A Caretaker At Heart

August 6, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — When a self-doer climbs the ladder in her field, one might expect that she would say her biggest career boost, the one that confirmed her feeling that she had the right stuff, would likely come from a company CEO years into that calling and not from a group of high school teachers before she even got started.

But Beth Boltinghouse, a CEO herself, credits teachers at Grand Rapids City High School above anyone else with convincing her that she could do whatever she set her mind to.

After transferring to City High as a junior, Boltinghouse was part of the school’s second graduating class.

“It was the place that taught me that the only thing I couldn’t do was something that I hadn’t tried yet,” she said.

Fast-forward from then to June of last year and you’ll find Boltinghouse doing something she never had tried before: opening the doors to the West Michigan Center for Family Health at 1425 Michigan St. NW.

It took her two years to do that, despite constantly being told that her concept of a new primary health-care model wouldn’t work. Her idea was to serve small-business owners and individuals who had been priced out of the current market with an annual — and affordable — flat-fee system. Two months ago, the center celebrated its first year in business with 2,500 clients, right on track, and turned a hopeful eye toward opening another center in two years.

Boltinghouse has been committed to rising in the health-care ranks most of her life. She started the center when she was in her sixth year as president of QCI Nurse Specialists. But she began that journey as a nurse’s aide, just out of City High at 17, and then as a ward clerk in a nursing home.

Soon after that, though, she was off to Michigan State University to learn health-care administration and human resources.

“Then I started my own consulting business where I actually spent ten years representing independent nurses’ unions,” she said. “I did their bargaining, their grievance work and that sort of thing. After that I took a management position for a few months at Kent Community Hospital.”

Boltinghouse left the hospital to run the Grand Rapids office of a Muskegon-based nurse staffing business that was expanding at the time. But little did she know when she took that position, she would soon end up with her own company, QCI.

“Unfortunately, after I had worked for that agency for eight months, it went out of business. So I took the contacts that I had, the employees that I had hired, the expertise that I had gained, and started my own agency and then did the staffing side for facilities.”

Boltinghouse said she chose health care because she likes being in contact with people and feels good about taking care of them.

“I took enough accounting to figure out that I never wanted to be an accountant. That didn’t give me enough people contact,” she said. “You’re either a caretaker or you’re not a caretaker, and I guess I am.

“A lot of my career was spent around geriatric care, and I really like taking care of elderly folks and helping them have dignity during the last parts of their lives. I guess I went into the union side because it was a natural progression to transfer my actual patient care — where I physically took care of them — to sort of becoming the caretaker for caregivers, if you will.”

Boltinghouse believes that having managed employees and then represented workers to management has made her better at what she does. She said having walked on both sides of the line has given her a “balance,” a certain steadiness when it comes to making decisions about people that others may not have.

Beth’s husband Tom recently retired from General Motors after 30 years on the line with the automaker at its 36th Street plant. Boltinghouse said he has a way with tools and has helped out at the Center for Family Health by doing some interior work.

“He is very handy and he is a really neat guy. He is really glad that I’m doing this,” she said. “And as long as I’m happy doing this, life is good.”

Beth and Tom have a cottage near White Cloud that they visit whenever both can find the time to get away. As a former caterer, she loves to cook — especially Italian dishes like the “700-pound lasagna” her family and friends crave. She likes to dance and she reads in her spare time. Although she is reading more nonfiction now, Tom Clancy and John Grisham remain two of her favorite fiction writers.

Boltinghouse hopes to have the center serving 5,000 patients by next June and to reach her stated maximum of 8,000 the following June. If she succeeds in doing that in the next two years, she said she would then open a second center.

At least one other physician in the area has expressed a willingness to join the center, and Boltinghouse said she was working with several organizations to see if the center can service their clients.

“In my immediate future I see continuing to grow the Center for Family Health concept — possibly franchise it — and I see getting to the place where it doesn’t need me on a daily basis,” she said.

“If someone asked me where I want to be in ten years, the answer would be that I want to be in a place where I can still work as much as I want and don’t have to work any specific amount. I can’t imagine being retired at that point. But I can imagine being in a place where I can say, ‘I’m not going to go to work today because we’re going to go play.’”    

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