OKEECHOBEE — Andy McKillop believes we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Until last year when he was injured in a car accident, Mr. McKillop was the administrator of the Okeechobee Health Care Facility (OHCF). He always told the ladies taking care of the residents at OHCF that he believed the way they took care of the elderly would be the way someone would take care of them some day.
“Always treat them like they are your loved ones, and you can’t go wrong,” he said. “Serving the frail elderly is one of the greatest challenges you can ever face. I did it on the basis of religious commitment, ‘whatever you do unto these, you do unto me.’ I spent my life doing that and now I am on the other end. I am learning what it is to have limited mobility thanks to someone who hit me in the rear of my automobile.”
Mr. McKillop got into the healthcare field many years ago when he went into the service. He began as a combat medic, and he is proud to say he is one of nine in his family to have served his country. Of the six brothers, two boys served during World War II, three, including Mr. McKillop, during the Korean Conflict and one during Vietnam. His father served during WWI. Mr. McKillop’s youngest son was a member of the Airborne Special Forces, and his nephew was a Green Beret, wounded in Iraq.
After he got out of the service, he thought about becoming a doctor, but it was very expensive, he said. He went to undergraduate school and majored in chemistry and biology. He worked nights in a foundry, left there at about 1 a.m., got home at about 2 and had to be up at 6 to be at class by 8 for four years. One morning he walked in, and his Organic Chemistry teacher was sick. The substitute decided to have a quiz which he said would count as 50% of their grade for the semester. He had an A average going in and was so tired and hadn’t studied. He left that day with a D for the semester. Back in those days you had no recourse. The professor was king of the classroom, he said.
He considered going to work for an oil company, but they gave him a crazy interview with a psychological test, and after the test, the results suggested he would make a good hospital superintendent or social worker. He had a very high score relative to caring for people and a low monetary score. He got a copy of the test so he could learn some things about himself, he said, and afterward decided a career in hospital administration might actually suit him.
He did his internship at John Hopkins. Then went to Jackson Memorial in Miami for a year. “A little old nurse who was the night administrator taught me everything I know about administration,” he said. He went around with her at night, and she would walk up to a nursing unit, and a nurse would tell her about a problem. I admired her greatly. Her name was Ethel Hood.” Because he was single, he lived in Doctors’ Hall, and his next door roommate was the chief surgical resident, who later went on to become president of the Florida Medical Association. “I thought he was a brilliant surgeon,” he said. All the men he went to school with went on to become the medical leaders of his generation.
When he left school, Mr. McKillop first ran hospitals and then switched over into long-term care which was in desperate need of leadership at that time, he said. A little over 20 years ago, he was doing what he called clean up, where he went into a building and did problem solving and got it up to standards, and he had just completed an assignment. A friend called him and told him the OHCF needed an administrator, and he came to see the owner. She hired him, and he fell in love with the facility and the town of Okeechobee.
When Mr. McKillop was administrator, he always made a point of using the skills taught to him by Ms. Hood. He took the time to listen to his staff, and every time a survey team came through and said anything good about the nurses or the aides or any of the staff, Mr. McKillop always took the time to go back and tell them immediately. He wanted them to know they were the ones winning the awards. They were the ones doing a good job, and he appreciated it. When he was administrator, he got the credit for it, and yes he knew the regulations and Wayne Allen is an excellent nurse and they make sure they do everything humanly possible but he wanted to let the staff know he appreciated their part too, he said. “They come to work every day taking care of the frail, elderly and the sick, or as scripture calls them, the halt, lame and blind,” he said. “That is a commitment we have in our building that many buildings don’t have, and that’s why we have such superior care.” He always stressed to the people who worked under him to think about how they would want to be treated, and use that as their guide. “Would you want someone jerking you around and yelling at you? Of course not.” Well, he would not tolerate that either. That was the fastest way to get in his bad books, he said.
Mr. McKillop has received many awards over the years. He said he has a wall full of them, but he received one recently that meant the world to him. “Not many people have gotten this one,” he said. Alex Terentv, President of the Florida Health Care Association, at its annual meeting, in Orlando, presented him honorary life membership, recognition of his 59 years of dedicated and devoted service to the health profession. The board of directors voted to present the award in recognition of his outstanding dedication to the profession and because of the many previous awards he has received. He has received the Caring for Seniors Award (the only administrator to have ever received it), one of the most prestigious awards given by FHCA, the Arthur H. Harris Government Service Award, Administrator of the Year, and others.
Last year, things changed a lot for Mr. McKillop. When he was rear ended in a car accident, his spine was fractured in two places and they can’t operate. Now he has to walk with a cane. He loses his balance sometimes, and it’s frustrating. He misses working at the nursing home. He loved his job, and it’s hard not to have a place to go after more than 20 years. “I remember when Medicare came into being 51 or 52 years ago. Now I’m receiving it. I am learning what it is to transition.”
OHCF is now rated number one in the region out of 80 by the Agency for Health Care Administration, the state licensure agency. US News and World Report recently listed OHCF as the best nursing home in Florida, he said. Under Wayne S. Allen, the current administrator and staff, they have received three years accreditation from the Joint Commission (the agency that accredits hospitals and health care facilities). Mr. McKillop is not surprised at all that they are rated number one. He said the staff shows great care and devotion for the residents. “I don’t know of anywhere else that they show so much compassion. Did you know that we provide two choices for each meal, and if they don’t like those choices, they can ask for something else, and if we have it, we will do our best to make it?” he said. “We always did our best to make it like home, and we wanted them to be happy there.”
“I think my beliefs shaped my 20 years of service at OHCF. I’m convinced if you’ve got your reservation made upstairs, God has a special place in Heaven for those who take care of the sick, elderly. I’m very happy with what we accomplished there, and I miss it every single day.”