Villa Healthcare celebrates Marissa Kalama, National Director of Admissions and Villa Referral Management (VRM), on her win for 2021 McKnight’s Women of Distinction Rising Star. McKnight’s Long-Term Care News created the “Women of Distinction” honors to recognize those who inspire others in the skilled nursing world through their powerful positive influence on residents and colleagues. For the second year, Villa Healthcare has been honored with two winners in the Women of Distinction awards.
“Marissa is a Woman of Distinction, not only for McKnight’s, but for all she encounters. Marissa is kind and thoughtful, while encouraging the best from her team and colleagues. Marissa is a teacher and mentor to many. Marissa is deliberate and thoughtful in her actions, yet is able to move in a fast-paced field within skilled nursing. I am proud to work with Marissa, excited about the work she’s doing and know there is even more greatness to come.” Avi Lev, Chief Marketing Officer
Marissa always knew she wanted to work with seniors, but her life experiences have made her the perfect candidate for the Villa Referral Management leader. Her Grandma, whom she fondly refers to as Superwoman, sparked her interest in working with seniors.
Marissa received her Bachelor’s in Health Science from University of Missouri-Columbia with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies and a minor in Sociology. During her undergraduate education, she volunteered in Activities at Lenoir Woods Senior Center, in Columbia, Missouri. Post-graduation, she started working in Accounts Payable at ManorCare in Wilmette, Illinois, then moved to Admissions where she found her passion. Marissa knew from an early age that she wanted to work with seniors but was unsure of in what capacity. The quick pace of Admissions, along with the need for organization and problem-solving skills, were a perfect match for her abilities. Marissa went back to school to get her Masters in Healthcare Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She worked at North Shore Senior Center in Northfield, Illinois as a Case Manager during her graduate program.
After graduating from UIC, Marissa worked in Hospital Transitions at Transitional Care of Arlington Heights. When a position at Villa Healthcare (then in Skokie, Illinois) opened in January 2017, Marissa joined the team in Revenue Assurance, then transitioned to Admissions Consultant. Utilizing her experience with Admissions, Social Services and managing transitions in nursing care, Marissa created the Villa Referral Management department in August 2018 and was promoted to Director of Referral Management. In October 2020, Marissa was promoted to National Director of Admissions and Villa Referral Management (VRM).
In 2020 Marissa and her team grew VRM to aid expansion to reach all 34 centers affiliated with Villa Healthcare. She supports the VRM department, which consists of a team of three pods with 17 employees to review referrals seven days a week. COVID-19 challenged every department within the skilled nursing facility world, but perhaps referrals and admissions more than most. COVID-19 brought changes in health care coverage from insurance organizations and managed care groups, as well as information needed in patient charts. Villa centers changed their admissions processes, based on bed availability and state isolation requirements. At the same time, there were increases in referrals, authorizations and admissions due to over-crowding in hospitals and long-term clinical care needs for COVID patients.
Marissa utilized this time to demonstrate her leadership skills and abilities. Marissa’s focus was to turn the challenges into positives. For example, when faced with an increasing number of staff illnesses, she created cross-training programs within the team to make sure needs were always met. She credits her success in dealing with a high-stress, ever-changing environment to three main factors: open and honest communication, ongoing and evolving training, and flexibility to meet the changing needs. Marissa is more than a support to her team inside the work environment. She also frequently does check-ins with her team to offer support and guidance outside of work. Marissa and her team will be ready for the challenges of 2021 after weathering (and conquering) 2020.