When Carespring Health Care Management’s first employee tested positive for COVID-19 in late March, worried aides at the Coldspring Transitional Care Center called off in droves.

So CEO Chris Chirumbolo and his leadership team headed out to the 143-bed facility in Northern Kentucky, masked up and worked the front lines under the direction of a devoted director of nursing.

Days later, that image still resonated with a member of the housekeeping team, whose appreciation got back to Chief Operating Officer John Muller.

“Seeing Chris out on the floor was inspiring. Everyone’s scared. For that particular employee, knowing Chris was out there working with residents helped him realize we would get through it,” says Muller, Chirumbolo’s co-worker since 2001.

As of press time, 15 Coldspring employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered. Chirumbolo continues to juggle staff stressors and manage supply issues as the pandemic wears on.

He has been at Carespring’s helm since 2016, and the company has been his home — with colleagues he considers a second family — since 2001. 

The physical therapist completed a geriatrics rotation at Carespring’s Highlandspring facility while still a student at Ohio’s Mount St. Joseph. Always a history buff, Chirumbolo, 42, felt drawn to stay in skilled nursing after patients began sharing their life stories.

“The rapport building, that’s what I love about long-term care,” says Chirumbolo.

Muller taught Chirumbolo during that internship, and he recruited him once the chain had a therapy director opening.

At the time, Carespring was in the midst of its first growth spurt, evolving from two buildings to a six-site regional chain. Under Chirumbolo’s watch, the company has grown to 12 locations with about 2,000 beds.

After pulling long days at Carespring’s headquarters in the Cincinnati suburbs, Chirumbolo typically heads home to watch sons, Sam, 12, and Ben, 9, play soccer, baseball or basketball. He and wife Jaime are also fans of the area’s  beleaguered pro teams and enjoy occasional escapes to rustic Northern Michigan.

Muller calls his boss a “figure-it-outer” but says Chirumbolo is not a micromanager. “He makes decisions that make our operations the best they can be,” Muller says.

It’s a strategy that has paid off for Carespring. The company has maintained a clinically based culture with locations that frequently earn four stars or better overall.

Chirumbolo says he keeps the company grounded by consulting with his three fellow executives, all of whom preceded him at the company, and remembering the legacy of Carespring’s founder, Barry Bortz, who handpicked Chirumbolo for the CEO position before his death in 2016.

He’s also inspired by residents like Art, a veteran in his 90s who pushed himself in therapy after breaking his hip — and explained to Chirumbolo that mental and physical preparedness got him through the Battle of Iwo Jima.

“I’m always trying to better myself — learning from other people who’ve been here and done it,” Chirumbolo says. “It’s very important for me.”

Resume: 2000, Earns Master of Physical Therapy at Mount St. Joseph; 2000-2001, Manages therapy department at The Anderson in Cincinnati; 2001, Takes rehab director job at Carespring; 2006, Advances to executive vice president; 2012, Earns nursing home administrator license; 2013, Becomes chief operating officer; 2016, Takes over as CEO of Carespring; 2017, Named to Cincinnati Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40