Executive Director’s Path Leads to Fulfillment in an Unlikely Place

When Clayton graduated college in 1987 with a business degree, he had visions of Wall Street. “A Bud Fox life, minus the lapse in integrity, was where I thought I was headed,” says Clayton. He went to work as an Account Executive with an investment banking firm. A year and a half later, Clayton left that position somewhat disillusioned and without a sense of fulfillment. Continuing on his sales path, Clayton went to work as an account representative for a telecommunications company, but he didn’t find that very fulfilling either. Eventually, he decided to nurture his entrepreneurial side and started a yacht management business in southern California. He says, “we had success in this venture but after a few years, I felt a strong pull to return to the motherland, Wisconsin.” 

He landed in Marshfield, WI where he met his future wife, however, there was little opportunity there that would allow him to use his experience. It was then that Clayton responded to a blind ad for student loan repayment; it was the National Guard. He signed up to be a trained combat medic and eventually a Practical Nurse. 

Clayton’s first clinical rotation was in a skilled nursing facility. He remembers, “I was very nervous. I had preconceived notions based on my few, unpleasant experiences as a child having visited a great uncle in a nursing home in the early/mid 1970’s.

It was during this first clinical rotation where a sense of fulfillment dawned! I knew this was where I wanted to work. At some point I noticed an individual wearing a suit, I asked ‘What does he do here?’ I was told he is the Nursing Home Administrator, so I asked, ‘How do I become one?’”

Clayton spend the next 18 months working as an LPN at a skilled nursing facility in Marshfield, splitting his full-time scheduled between the short-term rehab and dementia units. It was then that he also realized he had a passion for dementia care. About this time, an opportunity as an Administrator-In-Training became available. Clayton was then promoted to AIT and began the Nursing Home Administrator program at UW-Madison. A year later, Clayton accepted the Administrator position at Weyauwega Health Care. Over the next 23 years, he would serve many roles, including traveling nurse, Executive Director, Regional Director of Operations and Consultant. To this day, Clayton still holds an active nursing and NHA license in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

Even with the stress and strain of COVID-19, Clayton still looks forward to each day serving those in need and who appreciate what they do so much. Clayton often recalls this memory, “I was having one of those days where one wonders, why do I do this? On this particular day, I stopped in to visit a new resident who I had not met. I noticed many photos on her dresser. Thinking I’d spend five minutes reminiscing with her about those photos, I asked her a few questions to which she readily responded. After a moment she said, ‘Well, let me show you these.’ She got up and reached under her bed for a box of photos which she was so happy to share with me. I knew this would be more than a five-minute visit. After 20 minutes or so of wonderful conversation, I felt my duties calling. I thanked her for her time, and she thanked me for mine. As I walked out of her room, I remembered exactly why I do what I do.”

Over the years Clayton has worked for several different organizations, some where he could not wait for his feet to hit the floor so he could go to work. Other organizations were not quite like that, however, all of the buildings were full of people who are someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, grandparent, friend. In the best organizations Clayton says he’s worked for, this notion is woven into the fabric of their culture. In his first year at North Shore Healthcare, Clayton saw that this core value to treat everyone like family is evident in the actions of all leaders he met, and certainly in this his center’s staff and the staff of those centers he has since visited. 

“Although my path to Long Term/Post-Acute care was more happenstance than a willful, planned course, it is a chance happening I would not change. The convergence of a business degree and a nursing license was certainly a potent combination for launching a career path. Every day is challenging and fulfilling, with opportunity to share skills and experiences with a very appreciative and wonderful group of people, our seniors.”