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Growing Akron retirement community has new chief

By Katie Byard
Beacon Journal business writer

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New Rockynol executive director Kara Hanzie had previously been in charge of the operation's nursing home. (Phil Masturzo /Akron Beacon Journal)

Kara Hanzie was just 32 when she took over as administrator of the skilled nursing facility at Rockynol, one of Akron’s largest retirement and rehabilitation operations.

Six years later, she’s executive director of the entire nonprofit Rockynol campus, which includes assisted-living and independent-living facilities in West Akron.

“I just started very young, and have really enjoyed it,” Hanzie said.

“It was just the right calling for me,” she said. “I have always been drawn to the elderly population. I had personal experience, knowing what a family goes through with a loved one in a nursing home.’’

Her maternal grandmother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, lived eight years in a nursing facility.

Hanzie was named to the top job in late January. She oversees a staff of about 300 full- and part-time workers, who provide services to about 250 residents.

She said she’s busy with budget meetings, while still making time to meet with residents, staff and family members.

“It’s imperative to reach out,” she said, “fulfilling our nonprofit Christian-based mission of service to our residents and our families … and the Akron community.”

Rockynol, on 15 acres on West Market Street, is one of 11 retirement communities operated by the nonprofit Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services (OPRS) of Columbus.

Daniel J. O’Connor, president of OPRS Communities, said: “Kara sees the big picture but still focuses on its pieces and parts, getting jobs done.”

One initiative Hanzie is focusing on is increasing the number of nurse practitioners on the campus. Nurse practitioners can perform many duties of a physician, including prescribing some types of medication.

“This may save a resident from going out to the hospital or to see a physician in bad weather,” she said, “or when they just don’t feel well.”

Hanzie said she “stumbled across” the field of nursing home management while she was attending Ohio University. She had been thinking about going into speech therapy when her adviser steered her toward nursing home administration.

Hanzie graduated from OU in 1997 with a degree in long-term health-care administration and went on to work as an administrator at various Ohio for-profit nursing homes. She joined Rockynol in 2007 as administrator of the skilled nursing facility after a short stint working for a nursing home consulting group.

“I learned a lot consulting,” Hanzie said, “but I really missed being with the residents, being with the families, being with the staff.”

She touts Rockynol’s mission of “life care.” Rockynol allows residents in independent living or assisted living who run out of money to remain in their homes.

Hanzie takes over as Rockynol is in the midst of a large expansion and renovation. The facility expects to break ground on an addition to its 72-bed nursing facility. The plan is to create a rehabilitation center with private suites.

Other plans include replacing the 64-unit assisted-living facility, now in one of Rockynol’s decades-old towers.

Meanwhile, Hanzie said, Rockynol, along with the entire industry, faces the challenge of cutbacks in Medicaid payments, which come through the state, as well as federal Medicare payments.

Hanzie succeeds Richard Miller as Rockynol CEO. He served about 15 months in the post, succeeding Leslie Belfance, who had been in top jobs at Rockynol since 2002.

Both Miller and Belfance now work for other communities operated by Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services. Miller heads a facility in Cortland and Belfance oversees a community in Columbus.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or