By Paula Burkes The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Ginger Barsotti started out as a nurse when she was just 19 years old. Today, at 62, she is still deeply involved in caring for patients but now she does as the Chief Executive of "Physician's Choice Hospice" which she founded in 2006.
The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
Adamant about not being a braggart, Ginger Barsotti is less than comfortable touting herself or her career.
Inside, she says she's still the small-town girl who grew up on a Lincoln County farm. But today, that gal heads Edmond-based Physician's Choice Hospice, which employs 120 and serves 270 families across Oklahoma City, Chandler and Tulsa.
Founded in 2006, Physician's Choice strives to assist patients who are within six months of death with the inevitable symptoms of terminal illness from Alzheimer's and cancer to congestive heart failure. Most are 85 and older and reside in nursing homes or assisted living facilities; 95 percent use Medicare benefits to pay for the covered service.
"There's no more noble cause," said Barsotti, noting the company's nurses, nurse aides, social workers and chaplains all most possess excellence, integrity, passion, service, stability, commitment and compassion.
With needs only growing, Barsotti is expanding her business. She's building a new 5,500-square-foot headquarters a half-mile north of her current location at 1000 NW 139 Parkway and plans to open a new territory in the Grove-Pryor-Checotah area soon.
Barsotti, 62, recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about her life and career. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: In Davenport, an itty bitty community (population: 800) between Chandler and Stroud. We lived seven miles out in the country on a 1,600-acre farm. My father's relatives came from Kentucky here during the Land Run of 1889 to claim the first 160 acres, and we homesteaded the rest. My paternal grandparents lived on the farm with us, and my father raised cattle. He also worked as an oil-field roustabout and bulk oil distributor. I'm the middle of three girls. When we were young, we had chickens and dairy cows. The farm is still in our family; both of my sisters live there, and I also have a home there. Our mother, 87, now lives in Stroud. Our father is deceased.
Q: What were the highlights of your school years?
A: I was a twirler, played the flute and piano, and graduated in a class of 24.
Q: Why did you decide to become a nurse?
A: My grandfather told me to, convincing me that I'd always have a job. He died at age 72 of leukemia and was preceded in death by my grandmother, who died when I was 16. I was a registered nurse by age 19, earning my associate degree at what was then Seminole Junior College and, within the next nine year years, earned my bachelor's in nursing and master's in business administration at the University of Central Oklahoma. My mother and both sisters followed me into nursing. My mom, who went to work after she raised us, earned her master's in nursing at OU when she was 60 and managed skilled nursing units nationwide, before retiring at age 62. My older sister works as a manager in the Cushing hospital ER, and my younger sister manages a home health agency in Stroud.
Q: You became an entrepreneur early in your career. Walk us through your path to opening Physician's Choice Hospice.
A: After working five years as an oncology nurse at University Hospital, I and a girlfriend started a home health agency -- Consultants in Care -- which we operated for nine years, managing patients' blood pressures, fractured hips and more. Then I was approached by Chicago-based Caremark, a Baxter company, to manage an IV therapy branch on Northwest Expressway, which I did for four years. My territory included Oklahoma City, Tulsa and at times Wichita. It was fun working for a big company, acquiring first-rate sales training and achieving great results. This little girl from Davenport was among the company's national high achievers sent on awards trips to Australia, Monte Carlo and St. Martin. It was fabulous. I worked the next three years with a physician who treated HIV patients with infusion therapy. A highlight was accompanying him to Berlin where he presented at an international AIDS conference. After we sold the company in 1995, I freelanced for a few years before starting a physical therapy company that contracted with nursing homes. I decided to open a hospice organization in 2003, when I saw hospice providers come into nursing homes and believed I could do better.
Q: Physician's Choice offers extra services free of charge, including "butterfly wishes" and biographical videos. Tell us about those.
A: Butterfly wishes are little patient wishes. We've granted everything from gifting prepaid mobile phones and $600 chair lifts to arranging for a wheelchair-bound patient on oxygen to see Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" at Quail Springs Cinema. The biographies are amazing. One patient shared his story about being the first black man to eat lunch in a Norman restaurant. Another woman held up a portrait of her deceased husband, and told her family that she soon would be getting her wings to join the love of her life in heaven.
Q: You are purposeful about showing appreciation to employees. What are some of your initiatives?
A: Our staff are angels who do unspeakable things that nobody sees and without credit. Averaging some 75 patient deaths a day, we try to do things that help relieve employee stress -- from themed monthly lunches, including Halloween costumes and Turkey Bingo, to impromptu 30-minute laser-tag sessions down the road at Main Event. We held our recent holiday party at the Oklahoma History Center, giving staff $1,000 in play money for gambling. At the end of the night, employees could use what money they'd won or had left to buy Bose radios, flat-screen TVs, laptops, Thunder tickets or a helicopter ride to view Christmas lights. To kick off the new year, I offered to pay gym memberships for any headquarters employee who wanted one. Seventeen people took me up on it.