The women in leadership for Appalachian Regional Healthcare are a diverse group of strong, accomplished, intelligent women. Despite having these characteristics in common, each of them is unique, taking on a completely different set of responsibilities and challenges when they walk through the doors of ARH each day. From administrative responsibilities, to nursing and caring for patients, to the creation of new initiatives allowing ARH’s reach to grow, these women are nothing short of incredible.
Not many people can say they moved from Eastern Kentucky to join the Navy as a Medical Corpsman jumping from Orlando, to Virginia, Chicago, California, Alaska and back to California to earn their PhD and now work for a hospital system of 12 facilities. Violet Sylvia, System Director of Rehabilitation for ARH, did exactly that. As a teenager, she volunteered as a candy striper at her local hospital where she fostered a love for patient care. Growing up on a farm in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, Violet’s family did not have much money, but she knew she wanted to attend college. In 1975, Violet left Kentucky on a bus for Orlando, Florida where she completed Navy basic training followed by four years of active duty and two years in the reserves.
“During that four years of active duty I had the opportunity as this small town girl from Mount Sterling, Kentucky, to see places like Orlando, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; and San Diego, California,” Violet says. “I experienced large cities and diversity of people. I guess it was kind of like fate that it happened that way because by the time I started my college education I really knew where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and how I wanted to go about it.”
Violet was able to utilize the GI Bill to complete her education in California where she earned her MBA with an emphasis in healthcare administration from National University and her PhD in business management from California Coast University. She completed her dissertation work in healthcare management and the impact it has on patient outcomes. This combined with practical work experience and her existing passion for patient care led her to pursue a career in rehabilitation services.
“Working in the emergency room led me to rehabilitation,” Violet says. “We would stabilize a patient and save their life after something like a motorcycle accident or traumatic brain injury and off they would go. I always wondered what quality of life they had after their accident. Did they go back to work, were they able to spend time with family, play baseball if that’s what they loved to do? That was the lightbulb that moved me into the rehabilitation unit. I’ve been very fortunate to have chosen a career I love and look forward to doing every day.”
In her current role as System Director of Rehabilitation Services, Violet oversees the service line for physical, occupational, and speech therapy for all 12 ARH facilities. She believes someone in her role needs to have organizational and leadership skills while also being very mission driven. Exercising these skills has afforded Violet 13 years working in the rehabilitation service line for ARH.
“During this last 13 years we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of clinical growth,” she says. “I’ve worked a lot on continuing education bringing in speakers who have provided programs for our rehabilitation staff to obtain certifications and learn new protocols. For me that’s really exciting because it’s a way to give back to those front-line people who are hands on with our patients and provide them with the latest and greatest skills. I’m also proud that we are able to promote from within and watch those qualified candidates grow as leaders. We’re now a preferred provider of rehabilitation services because of our clinical quality and as a result we’ve had clinical and financial success. I’m really proud of my team and the growth we’ve accomplished.”
It is clear that almost everyone who works for ARH has an unconditional love for the organization, their career and the people they work with each day. It’s no wonder why so many of ARH’s women in leadership have been with the organization for 10 plus years, sometimes after returning for a second tenure.
“In my position I have the opportunity to visit every single one of our hospital and clinic locations that make a positive impact on someone’s life through rehabilitation,” she says. “This gives me the opportunity to see our services in action. When I see a patient who wasn’t able to walk and then after rehab services, I watch them walk out of the clinic, or I see a non-verbal child work with our therapists and then they communicate with their family for the first time, that is so impactful. These are reasons why I love working in rehab services.”
When asked what she loved most about her position with ARH, Violet says, “I think my favorite thing about my job is the people I work with. Whether I am working with system leadership or Community CEOs and of course my amazing managers, they all make coming to work a positive experience. I’m blessed to work with people at all levels of our organization who really want to make a positive impact on our patients and the community.”
While Violet is an incredibly hard worker, she says she owes her current success to the support of her mother. Thanks to her mother’s encouragement she was able to enter the military to earn the GI Bill and attend school.
“My mom supported my vision for my future. She always encouraged me, from the time I was a candy striper, to when I graduated high school early, got on a bus and headed for basic training right after my 18th birthday,” Violet says. “She inspired me saying that whatever I set my mind to I could accomplish and I knew she would support me. Looking back now as I’m older and have kids and grandkids, I’m sure it had to be hard for my mother. I think about how it must have felt for her staring at that bus watching my wings spread. She never expressed her worry, she only said to go and do what inspired me and that she supported me.”
Today, Violet looks to her husband and family for support and to keep her grounded. She says her husband’s personality perfectly complements her Type A personality serving as a calming force in her life.
“I have a very supportive and patient husband,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to have someone in my life who challenges me, provides comfort, but also supports my need to create.”
In her free time Violet loves spending time with family and her two rescue
Chihuahuas, Dusty and Haley. She also enjoys reading mystery novels, and volunteering at animal shelters. Giving back to the community of eastern Kentucky is extremely important to her. Outside of her role at ARH, Violet continues to work in the rehabilitation realm. She is the co-founder of Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network (KARRN), an organization dedicated to improving quality of life for all by advocating for communities impacted by disability.
When asked what advice she has for young women interested in entering the medical field, she had this to say:
“You just have to expect the unexpected,” Violet says. “I think that holds true in professional and personal life. You have to anticipate the unexpected happening and when it does, just go with it. If you understand that things are not always going to happen as you plan, then you treat the unexpected more as a problem to solve than a crisis. That really helps me keep life balanced. Whenever things happen I am ready to address the issue and handle the problem. If you keep that level of calm and treat it as a challenge to overcome rather than a crisis then it takes much less time to resolve.”
Violet has loved her time with ARH and we are equally grateful for her hard work and dedication. Join us in thanking Violet for 13 years of service and congratulating her on retiring on November 30, 2018!