Keckritz leaves legacy

Kim Keckritz

Henrietta Bauer, the first administrator at what was then known as Monroe County Nursing Home, retired on Jan. 1, 1974.

Fifty years later, almost to the day, former Oak Hill administrator Kim Keckritz will officially be off the books after 22 years with the county-owned senior living and rehabilitation center in Waterloo.

During her tenure, Keckritz led an effort to build a new facility and successfully navigated two natural disasters and a global pandemic.

When Keckritz, a Maeystown native and Valmeyer High School alumna, was hired in the summer of 2001 to be the administrator of the Monroe County Care & Rehabilitation Center, she already had nearly a decade of administrative experience with two privately-owned St. Louis nursing homes.  

She was hired at a time when the Waterloo facility was operated by Management Performance Associates of St. Louis, which had been tasked by the Monroe County Board to overhaul the nursing home in an attempt to make it profitable.

Less than three years later, it was determined the building at 500 Illinois Avenue would either need a complete overhaul or be abandoned, and county voters approved an April 2003 referendum to build a brand new senior living center elsewhere in town.

For Keckritz, that’s when the real work began.

She spent the next three years juggling the management of the senior living center while also working with commissioners and a bevy of construction and design teams to plan the facility.

“The support of (county commissioners) Terry Liefer and Delbert Wittenauer was invaluable,” Keckritz said of the planning process.

“We spent so many hours trying to figure out what the home was going to look like,” including the layout of the building itself to the interior aesthetics, Keckritz continued. “First we had to figure out how many beds we were going to have, then we decided to include supportive living, which we didn’t have at the old building but went along with the county’s mission of providing for people regardless of their ability to pay.”

Keckritz also said she and others spent hours planning how to transition residents to the new facility, although it became a moot point on Nov. 30, 2006, when an ice storm forced an emergency relocation of residents to the new Oak Hill facility on Hamacher Street two weeks ahead of schedule.

The storm caused a number of leaks in the roof and a power outage on the main floor of the existing facility with below-freezing temperatures outside, prompting the Illinois Department of Public Health to approve an evacuation to the new location.

“Actually, it was a blessing in disguise,” Keckritz recalled. “We ended up getting a tremendous amount of help from community volunteers we may not have had otherwise,” which accomplished in five hours what was planned as a two-day relocation.

Once Oak Hill was up and running, Keckritz was able to focus on making the senior living center profitable for the county – an endeavor some did not think was possible.

Liefer spoke with the Republic-Times about working with Keckritz during that transition to Oak Hill.

“When I was elected in 2004, I was told I should try to derail and stop the nursing home,” Liefer began. “We had to figure out how to make a $20 million building pay for itself.” 

Liefer credited Keckritz  for Oak Hill’s success.

“She was very serious about it. She treated it like it was her investment,” Liefer continued. 

In fact, Oak Hill became profitable enough to finance construction of the Evergreen Pointe rehabilitation wing in 2017 with additional county funds.

“(Oak Hill) paid for that with the money we had in our savings,” Keckritz said. “We did not borrow any money for Evergreen Pointe. None,” she emphasized. 

“(Keckritz) said she was the one who was going to get us out of debt,” Liefer said.  “She not only did that, but she got it to a five-star rating,” the highest level of a senior care facility rating system introduced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2008.

Keckritz said she is most proud of achieving and maintaining the prestigious five-star rating, with Oak Hill being one of the only facilities in the region to boast such a claim.

She also said she is proud of the improvements made to the exterior at Oak Hill thanks to the help of the Monroe County Nursing Home Memorial Endowment Association, which funded several outdoor pavilions, garden areas and a walking trail.

“We made that a big priority (for the residents), and you can look at the research  to see how beneficial outdoor areas are” for senior living facilities, Keckritz said.

Current director of Oak Hill’s Whispering Pines memory care unit Julia Olszewski – a lifelong friend and classmate of Keckritz at Valmeyer – also spoke with the Republic-Times about what she described as Keckritz’s “legacy.”

Olszewski shared Liefer’s sentiment about Keckritz’s tenacity when it came to Oak Hill.

“She had her nose to the grindstone,” Olszewski said of Keckritz. “People still come in today and say how nice it is and how clean it is. It doesn’t stay like that unless you have good leadership.”

Olszewski also credited Keckritz’s “open-door policy” with Oak Hill staff and commitment to building relationships with residents as reasons for Oak Hill’s success during Keckritz’s time as administrator.

“I felt like everyone who worked there was like family,” Olszewski said, adding Keckritz had a “good foundation” of directors, specifically former directors of nursing Donna DeWilde and Zoe Weakly and former maintenance supervisor, the late Dan Borisuk, who she said was a tremendous asset  during the transition to the new Oak Hill building.

“By having the best people in leadership positions Oak Hill was able to provide exceptional care for the residents,” Olszewski said.

She also called Evergreene Point the “crown jewel” of Oak Hill, saying the rehabilitation center was needed not only to keep up with industry standards, but to fulfill a community need.

Olszewski said her attention to financial details allowed Evergreen Pointe to become a reality.

“She watched that budget like a hawk,” Olszewski said.

Together, Keckritz and Olszewski weathered a number of unique experiences, including a tornado in 2011 which found residents of Canterbury Manor off Market Street in Waterloo staying in temporary residence at Oak Hill.

The pair also dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before 2020, Olszewski recalled she and Keckritz were part of a safety review committee, and whenever the section regarding pandemic response was brought up, Olszewski said she “always kind of smiled and thought, ‘This will never happen.’”

When it did happen in March 2020, Keckritz was faced with ever-changing guidelines and increasing supply shortages.

“It was rough,” Olszewski said, but added Keckritz was “unflappable.”

The final few years of Keckritz’s career were also challenging in other ways.

In addition to dealing with COVID-19, Keckritz’s plans to move to a part-time, semi-retirement role were postponed twice.

The first time Keckritz tried to step away from full-time leadership in early 2020, her appointed replacement declined to accept the administrator position weeks before she was set to take over.

When a new Oak Hill administrator was hired in late 2020, Keckritz was able to take a reduced role, only to be reinstated when its administrator suddenly resigned in September 2021.

The current administrator began in February 2022, allowing Keckritz to stay on in part-time capacity at Oak Hill until her retirement last month.

Keckritz says she plans to spend time with her young grandchildren and  take trips and go camping with her family.

“It has been a blessing in my life to serve the people of Monroe County by working alongside dedicated people to provide quality service for the seniors who live here.”

Liefer concluded his comments by saying Keckritz was “very instrumental” in making Oak Hill a success.

“I appreciate her efforts, and I hope it doesn’t go unnoticed,” Liefer concluded. 

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Scott Woodsmall

HTC web