In less than 10 years, 32-year-old Gary Sudhalter has gone from scrubbing the toilets of a nursing home to serving on the board of a multimillion-dollar long-term-care company.
Sudhalter graduated in June 1985 with a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Maryland at College Park and went looking for a job in what he called a "people business."
When he asked Harvey Wertlieb, his girlfriend's father, for advice, Wertlieb suggested he give long-term care a try. Wertlieb had been in the business for decades and offered to give Sudhalter a job at one of his nursing homes in Kensington, Md.
But before committing to the field-and to Wertlieb's daughter-Sudhalter participated in a one-year administrator-in-training program at a nursing home in Dundalk, Md.
During the program, Sudhalter worked in every job at a nursing home, from cleaning bathrooms to doing laundry to preparing meals.
As it turned out, he liked helping people enough at the nursing home to end up in Kensington in the Wertlieb family business. He and Sheri Wertlieb got married.
At 23, Sudhalter became an assistant administrator at Circle Manor, an 86-bed nursing home. Six months later, he became the home's top administrator.
"I didn't interview a whole lot of 23-year-olds for the job," laughed Wertlieb. "I was impressed by his warm personality. He cares about people and has a constant positive attitude."
During his four years at Circle Manor, Sudhalter earned the respect of the staff by implementing a program that emphasized treating both employees and patients as customers.
He credits the internship program with giving him the knowledge and understanding to do the job.
"It made me empathize with every person's job I would eventually manage," he explained.
In 1989, Sudhalter and Wertlieb decided they wanted to grow the business and formed privately held Global Health Management, which recently was renamed Allegis Health Services.
Since then, the Calverton, Md.-based company has grown from two skilled-nursing facilities to eight, specializing in turning around facilities in the Baltimore-Washington area that have had clinical or financial troubles.
The company also manages three hospital-based skilled-nursing facilities and owns an institutional pharmacy and infusion therapy subsidiary and a rehabilitation provider.
The company's revenues have grown to $68.7 million in 1995 from $15 million in 1989. The company expects to post $80 million in revenues in 1996. Net income for 1995 was approximately $2.5 million.
Sudhalter typically served as the transition administrator for each facility until a permanent replacement could be found. He is now an executive vice president responsible for marketing, customer service and media relations.
Judi Hannes, public affairs director with the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, which represents more than 150 nursing homes in the state, attributed the success of the company in part to Sudhalter's aggressive, no-nonsense style.
"Gary is not a wallflower," she said. "He understands the business, and he sticks his neck out. He has a strong commitment to the industry and the people in it."
Allegis also has caught the attention of Mariner Health Group, based in New London, Conn. Mariner has signed a $110 million agreement to acquire Allegis in October.
"Capitalizing on management's 25 years of local operating experience, Allegis has a demonstrated track record for providing quality, cost-effective services," said Arthur W. Stratton Jr., M.D., chairman and chief executive officer of Mariner. "We are pleased to add Allegis' senior management to the Mariner Health management team."
When the acquisition is complete, Mariner will provide post-acute services at 78 inpatient centers and 57 outpatient clinics in 28 states. It also will manage rehabilitation programs in 429 skilled-nursing facilities and 138 other sites. Sudhalter said if the deal goes through as planned, he will serve as vice president of promotions for Mariner's Mid-Atlantic region.
"You never know what's going to happen in healthcare," Sudhalter said. "My philosophy is that change is good. If I can learn more from Mariner then it will benefit the end user, which is the patient."