A Conversation with Mary Kay McMahon, president and CEO of Fellowship Community in Whitehall

Mary Kay McMahon

LVB: Tell me about the different types of living options that exist on the Fellowship Community campus?

McMahon: Fellowship Community is a senior living community that offers a continuum of services. This variety allows seniors to remain within our community as they age and their needs change. Our beautiful independent living single-story townhomes and apartments allow residents to enjoy a very active lifestyle. They may be as socially engaged as they choose with access to dining, activities and entertainment. There is comfort in knowing that should they need short- or long-term care, they have priority access on campus.

Our health services, which are also available to the local community, include assisted personal care, memory support and skilled nursing care.  Personal care residents are provided 24/7 assistance by specially-trained and dedicated nursing staff.  Socialization and activity engagement are also important components which add purpose in their lives. Fellowship offers a secure memory care unit with specially trained skilled professionals who care for our residents with Alzheimer’s or related dementias.

Fellowship Manor, our skilled nursing facility, has received the Joint Commission Gold Seal for its comprehensive and outstanding short-term rehabilitation and nursing care services. It has achieved Joint Commission Accreditation in post-acute care, memory care and a disease specific certification in heart failure care. Residents receive professional medical, nursing and rehabilitation care 24/7.

LVB: Why is that a benefit to your residents?

McMahon: When you move to Fellowship Community, you know that we’re here to help you as your needs change. Moving through our continuum of care is an ideal arrangement. You can rely on us, giving you peace of mind with much less stress and worry.  It’s a priceless benefit to living here.

LVB: What other kind of support services does the community offer?

McMahon: Our holistic wellness program provides fitness programming, education, activities, nutrition and assistance that allow our independent living residents to age well by focusing on enriching their minds, bodies and spirit. Our robust maintenance, housekeeping and grounds services also provide our residents the time to enjoy the things that really feed their souls without worrying about doing household chores.

LVB: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your operations? Are things starting to return to normal?

McMahon: The past year has been very stressful and unfortunately, we saw the worst of what the COVID virus had to offer. However, I believe that the resilience of our residents and the dedication of our staff made a truly terrible situation a labor of love. We ultimately prevailed by trusting in each other. During the pandemic we had to pivot our operations at times on a weekly basis to keep up with changing guidance and the situation.

However, one of the more difficult challenges our residents faced was social isolation from family and friends. We knew we could never replace their families but we loved and cared for each resident and paid personal attention to them. Our activities department went into overdrive coming up with creative, physically-distanced ideas to keep residents engaged and family connected.

With over 95% of our residents vaccinated, we are cautiously optimistic as we slowly reopen our care areas. Visitation, group activities and dining have resumed per state guidelines, improving morale for residents and creating a sense of normalcy. We are breathing a big sigh of relief as it definitely feels like we are gaining momentum and moving in the right direction.

A conversation with Shari VanderGast

Shari VanderGast – Submitted

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.