After 16 years at the helm, Good Shepherd President and CEO Sally Gammon is retiring. A look at many of the organization's milestones since her arrival
From her light-filled corner office overlooking Good Shepherd’s south Allentown campus, Sally Gammon can see the past, the present and the future. It was here that she oversaw a $51 million capital campaign and campus transformation that included closing a busy street, helped envision the creation of the Lehigh Valley’s first inpatient rehabilitation unit for children and worked to form a dynamic partnership with one of the nation’s leading academic acute-care networks.
The past is represented by the bronze sculpture of the late Rev. Dr. Conrad Raker, former administrator and son of Good Shepherd’s founders, joyfully lifting a little girl with outstretched crutches. From the present, there is a small apartment complex that provides greater independent living to people with disabilities. And to see the future, she need look no farther than the 64,000-square-foot Health and Technology Center that provides so much hope to so many even as miracles are wrought here every day.
When Sally arrived in 1997 to become Good Shepherd’s first woman president and only the fifth person to head the organization in its then 89-year-history, St. John Street cut a busy swath past the administration building. Across the street, the landscape was a hodge-podge of dilapidated buildings and a parking lot.
Now, when she looks out her window and considers her pending retirement in the early summer, she sees a college-like campus with lush green grass and flowering plants and trees, and a complex of buildings that has both carried on and elevated the vision of Good Shepherd’s founders to something even they could never have imagined.
Her achievements as chief executive officer are, she stresses, the result of collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders that includes the board of trustees, staff, volunteers, patients, residents, community leaders, government officials, and donors.
“My experience over the years has been nothing but welcoming,” she says. “The Lehigh Valley is so collaborative that I could call on anybody for help.”
She credits the organization’s growth and successes to a fundamental philosophy dating back 105 years to its founders, The Rev. John “Papa” Raker, his wife Estella and their son, Conrad, with whom Sally worked for five-and-a-half years until his passing in 2002.
“It’s all about the Raker heritage and legacy, to always be ‘presenting the cause’ as John Raker said, of being on the forefront to help people with any level of functional impairment,” she says.
So compelled were the Rakers to follow the call to serve people with disabilities, that with only their faith and 50 cents, they opened their farmhouse in 1908 to the first of many in need, providing a refuge for “crippled orphans, blind orphans, infant orphans, destitute children, old people, and aged or disabled ministers.”
The bedrock of Good Shepherd’s founding can be found in one of Papa Raker’s favorite scriptures, Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
That mission, then and now, resonated with Sally who began her career as a physical therapist for the state of Connecticut before embarking on a 14-year stint with Easter Seals in Manchester, New Hampshire. Leadership roles continued to hone her executive skills at Health Northeast/Elliot Hospital, also in Manchester, where she was appointed division director of oncology, rehabilitation and orthopedics, followed in 1990 by her appointment as president and chief executive officer at The Rehabilitation Center of Fairfield County in Bridgeport, Connecticut, an affiliate of Yale-New Haven Health System.
Of the 221 applicants for the job at Good Shepherd, Sally was so impressive that Conrad was moved to write in the May/June 1997 issue of Sweet Charity, “Like cream coming to the top of the old-fashioned milk bottle, Sally Gammon stood head and shoulders above the rest.” Her energy, drive and business acumen, along with a deep-seated passion to help others propelled her through the proverbial glass ceiling. There would be a lot to test her — notably closing a section of St. John Street to accommodate a multi-million dollar campus transformation — but no shortage of people willing to help and advise.
“Conrad taught me over and over and over the importance of relationships and how you can never say thank you enough,” she says. “He was a master of communication and of course, he learned that from his father. He was revered in this community.”
The late Dexter Baker, former CEO and chairman of Air Products and Chemicals, emerged as a mentor and trusted advisor, as did Elmer Gates, a co-founder of Embassy Bank, and like Dexter, a well-respected philanthropist and businessman. Elmer describes Sally as “a low profile, high impact visionary leader” who, with every decision, never loses sight of the impact on patient outcomes.
“Her leadership has truly transformed Good Shepherd into a world leader in rehabilitation technology and clinical practices resulting in rehabilitation ‘miracles’ in the eyes of scores of patients and families,” says Elmer.
Growth & Partnerships
With visionary growth, increased charitable care, a greater number of people served, and a strong investment in technology as the cornerstones of her tenure, Sally, in partnership with the board of trustees, has positioned Good Shepherd as a rehabilitation leader with a growing national reputation.
“I’m really proud of our board,” says Sally. “We hold two strategic retreats a year, looking at data, understanding health-care reform and the competitive environment, and we really challenge each other, address substantive issues, and set new strategic directions every five years.”
The numbers help tell the story of success. In 1997, the network consisted of the Good Shepherd Home with 135 residents, a rehabilitation hospital, a workshop providing employment to people with disabilities, and two outpatient sites in Kutztown and Laurys Station. Nearly 10,000 people were served.
In 2012, the Good Shepherd network served more than 61,000 people. One-hundred-fifty-nine residents call Good Shepherd home. It has grown to include 49 outpatient sites, a 20-bed pediatric inpatient unit, and an expanded rehabilitation hospital with renowned stroke, brain and spinal cord injury programs. Specialty programs have been developed in neurorehabilitation, multiple sclerosis, spine and back problems, and vision therapy.
A number of rewarding partnerships have been formed too with acute-care hospitals in Easton, Wayne and the Poconos.
Most significantly, in 2008, a major joint venture was formed with the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia resulting in one of the largest and most comprehensive continuums of post-acute medical care in eastern Pennsylvania. Good Shepherd Penn Partners consists of a rehabilitation hospital, a long-term acute care hospital and 13 outpatient sites. It also provides all of the acute care therapy within the three acute care hospitals of Penn Medicine.
“This joint venture, of which Good Shepherd is 70 percent owner, brings the Good Shepherd care, compassion and great outcomes to patients served in the Philadelphia region,” says Sally. “I’m especially proud that this has been so successful.”
Other visionary endeavors include the long-term acute care hospital (LTACH) which opened in Bethlehem in 2000.
“Our LTACH was a new level of care for Good Shepherd,” says Sally. “For many people, it was the first stop in post-acute care in getting people off ventilators and on their feet. It was very innovative.”
That was followed in 2003 with the Supported Independent Living Apartments, a technologically-driven project providing housing to 18 people with disabilities.
“That was phenomenal,” she says. “It showed how people with severe disabilities don’t have to live in a nursing home. They can live on their own with technology.”
Of the many changes affecting health care in the last 16 years, one of the most exciting is technology. This has been a passion of Sally’s and its place in the forefront of Good Shepherd’s future is evident in the very name of the Health and Technology Center, which opened in 2006 and is the gem in the organization’s campus transformation.
Over the years, Sally has witnessed technology play what she sees as a miraculous role in people’s lives. One of the newest technologies which she marvels at is the Ekso bionic exoskeleton which is helping people with lower extremity weakness or paralysis walk.
“The Ekso bionic exoskeleton is yielding results nothing short of amazing,” she says. “And we are always introducing other innovative rehabilitation and assistive technologies, like environmental controls accessible through wheelchair-mounted computers that bring greater independence to patients and residents alike.”
Sally is also deeply grateful to donors who have helped advance Good Shepherd’s mission. It was donor generosity that made it possible for Good Shepherd to acquire the Ekso, and donors rallied around the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit in Bethlehem, which opened in 2009 and is gaining a national reputation for excellence.
And she is excited about strengthening the bond between Good Shepherd and the Dornsifes whose family is linked to the Rakers dating back more than 100 years.
“That legacy of caring for children and their families continues in the Dornsife Pediatric Outpatient Therapy Suite that opened in 2010 thanks to a generous gift of $450,000 in grants from the Dornsifes,” says Sally.
Sally’s own legacy of caring is firmly planted in the history and in the future of Good Shepherd where her successor will find much to build upon. But for all the technology and new buildings that have transformed the organization, and for all the personal accolades, awards, and recognitions she’s received, what brings the biggest smile to Sally’s face is the people, particularly all the staff who make Good Shepherd what it is.
“What I’m most proud of is that we’re always, always focusing on the patient or the resident,” she says. “Our explosive growth has been based on the patient’s needs. We’ve never lost sight of that.”