Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital CEO Nick Nilest defines the hospital’s mission and dedication to patient recovery.
By: Jessica Dusek
Photos by: Mark Joseph/Darklab Photography
“He thinks he is a lap dog,” says Nick Nilest of his Great Dane, Gatsby. “He is my life away from the hospital,” he explains of his 2-year-old “gentle giant.” Overseeing Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital (CCRH), the CEO admits that at times, he’s painted with Gatsby’s slobber as he strolls into work. As Gatsby is accompanied by Nilest’s adopted cat, Daisy, there is no coincidence to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s connection to “The Great Gatsby,” which remains one of Nilest’s favorite books. “I read anything I can get my hands on,” he explains.
This is evident as Nilest describes his schooling. The Louisville native frequented the Kentucky Derby, growing up down the street from the famous annual event. Completing his undergraduate degree with a B.A. in Health Sciences at the age of 23, he simultaneously finished his doctoral work in physical therapy in an impressive five-year span. Nilest graduated from Bellarmine University in 2008.
As CEO of CCRH, he works to ensure members of the community receives the highest level of care – and know their options. Nilest boldly adds that he wants people to “know the centers of excellence in [their] community.” The facility houses 35 beds, with patients staying on average of 14 days.
“We are nationally certified in stroke rehabilitation by the Joint Commission, which means we are dedicated to better results for our patients,” he explains. “With strokes, time is of the essence. I want people to be informed before they have to be informed. If something bad happens tomorrow, I want people to be prepared.”
Point of inspiration: understanding patients
“I was in sports growing up,” Nilest says. After he experienced an injury during his sophomore year of high school, he was forced to take a break from sports. “It was very debilitating,” Nilest explains. “There were nine months of physical therapy. I had to be dedicated to go three times per week.” He recalls in appreciation, “I still remember my therapist’s name, Tim Nichol.”
The catalyst guided Nilest to his career and to both CCRH and community involvement. He sits on the board of the American Heart Association and Big Brothers Big Sisters Program. He graduated from the Leadership Corpus Christi Class 44, was nominated as one of Corpus Christi’s “40 under 40” and is involved in the Corpus Christi Rotary and Chamber of Commerce. He requotes his favorite Gandhi wisdom: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Drawing from his personal experience of care and his work as a clinician, a plan of action is what he emphasizes most. “Being proactive about your health – not reactive – is what’s important,” explains Nilest of having a plan. When unexpected injury such as stroke or heart attack takes place, family members can have difficulty finding a quality solution quickly. Nilest notes the warning signs of a stroke in an acronym called FAST:
Being able to recognize when people are having a stroke is key. Identifying when individuals’ faces droop or they have arm weakness or speech difficulties, and understanding time is of the essence are necessary in the case of a stroke. Referencing stroke education and a plan for future care, Nilest emphasizes, “It is important [patients] know they have a choice.”
CCRH is the only freestanding center in town.“I fell in love with this company,” explains Nilest of the organization’s structure and purpose. At just 29, he was appointed CEO of CCRH after spending time as the director of therapy operations in the company’s Laredo facility for six years.
After acquisition in 2013, CCRH quickly improved its success. Bringing nationally recognized patient care to Corpus Christi, Nilest explains, “We ranked in the 16th percentile nationally among inpatient rehabilitation facilities, meaning we had a lot of room for improvement. In 2014, we moved up into the top 10 percent and remain there today for the second consecutive year.”
Improving facility conditions and bringing on the right staff members have advanced the company’s ranking. According to Nilest, there is a focus on “having people with the right mentality – staff that are people driven, here to help and serve and genuinely care about getting people back on their feet and to their families – people who truly believe we do this for our patients, not a paycheck.”
Nilest continues enthusiastically: “Our patient satisfaction is off the charts. If we get a survey that is bad, that’s the one I want to know about and look into. It’s the details. We are only as good as our most recent patient satisfaction survey.” Qualitative feedback helps improve policy, according to Nilest, who adds that, “when you think about a hospital, it can be a scary place. But with us, if you have a special request, we will meet it. We will do whatever we can to meet a patient or family member’s needs.”
Understanding the patients’ lifestyle before their recovery is essential. Nilest and his staff will ask questions such as, “What were you doing before entering the hospital? Did you drive? Were you riding horses? We want to get you back to that point!”
Nilest’s passion heightens his standard of patient care, which is also outlined in the company’s guiding principles. Each principle is reinforced to staff members and supports the hospital’s dedication to patient care. The organization also demonstrates organizational business transparency to the community. When in question, “if I go read those nine principles, the answer is going to be there.”
1. We treat all patients and employees with dignity and respect.
2. We value teamwork; respect is earned, not assigned based on job title or position.
3. We are only as good as our last patient outcome; therefore, we constantly strive to improve our patients’ and functional gains.
4. We are first and foremost passionate patient caregivers and team members, connected at our core by the treatment needs of our patients.
5. We embrace the ever-present challenge of achieving maximum, measurable patient outcomes through the provision of affordable, cost-effective care.
6. We promote a nurturing and healing environment at each of our facilities, responding to the medical physical and psychological and social needs of our patients.
7. We respect the regulatory environment in which we operate; compliance and quality performance audits will be built into the growth of all business lines.
8. We recognize our duty as a corporate citizen, with a charitable intent toward each of the communities that we serve.
9. We are mindful of our fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders, providing a reasonable return on our investors.
How they work
“We will send someone out to see you in the doctor’s office, a hospital, at home, etc.,” Nilest says. “We will send out a clinician to talk to you and evaluate your need for our service. There is no limitation to where we can go to reach someone needing our care.”
Providing a care plan, the organization creates a customized plan specific to each patient’s needs. Stressing the importance of diet and lifestyle, recovery is based on the patient’s willingness to regain his or her desired lifestyle. “The positive attitude – you have got to be willing to buy in and make a lifestyle change,” says Nilest, who finishes with a surge of honesty and sincerity: “I hope no one ever needs our services – but should you ever need to come to our facility, you will be in good hands.”