The Willows executive director welcomes residents

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY Executive Director Liz Zuercher of The Willows Assisted Living and Memory Care is shown surveying books in the facility’s library recently. Her first day on the job was Aug. 22.

Homecoming is not just a weekend with a football game as centerpiece.

Just ask Liz Zuercher of Marshalltown.

After a hiatus she recently returned to the health care profession. Aug. 22 was her first day as executive director of the The Willows Assisted Living and Memory Care in the 2300 block of Campbell Drive. The 50,215 square-foot facility estimated to have cost $13.3 million.

Zuercher previously served in several administrative capacities over 11 years at the former Central Health Care (now UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown) before taking a job working for the Vice President of Research at Iowa State University in Ames.

Her motivation to return to health care was intensified after interviewing with Ben, Bob and Mira Daniels — owners of the Willows.

“This is fun,” Zuercher said. “What I love about this staff is everyone lends a hand. If a moving truck pulls up, all come out …. It is just wonderful. We are all doing this together. The Willows is a brand new facility … everyone is pitching in and doing it together. That is the kind of organization I love to work for. And that is what really resonated with me after I talked to Ben, Bob and Mira, as well as other staff. I feel blessed and lucky to have found this.”

The feeling is mutual.

“Liz immediately honed in on what we are trying to do here,” Ben Daniels said. “Which is elevate the level of senior care in Marshalltown. I could tell her heart was in this … the same way mine has been the last three years. Her resume and credentials speak for themselves. I knew of her work with the hospital (CIH) and at Iowa State. I knew she could get behind the kind of culture we are trying to create.”

Zuercher has a diverse health care skill set — from marketing to fundraising to compliance. And, she also served as administrative officer and operations officer.

“Having that broad health care background has really helped, and I think they felt comfortable in my abilities to maneuver all of those facets of health care, plus 25 years of management experience,” she said.

The latter will be an asset, with The Willows having 34 full-time equivalent employees with an estimated $1.3 million in payroll.

Her game plan is this: Give employees challenges, allow them to grow and be the people they want to be. Let the workplace be their second home.

“People do not go into health care for the money,” Zuercher said. “It is a passion. Especially for direct-care givers. Everyone in health care is competing for the same folks. If you want to retain good employees, one has to give them a different experience … make them feel good about the work they are doing … that is our hope.”

Zuercher will also work closely with the Daniels to keep occupancy at high levels.

With move-in week progressing, president Ben Daniels said Thursday occupancy rates have exceeded his expectations.

“We are about 70 percent full right now,” he said. “That is greater than we anticipated … but not all that surprising, because we knew what demand would be.”

The Daniels’ market studies identified a need for memory care units in Marshalltown, and ownership and staff have worked aggressively to let the community know of availability. Daniels said rental of memory care apartments has also exceeded expectations.

After move-in week is finished Zuercher’s next task is preparing the facility for a Sept. 9 grand opening.

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com

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