Shari VanderGast, 53, is senior vice president of Diakon Senior Living and Diakon Child, Family and Community Ministries. She has been with the company for four years.
Prior to joining Diakon, she served as president and CEO of Central Behavioral Health in Montgomery County. She also has worked extensively in health care and human services, serving in a variety of executive, operational and compliance roles.
She has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a master’s degree from Columbia University, and a law degree from Temple University.
Outside of work she serves as the vice president of the Palisades School Board and on the board of the Palisades Community Foundation. She enjoys spending time with her sons, one a student at Temple University, the other at Kutztown University. She enjoys watching her son at KU perform in the university’s marching and symphonic bands. She also serves as field instructor for master’s-level students at Kutztown.
LVB: What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries & Diakon Child Family & Community Ministries?
Shari VanderGast: We are continually challenged to recruit and retain talented, committed and passionate staff to work with those we serve. We are always seeking people with a desire to serve others, including here in the Lehigh Valley. Our biggest opportunity is to find new ways to serve older persons, children and families whose needs are changing — whether they need or prefer services at home, in the community or in one of our senior living communities.
LVB: How does Diakon directly stimulate the local economy? How does it get involved with the local community?
VanderGast: Across our footprint in eastern and central Pennsylvania, as well as central Maryland, we employ nearly 1,900 people. In the Lehigh Valley, we employ around 500 people, including those at The Lutheran Home at Topton, Luther Crest in Allentown and our child and family programs including Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. As a health care and human service provider, we employ the services of other businesses, from landscapers to our local hospitals and physician practices. We are members of the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. Our community benefit—what we call “the good we do beyond the good we set out to do” — totaled $21.14 million in 2018, with at least $6 million of that in this region. We provide about $1.5 million a month in charitable care. We also are very involved with local colleges, universities and vocational programs, providing internships and hiring their graduates.
LVB: What is your guiding philosophy as a business leader?
VanderGast: Hire the best staff and really listen to them. Our staff members have great ideas and a real passion for service, and I’m so grateful for the incredible work they do every day. I feel blessed to work with an exceptional team of health care and human services staff who care deeply about the people and families we serve.
LVB: If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?
VanderGast: Health care and human service jobs can be very stressful. We serve people who are ill or who need supportive care and services, and who are often stressed by their personal circumstances. Health care and human service providers need to be creative in finding new and meaningful ways to care for, reward and recognize our staff for the compassion and caring they show to our residents and clients every day.