As Tammy Barker, RN, has climbed through the ranks in long-term care nursing, there have been literal obstacles.
In her early career, she was a nurse specializing in home IV therapy in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, where she worked in the Amish community. Everyone was “down to Earth,” but also without modern technology, she recalls.
“They didn’t have phones, so I would ask where the nearest phone was,” she says. “I’m in a skirt and heels, going through a cornfield and crawling through a barbwire fence.”
Her path to becoming a nurse (no matter what) began near Camp David, MD, where she had two sisters, a brother and a large extended family. Her father had a contracting business. A sister who is 12 years older became a nurse.
“I was about six years old and I was intrigued by it,” Barker says of her sister. After becoming a mother, Barker worked in home care, but was then offered a job in a long-term care facility.
“I fell in love. The most interesting people are in geriatrics,” she says. Now 50, she worked for HCR ManorCare for 15 years before joining Kindred Healthcare last year. She is Kindred’s senior vice president of Clinical and Residential Services of its Nursing Center Division.
Barker has been an instrumental part of improving Kindred’s quality rankings, says Michael W. Beal, president of Kindred’s Nursing Center Division, who recruited her.
“She’s very compassionate and driven to improve quality,” he says. “She was a match for us in her skills and personality. I’ve seen her grow this year and accomplish a lot.”
When she took the Kindred position, Barker moved from Michigan to a community outside of Louisville.
“It was a great move for me. The people here are fantastic,” she says. Barker, who is divorced, shares her home with a large gray cat named Flint, and enjoys pursuing a love of gardening in her new home. She also reads “anything I can get my hands on,” which recently has included Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner, “The Goldfinch.”
Barker says her biggest career challenge has been balancing work and home life. Her daughter, 25-year-old Ashlee, is now in a molecular biology doctoral program at University of Alabama-Birmingham.
“I am exceedingly proud of her,” Barker says. “My daughter and I are very, very close, and she said to me in this past year she sees me as a role model. She said she was proud of me, and that overwhelmed me. She’s seen me move to pursue things I wanted to do.”
That pursuit includes Six Sigma training through Villanova University, which is impressive to do while balancing a challenging job, says Steven Littlehale, RN, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at PointRight. He says Barker has an ability to balance technical details with real-life applications.
He worked with her during her time at HCR ManorCare, and notes she “can go super-deep into the data but then turn it into what a facility can do to improve. Usually, that is two separate people,” he says. “She is very professional and organized.”
Barker, who agrees she is “pathologically organized,” says she’s been impressed with the Kindred team. The feeling is mutual.
“We’ve moved our quality rankings up, and I give a lot of that credit to Tammy,” Beal says.
Graduates from Lancaster General Hospital School of Nursing, receives associate’s degree from Franklin and Marshall College
Joins Barge Ganse Venacare as an RN/IV therapist
Starts as assistant director of nursing at Lancashire Hall
Joins HCR ManorCare as director of nursing services
Becomes director of Clinical Services at HCR ManorCare, covering 24 centers in Pennsylvania
Assistant VP of Quality Support Services at HCR ManorCare
Moves to Kindred Healthcare as Senior VP, Clinical and Residential Services of its Nursing Center Division
Continues to pursue Six Sigma Black Belt through Villanova University