progress. We're in the third or fourth inning," he said, using a baseball analogy that might make his grandfather smile.
When Diaz isn't tending to the Kindred family, he's doting on his own – his wife of eight years, Vicki, and their three children, ages 71/2, 6 and 21 months. Although h