By Kelley Carlson
Pam Ferris has been with Seacrest Village Retirement Communities for more than 20 years, and she’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
First and foremost, the 54-year-old serves as the nonprofit’s president and chief executive officer. She “oversees all corporate functions and sets the strategic direction of the organization consistent with its vision, mission and core values; and formulates — in conjunction with the board of trustees — the current and long-range plans and objectives, and represents the organization in relations with customers, stakeholders and the community at large.”
In other words, “I am accountable for everything that goes on at our two Seacrest Village campuses (in Encinitas and Rancho Bernardo),” Ferris explained.
In addition, she is a licensed nursing home and licensed assisted living administrator, and is currently secretary of the national Association of Jewish Aging Services. Ferris has served on the San Diego board of the California Association of Healthcare Facilities, and has chaired national conferences on aging in San Diego and Las Vegas.
The local resident is also called upon as an expert witness in many cases where the elderly are concerned.
“My goal is to make sure that my staff and I do everything possible to provide for the safety and dignity of those within our communities,” she said. “I want our residents to enjoy their lives and to feel as fulfilled as possible at every age and stage. We have tremendous goals and we work very hard to accomplish them, always keeping our residents at the forefront of everything we do.”
Ferris didn’t initially set out to work in the field of aging. After she earned a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy from Southern Illinois University in 1979, she worked for a year in a psychiatric unit, until she moved to California in 1981. Shortly after her arrival in San Diego, Ferris opted to return to school, at San Diego State University.
While in grad school, she completed a social work internship at the San Diego Hebrew Home on 54th Street.
During the internship, it was suggested to Ferris that she might consider entering the field of nursing home administration.
“I hadn’t thought about nursing home administration as a career,” she said, although she had grown up around a nursing home owned by several family members and was very comfortable around seniors.
Ferris acknowledged that she felt very fortunate to spend a lot of time with both sets of her grandparents since they lived in her hometown -- something not seen often in today’s society.
In 1983, Ferris obtained her master’s degree in social work, with an emphasis on gerontology, and immediately went to work as an associate administrator at a 300-bed nursing home in San Diego.
Then, in 1989, she began working as administrator of the 54th Street Hebrew Home, where she had spent time doing her internship. San Diego Hebrew Homes, now known as Seacrest Village Retirement Communities, is a nonprofit senior housing and health care organization that serves the community in the Jewish tradition.
A year after beginning her work there as administrator, Ferris was relocated to the Encinitas campus to serve as administrator of that community, which was still under construction, and was shortly thereafter promoted to vice president of operations. She became president and CEO in 2000.
During her time at Seacrest Village, Ferris has played a strong role in the growth of the organization, which has included the initial development and expansion of its 10-acre campus in Encinitas, and the opening of its skilled nursing facility in 1990. She was also involved in the 1996 sale of the 54th Street site and acquisition of the Rancho Bernardo facility; the establishment of the 49-apartment assisted living residence and Mel’s Place Coffeehouse in 1998; the memory care wing with 26 units in 2007; and, just last year, the addition of a 30-unit independent living facility and a vitality center that includes a multipurpose room, two pools, a fitness center and a massage room. Ferris noted that the vitality center was recently certified as a North County site for the Arthritis Foundation.
In addition, she has welcomed many groups and organizations to meet in the Encinitas campus’s new community space, which can accommodate up to 350 people. With the increased activity on campus, additional parking is going to become a pressing need, Ferris noted. She explained that the nonprofit has a 1.8-acre site just north of the facility, and though this use has yet to be determined, additional parking is expected to be included in the plans.
Furthermore, under Ferris’ leadership, Seacrest Village has been recognized as a top place to work by Society for Human Resource Management and the San Diego Business Journal on numerous occasions, with 300 employees on the two campuses. And over the years, it has expanded to offer several levels of care, from independent and assisted living to Alzheimer’s/dementia and skilled nursing/rehabilitation/long-term care.
“The beauty of a place like Seacrest is that people do have different options,” she said. “We try to accommodate needs as needs change.
“The whole idea is that when people come to a retirement community like ours, they will be surprised and blown away by what we have,” Ferris added.
However, seniors are waiting too long to move in to such facilities, she said.
“They’re missing the active years in an active community,” Ferris explained. “Sometimes when they come in, it’s too late. They’re still vibrant ... but a little frail.”
She noted that people are living longer - — the fastest-growing demographic in the country is age 80 and older, she added — but they are exhausting their resources and not planning as well for the future. Fears exist of possible Medicare cuts and changes to Social Security.
Ferris said she is proud of the amount of charitable care that the organization provides on an annual basis because of the fundraising efforts of Seacrest Village and the Seacrest Foundation boards. In addition, Seacrest Village cares for individuals who without the generosity of the community could not call Seacrest their “home.”
If anyone has questions or concerns regarding their aging parents, or if there is a crisis, Ferris emphasized that Seacrest Village can be used as a resource.
“It’s not even about the placement of parents with us,” she said. “We’d rather see people proactive than reactive.”
For more information about Seacrest Village, go to www.seacrestvillage.org.