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Sombrillo’s new director settles in

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By Bennett Horne

Some people might find it a little unnerving to be hit with a government inspection of their operations a handful of days after stepping into the role of the director of those operations.

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That wasn’t the case for Linda Bullock, who started as the executive director for Sombrillo Nursing and Rehab Center and Aspen Ridge Lodge in early January, about a week before the state came in to conduct its annual survey of the facilities.

“I started on Jan. 8 and they walked in about a week later,” she said. “We weren’t due for our survey until the latter part of April through July, but they came early because a lot of the facilities in New Mexico were sick with the flu and we weren’t.”

For Bullock, who for over 25 years has worked in the field of elder health care, the early survey simply meant hitting the ground running at a quicker pace than the already fast past she had started.

“First we’re clearing the minor things that were identified by the state survey,” she said. “That’s my primary objective right now, just managing the survey process. We have a few minor improvements that were identified that we need to work on to make things better. So I’m working on those things.”

That’s just the start of her list.

“I’ve been meeting all the residents and their families,” she said, “and connecting with members of the community, the business community and the medical providers as well as meeting with our board members and just overseeing daily operations.

“Once that’s done, which will probably be another 30 days, I’ll be able to assess where we’re at and get some recommendations for goals for improvement,” she added.

Bullock, who has a master’s degree in Public Health, is also a licensed nursing home administrator. She moved to Los Alamos from Castle Rock, Colorado, which is located between Denver and Colorado Springs.

“It has an outlet mall and some people like to stop and shop at the outlet mall as they travel on I-25 heading north from New Mexico,” she said.

But her job experiences aren’t limited to the state of Colorado.

“While working in Colorado I traveled about 200,000 miles a year for my job,” she said. “I’ve worked in the southeast part of the country for a number of years, worked in Florida, Tennessee, California and have been in the New York-New Jersey area. I’ve traveled internationally and have seen some very good things in Canada, Europe and Asia. I’ve seen all kinds of services for older adults as well as acute care services.”

Even though she has a lot of observations to draw from, Bullock said she first wants to understand the needs of the facilities’ residents as well as input from the board.  

“I’m filled with ideas, but before embarking on new adventures I want to get a feel for what the community really wants and also follow the direction of the community board,” she explained. “I’m also gathering information regarding what’s working, getting staff input regarding what’s working well, areas they’d like to see improved, gathering information from the community at large regarding their opinions about the overall campus and how things have been going in the past.”

An early positive for the two facilities is the news of the first of several staff additions.

“We have some really good staff members that work here, but I think there are some opportunities to add some more qualified staff members to the team, so we’ve been actively recruiting some new talent,” Bullock said. “We’re really excited that we have three registered nurses joining our team. We’ve hired two and the third is coming this week. We’ve made some offers to some very qualified talent in the region that we hope to announce soon regarding them joining our team.

“We’re looking to add some additional staff members that love and want to care for the elderly,” she said.

Bullock said her love of New Mexico was at the top of her list when considering the new position.

“No. 1 was the location,” she said. “I’m fond of New Mexico.”

And she noted this wasn’t her first time to be in Los Alamos.

“My best friend in college was dating a boy from New Mexico and when I was in college we came through Los Alamos to pick her up,” she recalled. “She was staying with her boyfriend’s family – they worked at the lab – and she eventually married that person and now he’s working at the Livermore lab in California.”

She added, “So I have some very limited knowledge of families that had affiliations with the national lab, so that wasn’t something that was foreign to me.”

A second visit made an even bigger impression on her.

“When I was recruited (for the position) they brought me here and I took a tour,” she said. “I thought it was a very nice community. The staff was nice and the residents and their families were very nice, as were the board members. And I thought I might be able to come in and make a difference.”

One small change that’s been well received since she arrived was the addition of two newcomers to the community fish tank.

“So far since I’ve been here we’ve added two pet fish, Oscar and Felix,” she laughed. “And everyone seems to enjoy watching them.”

And don’t forget the belly dancers.

“We had belly dancers come in from the YMCA,” she said. “They were part of a dance troupe – some kids and teenagers and adults – and that was a big hit.”

Bullock said while residents were also recently treated to a presentation by the New Mexico Museum of Art and History, one of the most well-received activities has been a pen pal program that’s brought together some of the residents and students from a local high school.

“One activity we’re doing that’s really exciting is a pen pal program with Pojoaque High School,” she said. “We have about 20 high school students that are now pen pals with several of our residents. The residents are getting mail from the students and the students are asking about their lives, and the residents are providing some historical information to them as well as just being a friend. That’s been very fun.”

Many more events are being planned as Bullock strives to reinforce the partnership between the residents and the Los Alamos community.

“We’re an integral part of the community and the community’s an integral part of us,” she said. “We don’t want people to see that there’s any kind of barrier for them to come visit.”

She added, “People are going to start seeing our residents at more and more events in the community and we hope people in the community will want to come and have events here. We want it to be seamless.”