It could have been fate that led Leonard Russ to healthcare. No one will really know. But what it wasn’t was expected.
The 59-year-old took an early career detour that ultimately contributed to his new role as the chair of the American Health Care Association.
“I always had a passion for public policy and writing,” says Russ, a Vassar graduate who planned on law school before he received a scholarship to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in the 70s. “I did that with the possible expectation that I would go back to law school. But when I came out of Columbia, I wanted to do journalism.”
At the start of his career, he wrote hourly news summaries and bylined stories on The Associated Press broadcast desk. He also contributed to The New York Times before a move to CBS for the overnight news program “Night Watch” in 1982. A stint followed as a writer/editor for the “CBS Morning News.”
Russ eyed a career change when his parents, William and Sylvia Russ, contemplated selling Bayberry Care Center in New Rochelle, NY. At the same time, he and his wife, Linda Meyer Russ, then a producer and writer at ABC’s “Good Morning America,” decided two media jobs in the family were too many. He tried Bayberry while consulting for CNN in Atlanta.
What he discovered surprised him.
“I enjoyed all of it,” he recalls. “I enjoy the interaction with families, with patients particularly. Journalism was sort of like the macro where you saw everything from the 30,000-foot level. And here you were sort of in the trenches, affecting people.”
The move resonated with Russ’ father, a Holocaust survivor. The former food service manager had invested his life savings to enter into a healthcare facility partnership.
“The best kind of success is the success that is doing some kind of service to your fellow man,” Russ says. “And I think he found this as a vehicle to do that, and I think ultimately that’s what attracted me.”
The father of two (Dana, 23, and Douglas, 19), Russ continues as administrator at Bayberry and also is a partner in Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation in Fairport, NY. His interest in politics and policy is a driving force behind his 20-year journey to the AHCA chair.
“It just kind of naturally evolved. From my days in journalism I guess I’m kind of a gregarious person. I really enjoy the content, the work and the public speaking part of it,” he says.
Russ is perfectly positioned for AHCA’s next chapter, believes Richard Herrick, CEO and president of the New York State Health Facilities Association.
“Len is an incredibly good listener. He is keenly interested in hearing the details of the issue, of understanding them,” Herrick says. “He really is about making contacts and building relationships with people.”
Russ is ready.
“We need to stand up for the patients to ensure that we’re determined to give them the service that they want and need,” he said. “But we also need to have the government payers understand what that really costs.”
Graduates from Vassar College with degrees in English and political science
Works as writer/researcher for NBC News
Graduates from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Editorial Consultant, CNN
Earns Certificate of Nursing Home Administration from Institute for Continuing Biomedical Education at Beth Israel Medical Center, New York; becomes CEO and administrator at Bayberry Care Center
Becomes partner, Aaron Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Joins AHCA Board of Governors
Becomes AHCA chairman of the board