Meet Keri Jaeger, President & CEO of Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice
August 20, 2020
A new leader recently assumed the helm at Mount Evans Home Health & Hospice. She’s a mountain resident of Idaho Springs, a nurse and an incredibly competent health care administrator with a wealth of experience. Her name is Keri Jaeger. Although her name may be new to the broader mountain community, she’s not new to Mount Evans. She’s spent the last three years nurturing a team of more than 60 clinicians as the Senior Director of Clinical Services. Jaeger is credited with gently guiding the organization to a sustainable future that allows our care teams to provide more and better care to the mountain community’s rapidly growing number of patients. While doing so, she earned the genuine love and respect of her team.
We wanted to give the mountain community a chance to get to know her as both a person and as the leader of the largest health care provider in the Denver foothills, so we sat down with her for a one-on-one interview.
Where did you grow up and how did you decide to become a nurse?
I was born in Milwaukee and raised in Okauchee Lake, Wisconsin. I knew since the second grade that I wanted to be a nurse. Our class had a presentation on health care occupations and a nurse spoke to us about her job and I just thought, “Oh, that’s what I want to do.” After graduation from nursing school, I specialized in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. I loved getting to know my patients and their families. I really experienced their highs and their lows taking care of them every day. Even though it’s been decades, I still keep in touch with patients I cared for.
What do you love about nursing?
It’s two fold … I love getting to know people and caring for them which is important to me, but I also really like the technical side of nursing. Nurses provide care and interventions to improve somebody’s life. Those interventions can be to sustain or to improve, but it all comes back to quality of life. Nursing combines emotional support with technical expertise and together they ultimately feed the wholeness of a person.
What made you decide to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA)?
I was actually recruited by a group of neurosurgeons to develop a program for an outpatient spinal cord injury rehabilitation program. That’s where I fell in love with building programs and developing new ways to care for people. It’s the art of combining clinical knowledge with sound strategies. It requires identifying and understanding the needs of the people you are trying to heal and then creating the services to meet that need. I knew that in order to build successful programs and contract with payers, I would need a strong grasp of the business side of health care.
What would you say is the most meaningful advice you’ve received throughout your career that you’ve taken to heart?
I don’t know that it is very heartwarming, but it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. A neurosurgeon I worked with for several years gave me a little plastic dinosaur and he told me to, “Never look behind you, never look at history because there’s always something new and innovative in medicine and clinical care that will improve somebody’s quality of life. I should always look forward to the future and be innovative.” I still have that little dinosaur.
What led you to a life in Idaho Springs?
I started skiing when I was five and every winter my family would come to Colorado. I fell in love with this state and its mountains. When I married my husband Curt, he didn’t ski and neither did our son. I said listen guys, “You have to learn how to ski.” So they did and then Curt fell in love with Colorado too. So when our son graduated from college we packed up and moved to Idaho Springs. The timing was perfect because Centura Health and St. Anthony Hospital were looking for a director of Neuroscience to develop their service line.
How did you develop an interest in hospice and home health care?
I had my first introduction to hospice as a volunteer aide believe it or not. Back when I started doing program development in Milwaukee, I found I was missing my clinical fix or as I like to say ‘my patient fix.’ So when the little local hospital built a hospice house two miles from my home I started volunteering as an aide on Wednesday nights and that’s where I would get my patient fix. I felt like I needed to touch patients once in a while and that’s where I learned what hospice was. At the time, I didn’t know how it worked business-wise, but I loved taking care of the hospice patients as an aide.
One of the best decisions Mount Evans ever made is recruiting you from The Denver Hospice. Describe your experience with the state’s largest hospice provider and why you chose to bring that experience to Mount Evans.
The Denver Hospice asked me to be their Chief Strategy Officer. They were growing fast and furious and needed to answer the question, “What do we look like in our next phase?” They needed to develop as a large organization but maintain a small-town feel. I managed their community outreach, developed partnerships with hospitals and large physician groups, and created a blueprint for growth. I was intimately familiar with Mount Evans before they approached me about a management position. When my mother needed hospice, I reached out to Mount Evans. The team gave her beautiful care. So when Mount Evans called, I knew it was an opportunity to part of an incredible organization.
You are new to your position, but you are not new to Mount Evans. Do you feel that your experience as the Senior Director of Clinical Services give you an advantage in your new role?
Absolutely. I already know that the culture is a fit for me because I’ve already experienced it for three years. Sometimes when you join a new organization, you have to feel your way through the culture that’s already been established. I’ve already done that and for me it is an absolute fit. I know the staff and I know the management team because I’ve worked with all of them. I know about their families, I know what’s going on with them and I know what how much they are capable of accomplishing.
Describe some of the things you achieved with the clinical team during those three years?
I think Mount Evans has always provided quality care, but I don’t know that Mount Evans ever assessed what it was doing. For instance, the organization didn’t look at their re-hospitalization rates and we weren’t tracking how many visits our clinicians were making at end of life in hospice. Those metrics and outcomes are key to high quality clinical care. I think Mount Evans was providing it, but the organization never evaluated how well they were doing it. Now our clinicians know and I think that’s important because it means they know what they’re doing is making a difference. They know that they are providing better and more coordinated care to a rapidly growing number of mountain residents.
What is like to assume leadership of a health care organization during a world-wide pandemic?
Since the start of COVID, I’ve seen such strength and love from the staff. They have stepped up to take care of patients consistently with high quality care and compassion despite all the obstacles and uncertainty. The fear that they may walk into a house with COVID is real, yet they are gearing up and going in. They have such compassion and passion for what they do, that how could I not step into this role, and be a part of that and help lead them?
What are your top priorities for Mount Evans?
I want to make sure that our staff is cared for and that they have what they need to take care of people because that’s what they do best. We need to look closely at health care and payment reforms and how they will affect us. We know they are coming, many sooner than we’d like. We need to be proactive in figuring out what models we can adopt that will ensure that we’re here for another forty years providing high quality care to mountain residents when they need us most.
Let’s end on fun note, name three things you absolutely can’t live without?
My family (husband, our son, daughter-in-law and our grandkids), snow skiing and our crazy dogs Lucy, Liesl and Stella.
As part of Keri’s commitment to transparency, we plan to post a series of blog posts that better explain the pressures facing the hospice and home health industry and the reasoning behind our efforts improve patient care, adjust to health reforms and respond to changing payment models. You’ll find those stories here on our new blog.