Name: JoAnne Reifsnyder, PhD, RN
Title: Senior Vice President, Clinical Operations and Chief Nursing Officer at Genesis HealthCare
Advice to the Next Generation of Caregivers: Reifsnyder believes that the time has never been better to pursue a healthcare career because there is such a need for talent and skill, and demand is growing as our population ages. The skills she thinks are needed are effective teamwork that uses everyone’s unique skills and mindfulness in practice.
Interesting Facts: In her spare time, Reifsnyder enjoys practicing yoga and painting, which give her an outlet for creative expression and also help keep her grounded.
Schwartz Center Activities: Reifsnyder first learned of the Schwartz Center and Ken Schwartz’s legacy of compassion in the early 2000s, when she and a physician colleague developed the Schwartz Center Rounds® program at the University of Pennsylvania Health System/Presbyterian Hospital. She helped support the integration of the program at Genesis HealthCare.
“Compassion is being fully present to another human being. It’s not about solving people’s problems in that moment. It’s about being there for them. Connection with people during intimate moments of compassion can completely change the way they feel in the moment, so that the fears may be allayed and hope may be nurtured.” – JoAnne Reifsnyder, PhD, RN
“I think one of my uniforms will fit you. Please put one on and come down here. I need you,” said her mother.
Heeding her request, JoAnne Reifsnyder donned a uniform and headed to the small nursing home set in a historic stone mansion where her mother worked as the director of nursing. Reifsnyder was only in high school at the time, but still vividly recalls her first impression.
“I got to enter this world that was just incredibly beautiful, and met older adults who had stories to tell and life in their eyes,” says Reifsnyder. “I was captivated.”
It was also the first time she saw her mother in action, tending to each person and being fully present in each encounter.
“She is a very patient listener,” says Reifsnyder. “She is not a person who would step into a clinical situation and think that she was there to tell people what to do, but rather took a position of listening deeply first, and then moving to action and creating a care plan that really supported the person’s needs.”
Reifsnyder observed how something magical happened in her mothers’ relationships with residents where the recipients of her care felt completely reassured and compassionately cared for.
“My mother had an impact on people and that was really inspiring to me,” she says. With that in mind, Reifsnyder decided to go to nursing school after high school.
Thirty-five years later and following a variety of rewarding career posts in nursing, leadership, health policy, teaching and curricula development, Reifsnyder is now the senior vice president of clinical operations and chief nursing officer at Genesis HealthCare.
She feels fortunate to have the opportunity to help set the tone and context for much needed healthcare conversations in the U.S. to help advance person-centered care.
“What is truly person-centered care and how do we operationalize that in our complex system?” Reifsnyder asks. “We need to balance that with the demands of operational efficiencies and regulatory compliance and all the other pressures we see in healthcare. What’s been most fulfilling to me is to have this tremendous platform and opportunity to be able to bring forward the message that the person is at the center of all of this,” she adds.
Reifsnyder notes that some of the challenges today’s caregivers face involve reimbursement, regulatory pressures and workforce shortages, which can sometimes make it difficult for caregivers to stop for a moment, make eye contact, sit down and empathize with their patients.
She believes that “compassion is being fully present to another human being. It’s not about solving people’s problems in that moment. It’s about being there for them. Connection with people during intimate moments of compassion can completely change the way they feel in the moment, so that the fears may be allayed and hope may be nurtured.”
Having been a patient herself, she has experienced compassion first hand—and also when it was lacking. “I’ve seen what a difference it has made in my life when it was present in terms of meeting my healthcare needs, and addressing my suffering, worries and fears,” says Reifsnyder.
During her years working as a nurse, she applied a person-centered approach to all her relationships with patients and families. Reifsnyder recounts a time when she was in the home of a woman with advanced ovarian cancer who had just enrolled in a hospice program. They were together in a very small living room setting it up for hospice care, and the woman’s daughters were present.
She asked the woman, “What’s most important to you?”
This is not a question most people can answer right away.
After a moment of silence, the woman said, “I’m afraid that I will die in a way that my mother did, and my daughters will have to see that and that is terrifying to me.”
By the time she finished saying this, they were all crying. But this opened up a very intimate and sacred space where Reifsnyder could talk to the family about what might happen. Questions were asked and answered. Finally, one daughter said, “Mom, we want to be here for you. We love you. Thank you for saying that. But it doesn’t matter what happens. We’re going to be here with you.”
By the time Reifsnyder left, the daughters were talking about where they could take their mom shopping because she really enjoyed that.
“I have always believed and have practiced the viewpoint that the two most important questions we can ask people are first, ‘What is most important to you?’ and second, ‘How can I help?’ says Reifsnyder. “Asking these questions doesn’t have to take more time. It helps you understand what’s in the mind and heart of the person. And that changes everything.”