Seven-foot tall people might be common in professional basketball, but they are a rare sight elsewhere, including long-term care.
So chances are, the next time you see a guy who stands head-and-shoulders above the crowd at American Health Care Association gatherings, he is going to be its new board chair, Rick Miller. At 7-foot-1-inch, the Portland, OR, native is used to hearing comments about his extraordinary height. He is usually quite self-effacing about it.
“My dad, who was 6-foot-5, was a pilot for Continental Airlines and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Miller recalls. “I wanted to fly fighter jets for the Air Force, but you’ve got to be short enough to fit in the cockpit. Obviously, I wasn’t.”
Unlike many other tall people, Miller’s growth was due to a medical problem, specifically a pituitary tumor that caused him to grow uncontrollably during his teenage years. The answer to the inevitable question about whether he played basketball is “yes”, but the tumor hampered his ability to advance beyond high school sports.
He underwent a successful surgery to remove the growth, as well as multiple knee operations. In fact, he said spending so much time in the medical environment was what prompted him to seek a career in healthcare.
While Miller is able to take the height issue in stride, he also wants people to see the dynamic personality inside the extra-large frame. He is, after all, an enterprising figure. He’s paid many dues, serving in a diverse series of healthcare administration roles and building a unique business model at his 12-year-old company, Avamere Health Services.
“What really stands out about Rick is his strategic mind and role as a visionary leader,” says one of Miller’s business partners. “He’s one of those rare people who sees the future ahead of everyone else, who understands what our customers want and establishes a plan to get us where we need to be.”
After graduating with a business degree from the University of Oregon and subsequently earning an MBA from Portland State, Miller’s goal was to manage a hospital. Although he applied for “40 or 50” positions, he got only one call – from an aging Portland nursing facility about a bookkeeper’s job.
“That was my first foray into long-term care,” he recalls. “Although it was an old facility, I realized it was an environment where you could make a difference in someone’s life, and I fell in love with it.”
The last 20 years have been filled with a variety of endeavors for Miller, who admits to having a number of failures along the way. He says the most prominent came when he left long-term care for hospital administration.
“I tried my hand as the director of development for a hospital but it didn’t work out,” he concedes. “There were two reasons for that – one is that I was in my 20s and didn’t know how to ask older people for money, and the second was that I wasn’t very good at the politics.”
Avamere is obviously his biggest success. It is especially notable for its novel business structure. Both a provider and vendor, Avamere offers six levels of care: home healthcare, independent living, assisted living, dementia care, skilled nursing and hospice. As a vendor, the firm furnishes contract rehabilitation services and mobile imaging equipment.
Miller expects the dual business perspective will give him another kind of view from above, so to speak, for his new role as AHCA chairman.
While he casts a long physical and figurative shadow in the long-term care industry, he also wants to be known as a dedicated family man. He says he prefers to spend his leisure time with sons Troy, 18; Zachary, 10; and daughter Samantha, 14. Devotion to family, he says, is the most valuable lesson he learned from his grandfather Karl, an Avamere resident who died at age 83 last year.
“He taught me that the key to life is pretty simple: You work hard, you treat people right and be a good provider and protector of your family.”
Receives bachelor’s degree in business from University of Oregon; subsequently earns MBA from Portland State
After a series of stints in long-term care and acute care administration, leads successful turnarounds at skilled nursing facilities in Lebanon, OR, and Hillsboro, OR
Begins a 12-year “50-yard dash” as founder of Avamere with one skilled nursing facility; gradually adds independent living, assisted living, home healthcare, dementia care and hospice services along with a medical distribution component
Named board chair of the American Health Care Association