David Horazdovsky knew he had found the right line of work after he met Bertha. It was the late 1970s and the somewhat fussy, elderly nursing home resident was always looking for attention from the 23-year-old intern. One day after coming back from the hospital with a diagnosis of terminal cancer, she simply asked him to hold her hand. It was an intensely moving experience for the young employee. “I learned early on that this isn’t about me; it’s about other people. It’s about reaching out to fellow human beings and realizing early on that, boy, there’s no greater calling than this,” says Horazdovsky, president and chief executive officer of The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, the largest nonprofit nursing home chain in the country.
He is in charge of some 27,000 residents in 24 states, but it is thoughts of individuals like Bertha that keep him grounded in his work.
“It’s so important to me that I keep the faces of our residents in my mind and keep that focus that whatever I do as president and CEO … it’s all about the residents we’re caring for,” the 49-year-old says.
Since taking the helm of Good Samaritan two years ago, he has been trying to steer the Christian-based organization in its mission of sharing “God’s love in word and deed.” (Founded in 1923 by the Rev. August Hoeger, it started in a six-room house with the goal of caring for epileptic children. It has since changed its purpose to senior care and has grown to 240 locations.)
Due in part to diminishing Medicaid reimbursements, Good Samaritan has stopped expanding its skilled nursing units and is instead concentrating its efforts in the areas of senior housing, residential services and home- and community-based services. The organization also is focused on improving its satellite learning capabilities and other methods of technological outreach.
His organization’s greatest strength lies in its 24,000 employees who have a passion for the mission and ministry, Horazdovsky says.
Not surprisingly, he finds inspiration in people he encounters every day. Mother Teresa is a hero to him because of her humility and her approach to caring for people one at a time.
Widely described as quiet and thoughtful, Horazdovsky said he has always been a person who likes to observe and listen. While not outgoing, he has a good sense of humor, says Dan Holdhusen, vice president for public affairs at the organization.
He “is not flamboyant and doesn’t draw attention to himself,” Holdhusen says, adding the CEO makes decisions after listening to those around him and weighing options carefully.
“He has that ability to make you feel like you are the most important person in the room,” says Rich Cartney, administrator at the Betty Dare Good Samaritan Center in Alamogordo, NM.
A married father of four, Horazdovsky’s Lutheran faith is central to who he is as a person and what his work is about.
He does not think he could have worked more than 25 years at the Society “if I didn’t have my faith to be centered around. That’s key for me,” he says.
The son of an auto mechanic growing up in St. Paul, MN, Horazdovsky first learned about long-term care through a pastor who was the administrator at Lyngblomsten, a nursing home in St. Paul. Horazdovsky would drop the pastor off at the facility before servicing the pastor’s car.
The third of five brothers, Horazdovsky attended Concordia College, a Lutheran school in Moorhead, MN, and earned a bachelor’s degree in hospital administration. When he had to do an internship between his junior and senior years, he chose a nursing home instead of a hospital. He picked Lyngblomsten.
On May 5, 1978 – just one day after graduating college — he received an offer for an internship from Good Samaritan. The path has been straight up since – including serving as an administrator at three facilities and becoming regional director for Minnesota. In 1997, he became Good Samaritan’s vice president for operations and chief operating officer, and then the top executive in 2003.
Frequently having to travel to his facilities around the country, Horazdovsky finds solitude from his work in his second home on Lake Ida in northern Minnesota. He says he does not believe he could do what he does today if he had not been on the front lines first.
Even with a lofty position, Horazdovsky has kept his personal touch, says Elizabeth Ekholm, director of church relations for Lyngblomsten. She met Horazdovsky when he was a college intern there.
He was “one of the most personable people I ran into,” she says, adding, “You feel as though you’ve known him for a long time.”
Recently, she asked him to speak at the home’s annual meeting this May. The meeting’s theme is “Standing Firm in Our Faith Tradition.” She believes Horazdo