(Editor’s note: This is an expanded version of the story that appeared on page 58 of the print edition of the April 2019 issue of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.)

Kimberly D. Green, Chief Operating Officer, Diakonos Group

It’s not always easy for healthcare workers to continually walk in the proverbial shoes of the resident. But for Kimberly D. Green, losing sight of the resident is an outright impossibility.

She’s a medical speech language pathologist and Medicare and reimbursement specialist who also has more than 30 years of experience in other healthcare roles, from nursing assistant to provider to contractor to corporate executive.

On March 15, 2011, a horrific car crash landed Green in the role of patient. On the way home from a family vacation, a tractor trailer collided with the truck she was traveling in with her two school-age daughters and her then fiancé.

To the amazement of Oklahoma highway emergency crews, her family escaped the accident virtually unharmed, but Green suffered life-threatening injuries: a femur and pelvis fractured in three places, a hip broken in two places, a broken sternum and hand, fractures to every rib, a lacerated liver and collapsed lung, a cut cornea, third degree burns over nearly half her body, and a traumatic brain injury.

The odds weren’t in her favor and her grueling recovery involved a 10-day intensive care unit stay, numerous surgeries, five months of daily deep wound care to save her arm, and countless hours of therapy.

“Aside from being in the worst pain of my life, I was grieving my loss of independence,” recalls Green.

The brain injury caused aphasia for a period and took her longer to process thoughts and responses. “I saw how uncomfortable some people become when you don’t respond correctly or [in a normal timeframe]. They smile, politely touch your arm and say, ‘Good to see you,’ before walking away. I felt like the world was leaving me behind, and that’s how many of our patients feel every day.”

Pain as a teacher

Following her hospital stay, Green spent a month in an in-patient rehabilitation facility. She experienced firsthand the challenges of being on the receiving end of therapy and how it seemed easier some days to throw in the towel than experience the physical and emotional pain, exhaustion and frustration.

“I thought of the therapy patients we worked with who were in terrible pain and I realized my perspective as a patient would make me better professionally.”

Following her rehab hospital stay, Green was sent home with what amounted to a single home health rehabilitation visit. “They said I was young and had family to support me, so they left my fiancé with a packet of exercises and never returned,” she recalls. “It was absolutely terrifying. I was non-weight bearing on my upper and lower body for five months.” She relied on her fiancé for help with virtually every physical task.

She also leaned on her therapist friends who helped with electrical stimulation, gait training, ultrasound and more. It was nearly a year before she could walk without an assistive device and perform other activities of daily living without help, such as showering, dressing and toileting.

Therapy continues today, as needed. The corneal injury left her legally blind in her right eye and she still experiences short-term memory loss, which she manages well with compensatory strategies.

New beginnings

On March 30, 2013, one year and 15 days after the accident, she and her fiancé married, and the following year, Green gave birth to another healthy daughter, despite being told she would never be able to carry another child due to her accident injuries.

Her other “baby,” her beloved career as an educator and consultant, kept her ingrained in the profession she loved. Then a visit from Scott Pilgrim, owner and CEO of Diakonos Group LLC, while Green was on maternity leave led to an offer she couldn’t refuse: serving as the company’s chief operating officer.

Today, in addition to managing operations for the company’s 20 buildings, she also runs Diakonos Group’s consulting division, Senior Health Strategies, where she consults and educates on Medicare, RAC, RUG-IV/MDS 3.0, restorative nursing, dementia management, rehabilitation, senior mental health and long-term care.

“Kimberly is absolutely dedicated to improving our profession. She could have easily stayed in her path as a consultant, telling others what they should do … but she chose the far more difficult path of becoming engaged in actual operations,” says Pilgrim. “She invests herself personally in improving the lives of our direct care staff.

Green is actively involved in healthcare associations in her home state of Oklahoma. She currently serves on the board of the Oklahoma Health Care Association and the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma, and on the Housing Committee, Aging Taskforce and the Board Development Committee for the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma.

She wrote a restorative training program and manual for Oklahoma, Georgia and Nebraska healthcare associations, and continues to teach restorative classes for the three states. Beyond that, she passionately advocates for the profession at the national and state level, speaking with legislators on the needs and funding for geriatrics and mental health.

“Kimberly is a visionary and her steadfast devotion to long-term care is extraordinary. She always had this tremendous talent and persistent desire to touch everyone in our industry through her inspirational stories of courage and leadership,” says Mendee Rock, vice president of membership services for the Georgia Health Care Association. “Kimberly has taken her own story of her remarkable journey of recovery and all the people who tirelessly cared for her along the way to affirm that we all possess within ourselves the ability to choose to step forward, embrace challenges and make a significant difference in the lives of our residents and colleagues.”

Alive Day

Green calls the day of her accident her “Alive Day” and openly reflects on it each year. She does this not to relive the painful details of the accident but to remind herself of all the blessings from that day – from surviving what many would consider an unsurvivable accident to the enlightenment and perspective gained from becoming the patient and experiencing firsthand the challenges, frustrations and growth that can be associated with it.

She credits seatbelts for saving her and her family’s lives. She adds that her Christian faith and the love and support she received throughout her recovery helped her see the bigger picture: how beauty and unique perspective can come from life’s most difficult experiences.

“I’ve been on so many sides and have gained so many different perspectives,” she says — from nursing assistant to therapist to consultant/educator to executive and, of course, patient.

“I always wanted to be a positive change agent and that desire is even more intense today. I have all these different perspectives that have made me better, and I can use that to make a positive difference.”


Resume

1994

Completes Bachelor of Science degree in medical speech language pathology from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma

1995

Earns Master of Education degree in medical speech language pathology from NSU

1995

Serves as a clinical specialist for Rehabworks 

2003

Joins Peak Medical Corp. as VP of rehabilitation services 

2005

Becomes COO of Summit Rehab LLC

2008

Serves as CEO/owner of Eli Healthcare Consulting until 2013

2009

Joins Kissito Healthcare Corp. as SVP of post-acute services 

2013

Becomes COO of Diakonos Group LLC

2016

Earns Tulsa’s Women of Distinction award 

2019

Appointed to the Long Term Care Advisory Group by the Oklahoma Speaker of the House