Bob Van Dyk

Robert Van Dyk’s journey toward becoming one of the premier long-term care providers in the country began when he was in diapers—and being reared, in part, by nursing home residents.

But he feels it really took wings during a college internship about 20 years later when he worked every non-clinical job possible at a hospital. He mopped the operating room floor, emptied bedpans, wiped bottoms, delivered meals and much, much more. He also collected the wisdom of then-Administrator John Peterson.

“He knew I was going to grad school the following year so he said, ‘Bob, this is the last opportunity for you to really find out how everybody feels in the building, and looks at you as a peer,’” recalls Van Dyk.

Walking the extra miles in scrubs, so to speak, has served Van Dyk well. A detail-oriented, effervescent leader, he knows most of his 650 employees by name.

“I’m a ‘people person.’ I love my staff. I think they’re the most important customer,” he says.

The only person ever to be board chairman of both the National Center for Assisted Living and the American Health Care Association, Van Dyk is highly praised for answering the call after President and CEO Bruce Yarwood suffered a brain aneurysm just three weeks after Van Dyk was sworn in last fall.

“Bob was the perfect choice for this time,” says Angelo Rotella, a friend of 25 years and a predecessor as AHCA board chair. “He moved to Washington (from New Jersey) and was in the office, above and beyond the call of duty” most days each week.

Always “perfectly” dressed, Rotella says, Van Dyk is also known for his finely coiffed hair, mustache and beard. Van Dyk, 57, is famous among friends as an unabashed wine and cigar connoisseur, with huge collections of each. He’s also an avid golfer who stopped playing competitive tennis only in 2004 (due to injury).

Yet he hardly grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth.

When his father, a hospital nurse, bought a 17-bed nursing home when he was just 22, the die was cast. With everyone in his family involved at the facility, Van Dyk was reared in a nursing environment.

“I was the activities program,” he says with a laugh. “The residents literally changed me and taught me to walk.”

After college, he first ran a few hospitals, independent of the family business. But when an uncle fell ill, he accepted his father’s invitation in 1994 to run Van Dyk Health Care, which includes two nursing homes, two assisted living residences, a rehab company, a home care company and more.

Because Van Dyk’s two younger sisters and two children (Kristina, 26, and Reed, 24) are not interested, the family line in the business may end with him.

Van Dyk says the future hopefully holds more time at a small summer home in Vermont, where he hopes to grow grapes someday. (Divorced, Van Dyk has a girlfriend, Elizabeth.)

You might find him there, driving his 1940 red Chevy pick-up truck or working with his hands. Unknown to even close friends, he says he loves power tools and building things.

Then again, his career hardly happened by accident.