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Man follows calling to health care

SOUTH POINT — For Ron Lyons, running River’s Bend Health Care is more than playing businessman and entrepreneur.

It is a calling, one that Lyons followed after years spent learning the financial and administrative ropes of his profession. A look at his resume seems to show a man who was destined by education and career choices to be doing just what he is doing today.

“My main motivation is to make sure they are given the best possible care they can have,” Lyons said. “To create a quality of life where they don’t feel like they’re in an institution.”

Five years ago Lyons took over a South Point nursing home on a lease basis with the option to purchase, which he exercised in 2006.

During that period Lyons has transformed River’s Bend, tucked off the main drag of South Point, into a 100-bed skilled nursing home with a staff of 115.

The Huntington, W.Va., native started out at Marshall University studying pre-med. However, before he earned his degree Lyons went into the service, then took a job in medical sales.

He segued from that background into a stint as a stockbroker. But the fast-paced world of trading didn’t satisfy and Lyons was drawn back to the health care field.

After finishing up a degree in business administration and accounting at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he worked for the State of West Virginia as an internal auditor for the health care authority that regulates hospitals and nursing homes.

From that he became a troubleshooter for a large chain of nursing homes headquartered in Maryland, ending up as a licensed administrator in four states: Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky.

“An administrator needs knowledge of long-term care, business knowledge, basic medical and nursing knowledge, management skills, people skills,” Lyons said.

Over the decades Lyons has had a front-row seat to the transformation in the nursing home industry. No longer are they places of last resort that exist solely to warehouse people until their death.

“Today people are looking at creating a home environment for those folks who need assistance,” he said. “Those whose mind is as sharp as ever, but physically have challenges where they need assistance.”

This new definition has come about from a combination of changes in federal and state laws and from the industry itself, Lyons says.

“It is recognizing that because a person becomes old that they are not less of a human being. They have certain medical needs that need to be met,” he said. “Years ago, mom was at home and could take care of grandpa. In today’s society, that is not a possibility. Since they are going to be in a new environment that doesn’t mean they stop living.”

That’s an attitude that can build on itself, he says, because it inspires the residents to take ownership in the new community where they find themselves.

“This is a community. We are getting away from saying this is a nursing home,” he said. “They feel they have a little bit more than sitting around and looking at four walls.”

River’s Bend is just the first of Lyon’s ventures in health care in Lawrence County. He plans an assisted living and nursing home facility outside Proctorville, on acreage across from the fair grounds that extends to the Ohio River.

There plans focus around creating a home-like environment where couples can reside, eliminating the trauma of separation that can happen when one spouse must go into a facility.

However, those plans are up in the air in light of the current financial situation.

Just like the medical professionals, an administrator is on call 24-7, a reality Lyons understands full well. He’s used to getting a call in the early morning hours.

“You are responsible for every one of these lives,” he said. “You have to be notified if anyone is sent to the hospital. I want to know if all the proper procedures have taken place.”

It’s standard for Lyons to make spot checks — at least two rounds a day.

“If you want to know what is going on in the building, you have to get out and talk with the staff and residents and can take care of an issue before things get out of hand.

“This is my ministry. Most of my staff are born again Christians. I am very proud of that. When you come into the building, you feel it is alive.”