Sun takes can-do spirit to struggling New Orleans

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James M. Berklan, Editor
James M. Berklan, Editor
Cynical journalists can tell you: It's hard to find pure “feel-good” stories nowadays. Really hard.
Maybe that's why one of Rick Matros' most recent brainstorms comes off as, well, charming. Matros, of course, is the hip 50-something who likes rap music and appears regularly at national long-term care conferences in anything but a necktie or suit.

Oh, he's also the CEO of nursing home giant Sun Healthcare, the robust company he led out of bankruptcy six years ago.

Maybe that last phrase is the key to his latest news-making adventure. Having jumped aboard a wreck of a company, Matros can identify with certain residents of New Orleans on at least one level.

On May 6, he and a work crew of 90 Sun employees from around the country helped tear down and rebuild homes in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Call it a new twist on the rehab game.

The idea came to Matros after he and his wife, Adrienne, and their son, Alex, worked on a service project in New Orleans in 2006 as part of a program at Alex's school. 

“About halfway through working on a house, the woman who had lived there but moved to Houston came back to meet us,” Matros recalled. “It was just unbelievable, holding hands in a circle and everybody's crying.”

Not long thereafter, Sun leaders began to consider their first educational conferences since emerging from bankruptcy in 2002. Why not give some business to New Orleans in 2008, Matros wondered aloud. Event organizers then decided to add the service element. Habitat for Humanity accepted the offer of free help.

Nearly 100 Sun workers — who were picked from 200 who volunteered — arrived a day early for their  educational conference to work on homes. The company picked up the tab for the extra night's hotel stay, and it donated $10,000 to Habitat for Humanity.

Sun leaders might have had to make tough business decisions to save their overall operation over the last few years. But now that they're sitting more comfortably, they're not resting on laurels.
“Caring is the key in life” is the company's newly adopted motto.

“No matter what your job is – taking care of residents or payroll – if you bring that caring attitude to it, it will matter,” Matros said. “Caring is the key in life – beyond our business, to our larger community.”
It's a challenge to find a real feel-good story nowadays. But not impossible.

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