By Dan Hust
LIBERTY Cathy Rauschendorfer keenly remembers the day she took the state nursing home administrator license test.
“There were 150 questions that counted,” she says. “You had to get at least 113 right.”
Weeks of taking online courses, studying incessantly and a good deal of praying had led to this point.
Now she was staring at a computer screen in Poughkeepsie, trying to stay calm while the software analyzed her answers.
“I literally thought I’d pass out,” she recalls.
The computer finally revealed she’d nailed 118 questions covering everything from financial operations to how wide handicapped parking spaces must be (13 feet minimum, if you’re wondering).
“I was elated!” Rauschendorfer admits.
She was also on her way to becoming the permanent head of the Sullivan County Adult Care Center in Liberty made official with the March 19 receipt of her administrator license.
It was the culmination of a life spent helping those in need and always seeking out the next big challenge.
Born in the Bronx 51 years ago, Rauschendorfer and her family moved to Saugerties when she was 14. After graduating from the local high school, she earned an associate’s in social work at Ulster County Community College.
A lifelong Catholic, she enjoyed helping others, especially those in difficult situations.
“I’ve always done volunteer work,” she says, listing efforts with her church, the Special Olympics and wildlife rehabilitation. “It’s just always been in my nature.”
Fresh out of UCCC, Rauschendorfer landed direct-care jobs at ARC in Ellenville and then the former Wassaic State Hospital in Dutchess County.
She loved it and continued her career as a substance abuse counselor, first at Daytop, then at the Recovery Center.
Those jobs brought her to Sullivan County, but it was the beauty of the area and the proximity to family that kept her here. (She remains a Woodbourne resident, along with her two parrots and two cats.)
Realizing her professional future required it, Rauschendorfer earned a master’s in social work from Fordham in 2002 and secured the related state license all while working full-time and raising a daughter, Elizabeth (who’s now 24 and a social worker herself).
“I felt like there were more things I wanted to do,” she says.
That actually didn’t include leading a nursing home, but a fateful decision inexorably pushed her onto that path.
Following her master’s, Rauschendorfer joined Catskill Regional Medical Center as a case manager (which she still does on a per-diem basis).
Subsequently, Adult Care Center (ACC) Administrator Pam Hurley asked her to join the facility as a social worker.
“To be honest,” Rauschendorfer recalls, “I said no.
“I wasn’t really sure geriatrics was something I’d enjoy doing.”
Yet the lure of another challenge proved irresistible and it was medical social work, a particular passion of hers.
She decided to accept.
Shortly thereafter, Hurley announced her retirement, and Rauschendorfer was approached to be her successor.
Once again, she weighed it out and accepted.
But this wasn’t quite as simple. She had to take 15 college credits and pass that aforementioned state licensing exam.
To prepare her for the role, she became the ACC’s deputy administrator in 2010. In the meantime, former Director Jim Galligan stepped in as interim administrator.
The county paid for her coursework on the condition that she pass the test and remain the administrator through 2014.
In fact, she hopes to retire from the job but that will depend on both her performance and the county’s commitment to the ACC.
Neighboring counties like Orange and Ulster have been divesting themselves of their county-run nursing homes, citing high costs.
Rauschendorfer doesn’t want to see that happen in Sullivan County. It would affect far more than the approximately 140 residents and 174 employees, who also have families that depend on the ACC’s services and salaries.
But when asked about the ACC’s continued survivability as a publicly-funded institution, she’s blunt.
“I don’t know,” she admits. “That’s the most honest answer I can give you.”
Rauschendorfer sees a need for the ACC, which can serve more of the population than private facilities.
“When the Legislature says we’re the safety net for county residents, we really are,” she affirms.
And she’s certain she can increase efficiencies to the point where the county might be close to breaking even.
“Will we ever be totally self-sufficient? I don’t know,” she adds. “We do wonderful work here. ... [But] we do have to become more competitive.”
Part of that effort includes a deeper connection to the people who support the ACC.
“We need to become more a part of our community,” she says.
That need not be a complex task. Rauschendorfer points to a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) trip she took to Africa in 2004. (She’s a CYO leader at both the county and archdiocesean levels.)
In Tanzania, she met a girl who had buttonholes that were so worn, she had to hold her clothes in place.
“Finding a needle and thread and fixing the buttonholes on her shirt made all the difference to her,” Rauschendorfer recalls.
That’s been translated at the ACC into beautification partnerships with the Master Gardener and Sullivan Renaissance programs, regular and open communication with the staff, and direct interaction with the community.
The ACC’s Family Council is crucial in that regard, holding monthly meetings and events like a talent show.
Rauschendorfer has a high regard for the Council, and they for her.
“We’re very pleased with her,” says Council President Fred Robertson. “She has a lot of new ideas to improve the facility.”
“You must give people some ownership,” Rauschendorfer explains. “... You can’t ignore them that doesn’t work.”