Brunswick County native Wanda Coley knew from an early age that she wanted to work in accounting.
After graduating from West Brunswick High School, she earned a degree in accounting at University of North Carolina Wilmington. While there, she worked as an administrative assistant at a home health care company, learning the ins and outs of that business and how the various segments of it worked in concert.
While pursuing her master’s at Webster University, she was employed by New Hanover Home Health, which was owned by New Hanover Regional Medical Center. When Well Care Home Health founders Wayne and Tanya Long purchased that business in 2000, Coley became a Well Care employee.
She’s been there ever since, moving into the position of president and chief operating officer after Wayne Long’s death at age 60 last year.
The Longs initially started the business in 1987, and last year it updated the parent company name to Well Care Health to reflect an expanding umbrella of services.
Coley had been the company’s controller since 2000 when the position was created.
After 10 years, she advanced to chief operating officer.
The added responsibility of president makes her responsible “to drive the vision and make sure the strategic initiatives are implemented and achieved,” she said. “I have responsibility for the overall financial health of the organization.”
It’s a position that suits her strong interest in accounting and reflects the emphasis she puts on family. While she and her husband both work in Wilmington, they choose to live near family in southern Brunswick County.
“The older I get, the more I realize how important family is,” she said.
That personal emphasis on family and the quality time she spends with her’s spills over into the expectation she has for the care of Well Care’s clients and their families.
The added responsibility comes at a time when Well Care is expanding.
Based in Wilmington, it has 11 offices, more than 1,000 employees and coverage in much of North Carolina.
The most recent opening was in Myrtle Beach, and the company plans to move into more of South Carolina, where the different certificate-of-need requirement for home health agencies makes the industry a competitive business model there.
States use the certificate-of-need process to regulate the building or acquisition of health facilities, as well the expansion of certain medical services, as a way to try and contain health care costs and prevent over buildout in an area.
And in North Carolina, regulators are not issuing additional licensing through June of next year for home care agencies that want to offer in home aide services.
“The important part for us is that we provide high-quality care and maintain our integrity, regardless of whether we’re in a state that requires a certificate [of need] or not,” Coley said. “Our values do not change.”
Well Care also is launching hospice services after acquiring a business in Davie County that was licensed for hospice care. The initial services, a beta test so to speak, will be in the Triad, she said.
That outcome will determine whether hospice care will be offered in all service areas. “Hospice is all-encompassing – nursing, chaplain, social workers, volunteers, medical directors…, ” Coley added.
The big challenge Coley sees in the expansion efforts is the “significant nursing shortage in North Carolina.”
The state is expected to rank second in the nation in the shortage by the year 2025, according to a report from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
“Without the human capital, it limits our ability to grow,” Coley said.
To address that issue, the company “has recruited a chief people officer to focus on recruiting the best talent,” she said.
Perhaps an equally important challenge she sees is maintaining the culture in which people can develop and where they care and work collaboratively with each other – one that reflects the company’s mission to keep patients and their families happy and healthy at home, Coley said.
“We also have to keep our employees engaged and not lose sight of our purpose,” she said.
The company’s education team orients new staff members to the company culture while covering topics such as clinical competency, bedside care and home health care requirements.
They partner with an online company for continuing education courses, which vary by license.
Growing the organization responsibly means keeping the patient at the center, Coley said.
Home health service is intermittent.
“The goal is to take care of you and get you back to your highest level of potential,” Coley said.
Home care is longer term and involves certified assistants in the home, assisting the patient with daily activities such as bathing, meal preparation and errands.
This also can involve private duty nursing for around-the-clock care at home as an alternative to hospital care.
“Often people don’t know the resources are there until there’s an event. I fell in love with home health care because we are able to bring care to the home,” Coley said. “We can do chemotherapy at home, IVs, antibiotics; we do X-rays in the home.
“I want to see our company be able to provide the hospital in the home.”
Coley said she has several longterm goals that would result in caring for patients throughout their lives. She expects continued growth across North and South Carolina. Through acquisition or partnerships, she sees moving into new lines of service such as delivery of medications.
The possibilities for expansion are numerous.
The company’s culture and goals for the future – tones set by its founders – guides Coley’s approach to her job.
“I think Wayne’s legacy speaks for itself,” she said. “When you are the owner of an organization and something like this happens, the organization continues on, and you have a legacy that will live on.
“I feel that Wayne’s presence is still there. He was such a big part of Well Care. His presence is still here and is ingrained in the organization.”