Inside Track: Breuker has a ‘servant’s heart’
Holland Home CEO began nursing career on a dare.
When Mina Breuker introduces herself to new employees at Holland Home, she leaves them with a simple message, steeped in her own experience — “See? A nurse’s aide can become president.”
Breuker, who was promoted to president and CEO of Holland Home in July 2015, has always had a “servant’s heart.” But she began her career in nursing on a dare.
As a senior in high school, she was encouraged to join her friend in a nursing co-op, working half-days as a candy striper at the hospital. Breuker quickly fell in love with the work and upon graduating, decided to go to nursing school. However, the long waiting lists at nursing schools meant she had to find something in the interim.
Fresh out of high school with a degree in assistant nursing, Breuker was working a temporary private care duty when her mother called at work and asked what her plan was. Breuker told her she was hoping to take a small vacation, her first since kindergarten, and then she would begin looking for work at a nursing home. A half-hour later, her mom called back — Breuker had an interview at Shore Haven Nursing Home in Grand Haven on Monday.
“No grass grows under our feet,” Breuker said.
Breuker caught a ride to the interview with her mom, who stayed in the car as she went in. At the end of the interview, Shore Haven offered her a full-time position working during the day — Breuker accepted.
“‘When can you start?’ she asked, and I hear this little voice from the hall says, ‘Monday!’” Breuker recalled. “My mom came in. So, I started Monday.”
After about a year at Shore Haven, Breuker began working toward her RN degree at Mercy Central School of Nursing. Upon graduating, she went to Holland Hospital as a critical care nurse, working hands-on for about four years. Knowing she wanted to eventually get into management, when an opening for the hospital’s director of emergency management came up, Breuker quickly applied.
She was one of four candidates for the position, and the only one without emergency care experienced. Compounding her lack of relevant experience is the natural rivalry that exists between critical care and emergency care departments — so when she was hired as director of emergency care, she had to win over her staff.
“No one in emergency wanted me in that position, so it was really, really tough,” Breuker said. “I was younger than a lot of the nurses, and I just had to earn their trust and prove myself through transparency, communication and working with them and engaging them.
“But I’ll go back now and run into people, and they will introduce me as, ‘Mina was once our director of emergency, and we gave her a really hard time — but she was the best director we’ve ever had.’”
Breuker worked in the Holland Community Hospital system for 20 years, where she helped to start the hospital’s first urgent care system and ambulatory care program. The past several years at Holland Hospital, she was in a vice president-level corporate position. But in her mid-40s, she was starting to notice a trend in the future of medicine.
In Brueker’s estimation, the population of patients was aging rapidly, and senior care was going to be an area of need. So, she worked some contacts at Holland Home and once again, despite the lack of experience, was hired as an administrator at Holland Home Fulton Manor.
“My learning curve went straight up for two years,” Breuker said. “When you work in acute care, you usually think you know everything, and you think people working at the nursing home can’t make it in the hospital. I found out that it is absolutely the opposite.”
What Breuker found at Fulton Manor was the senior care regulations and requirements were far beyond what she was used to at the hospital. Her first year at Holland Home’s Fulton campus, the facility received what Breuker termed “probably the worst (state survey) any facility had gotten in the history of Holland Home.”
Tasked with shaping up the facility, she rounded the troops and gave them a directive. They were going to turn Fulton Manor around and have fun doing it. The next year, Fulton Manor received the first zero-deficiency survey in Holland Home’s history.
Breuker was at Fulton Manor for about six years when Holland Home’s then-CEO stopped by her office to ask if she would move to the Raybrook Campus, which had been experiencing significant turnover and “some healing needed to happen.”
Though she initially was resistant to the idea because she loved her family at Fulton Manor, she eventually agreed to take on the next big challenge. It wasn’t long before Raybrook also received a zero-deficiency state survey score.
“It doesn’t always happen, but it takes a whole team,” Breuker said. “And it’s about how you engage a team around this goal with a common objective to meet.”
Four years after corporate asked her to move from Fulton Manor to Raybrook, Breuker was called upon once again to move, this time to the Breton Woods campus. While at Breton Woods, Breuker was on hand to see the opening of the campus’ new Breton Ridge independent living center.
Now as CEO and president, Breuker oversees operations of a $132-million multifacility senior care community and more than 1,500 employees. Breuker said her management style comes from a metaphor she heard long ago — if you’re leading a group through the woods, and turn around to see no one following behind, you’re just going for a walk.
“It is about personality, and it’s being passionate about the mission and whatever you’re going to be doing,” she said. “Because you can teach regulations, but you can’t teach heart and soul. If I pursue something, it’s because I have a passion for it. I want the best, I want to improve and help people on their journey as we go down this road together.”
In her 40-year career, Breuker has since had a few opportunities to take that vacation she missed out on after high school. But true to her servant’s heart, she often heads to third-world countries, going on mission trips to Ecuador, South Africa and Kenya, to name a few. And she now uses the example of her mom’s interference in discussions with staff in how to approach life’s many curveballs.
“It’s a great example of how we have choice over how we react to something,” Breuker said. “We all have times in the day where we have to decide, will I react positively or negatively to this situation? And I could have chosen to be very upset with my mom. Or I could have chosen to think, she’s only looking out for my best interests, because she only wants the very best for me. It’s all a choice of how you approach or interpret something.”