When Cathy Murray was 6 years old, she and her aunt were happily playing. But her aunt, a nurse, then noticed something strange when Murray laid close to her — her niece had a heart murmur.
“She told my Mom, ‘You should have that checked out,’” Murray recalls. It was a prudent decision: Murray had a birth defect and needed open heart surgery for pulmonary stenosis.
“I was in the hospital for four months. I went back when I was 16 to meet some of the people who had treated me, and by then some were in a nursing home,” she said. “I felt like there was a lot of need, and things that could be improved.”
The daughter of a farmer/construction company owner and a licensed practical nurse at hospitals near their hometown of Chillicothe, MO, Murray has a younger brother, Chad. After graduating from the University of Missouri, she began her nursing home career with Hillhaven. She arrived at Life Care Centers of America in 1994.
But after years in Tennessee, Murray and her husband, David, relocated with LCCA to Missouri. They sought to raise their children there: Daughter Aimee, 26, has today completed her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Missouri, and son Bryson, is 22 and headed to law school.
By 2009, Murray had helped Life Care Centers achieve various successes and wanted to pursue a “bucket list” item: completing her doctorate.
She also decided to volunteer at Tiger Place in Columbia, MO, a facility known for its work on aging research under the auspices of professor Marilyn Rantz, Ph.D.
“The first day I met Dr. Rantz, she said, ‘You’ve got to do some research with me,” Murray laughs.
Rantz raves about Murray, noting she “is one of my very favorite people to work with.”
“You talk about a leader — this gal knows how to lead,” Rantz says. “She gets the best out of people. There are lots of folks who know long-term care pretty well but they don’t know it nearly as well as Cathy Murray.”
Those sentiments are echoed by LCCA President and CEO Forrest Preston, who lured Murray back last year, first as a consultant and then as chief operating officer.
“Beyond her qualifications, her success is grounded in a passion for the residents and patients we serve and the associates who deliver their care,” he says.
Murray is now on the road around 80% of the time, visiting various Life Care facilities.
“I can make the biggest impact” that way, she says. “I actually prefer being out there and touching the residents.”
Even in her free time, she loves to travel with her family, which includes visits to her father, who is still farming in Missouri at age 76. Her mother died in 2006.
“She was a wonderful woman, and my Dad has been one of the ones I’ve admired,” she says of her role models. “Failure is not in his vocabulary.”
Additionally, “my husband has been a huge support — that’s certainly the only way I could do all this. My children and my Dad also help support me.”
In her free time, the 57-year-old listens to New Age gospel music and reads professional development books such as the “Long-Term Care Leader’s Guide to High Performance.” She’s on a “quest” to build and develop good leaders.
“I really think our administrators and directors of nursing are the key to our facilities,” she says.
It’s a welcome message when it comes from a COO leading with a strong heart.
Graduates from the University of Missouri with bachelor’s degree in health services management
Begins as director of operations at Hillhaven Corporation
Completes MBA at University of Missouri
Begins at Life Care Centers of America as a regional vice president
Named chief operating officer at Life Care
Leaves to pursue doctorate
Awarded Doctor of Education in Learning and Leadership from University of Tennessee.
Starts as researcher with University of Missouri on project to reduce avoidable hospitalizations
Returns to Life Care Centers as consultant, and then COO