Through thick and thin, Westcare Healthcare Management founder Robert (Bob) Decker has held steadfast in his belief that hard work will be rewarded. And now with his own working days dwindling toward a July 1 retirement, those closest to Decker say a new generation will keep the tradition of perseverance and compassion going even when the founder is not at the helm.
Decker started Salem, Ore.-based Westcare in 1987, and along with a tightknit cadre has built the company into a mainstay in the management services space for the long term care industry.
As the company website says, “like a great caddy to a golfer, [Westcare] serves clients by seeing the dangers ahead.” With operational experience in ICF/ID Care, community-based waiver programs, skilled nursing care, assisted living, and residential care, Decker’s creation offers consultations on facility evaluations, analysis of internal systems, development of new programs, and leadership on financial services. Amid all of these specialties, however, is the overriding priority to put the care of residents first and foremost in every business plan.
To picture how Westcare became the company it is today from when it started 30 years ago, is really an examination of how Decker has skillfully guided the company, says Van Moore, senior vice president for Westcare. He speaks with authority on the subject, given the fact Moore has been with Decker for the long haul.
“He is a nice, warm guy, very outgoing. I’ve been with him for 30 years,” he says. “Bob and his former partner had sold something like 40 nursing homes to National Heritage and part of the deal was Bob had to stay on for a period of time as a divisional vice president,” Moore says. “That was in 1987 and the time of the stock market crash. National Heritage lost over 50 percent of its value overnight in that debacle and we could see the handwriting on the wall. So, Bob actually incorporated Westcare Management in November of 1987.”
The powers that be who ran National Heritage visited the first week of December 1987 and told Decker that his division was the only one turning a profit, “but they said we can’t afford you anymore, and that is how we started Westcare, on a lick and a promise. It was a lot of hard work.”
A Meaningful Motivation
In the midst of creating a new company, Decker showed his true colors, Moore says. “When we first sat down there were four of us and Bob who had come over from National Heritage. We sat in the rented office and he said ‘I don’t need to work, but I want to work.’ And he was only 50-years-old. And he said, ‘I am not ready to retire,’” Moore says.
Decker went on to say while his goal was to do well, “my real goal in life, he said, ‘is to be able to make you guys able to make the decision I made in my 50s as to whether I want to work or not.’ And it was far beneath us to stand in the way of his happiness,’” Moore recalls.
Of the four people, Moore was the only who stayed with Decker.
“The rest of them couldn’t handle lean times, could not cinch up their belts enough and got very, very dissatisfied. To me, it’s been a great ride, a tough ride, there have been a lot of 70- and 80-hour weeks. But Bob was putting in the same 70- and 80-hour weeks that I was. He’s just a man that I admire,” he adds.
Keeping Two Buildings
When Decker made his business move in 1987 by starting Westcare, he kept two buildings, a little 64-bed nursing home in Indio, Calif., and a 30-bed facility for the developmentally disabled in Idaho Falls, Idaho. “This is what we supported ourselves on, the meager management fees from those,” Moore says.
To scare up other business, Moore and Decker searched for long term care properties in need of management help, which often meant doing major fixes and working nearly every day of the week to get things right.
“You hustled, you took the work you got and you sucked it up and did what needed to be done. Over the years, I remember one job in about 1991 or 1992 in Pocatello, Idaho. We went in and I spent five months there, going home every other weekend. I helped straighten out their problems, recruit a new administrator and what not. Bob worked those same hours.”
It was, Moore says, what you did to put bread on the table but more importantly about making life better for the residents in the facilities Westcare consults for and/or manages.
Do the Right Thing
With Decker, he says, it is resident first and always do the right thing. “He’s always had philosophy that we do what is right for our clients, for our residents and because that is the only way we can be successful and the money will follow,” Moore says.
“We talked many times that neither one of us would ever be as wealthy as a lot of the people that we would see building companies very rapidly. But our focus was on doing it right and having a good reputation.”
An example, he says, was that in on of Decker’s previous ventures, another partner had self-insured for workman’s comp and after that company had folded Decker had found the partner had taken all the money out of the workman comp reserve for himself, a sum of more than $200,000. But when it came time to settle-up on a Medicaid audit for the property with this other partner, Decker still wrote the man a check for his share. “I said he took over $200,000 of your money….and he said ‘Van, what is right is right. He took my money but half of this money is his. And he’s going to get it.’ That is the kind of person he is,” Moore says.
And Here Comes the Next Decker
Even as Moore looks at the history he and Decker have built, July 1 ticks ever closer and the time for a new president arrives. Fittingly, that person is Bryan Decker, currently the controller of Westcare, who looks forward to continuing the family legacy that his father has built.
“I wasn’t sure that was in my plans when I started with him, but I have been at Westcare for about 22 years and it has been a good experience,” Bryan Decker says. “It has been great to have him as a father and as a boss because he kind of exhibits the same characteristics at home and at the workplace. And, that is what makes him successful.”
Beyond his father’s ability to manage the dollars and cents of Westcare, it is the true caring for clients and staff that he wants to emulate. “Everyone from the administrator down to kitchen staff to those elderly and disabled residents, he [Bob Decker] has a soft place down in his heart for caring for people.”
And with that care, comes the Decker mantra of hard work.
“He has a great logic in his thinking. That logic allows him to attack problems in a way that allows people to know he is thinking and considering their issues. At same time, it is a kind of great business sense. He says he may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he makes up for that through hard work. That is very true,” Bryan Decker says.