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Acting from the Heart: Shana Mark of Encompass Health Nittany Valley Aims to Be a Servant Leader

*This interview appears in the March 2020 issue of Town&Gown.

Shana Mark joined Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Nittany Valley as director of business development in August 2020 and, among other things, has played a key role in the hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She serves as coordinator of the hospital’s COVID vaccine clinic.

Mark leads the Encompass clinical admissions and marketing team in connecting the community to rehabilitative care. She oversees strategic partnerships with its healthcare systems, as well as education and community outreach.

An artist with a charitable heart, Mark was born and raised in Huntingdon and graduated from Juniata Valley High School and Millersville University. She is currently completing her MBA with a concentration in health and human services administration from Mount Aloysius College.

Mark, who lived in Lancaster County for 13 years before moving back to Huntingdon, has a son, Eric, 23, and a daughter, Jaden, 22.

Town&Gown founder Mimi Barash Coppersmith recently sat down with Mark via Zoom to discuss the rehab hospital’s efforts to help patients recovering from COVID, the vaccine clinic, and her passion for being a servant leader.

Mimi: I’ve been looking forward to this interview. So how are you now that you’re in Centre County, knocking everything off the wall?

Shana: It’s going fantastic. Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Nittany Valley has been so successful in the last few months and is proud to be a supporting partner to Mount Nittany Medical Center as well as other healthcare systems to take care of our community. That’s just a phenomenal thing to be part of, to be able to help so many of our community members who are recovering from COVID and are in a really weakened state, in addition to our traditional rehab patients, and to be able to facilitate rehab services as a transition from acute care settings to our hospital. Encompass is able to provide rehabilitation that’s aimed at getting our patients stronger and back to prior function level. COVID is just ravaging through our community. It’s been really hectic and it’s been tough, but it’s so rewarding to know that we’ve been able to be there and make a difference.

Mimi: You’re part of making the community better, really. Every patient that you help rehabilitate hopefully has a better chance of getting back to a normal life.

Shana: Absolutely. [Mount Nittany] has been so full that they’ve really looked to us to be a partner with them, to be able to handle the huge flow that’s unfortunately come through. We’re seeing patients that COVID has exacerbated medical conditions and left them in such a weakened state that in order for them to be able to go home again, or to their level of care, they really needed in-patient rehabilitation services.

We’re seeing different kinds of patients and different kinds of lengths of stay, all while trying to keep [COVID] at bay in our hospital. We’ve been very successful with our infection-control protocols. We’ve been very diligent and strategic, but fortunate that we’ve been able to be at that level to be able to provide care to many in need.

Mimi: It’s a great thing that you were there when this happened.

Shana: I definitely feel like I’m at the right place at the right time, and having the opportunity to pivot my role to be able to coordinate our internal COVID vaccination clinic for our staff is such a blessing as well, because it just makes such a difference. Our staff are so grateful and so thankful for this opportunity to protect themselves and the patients we care for. There’s no way to count how many lives that we may save.

So it’s just such important work. Again, it’s a little different than my usual hospital leadership, but my role here is really to connect our hospital to the community and to offer whatever services we can. I feel like that’s answering that call at the highest level.

Mimi: It’s making more and more people aware of what you do there.

Shana: Absolutely, yes. In the back end, it does benefit the hospital as well. But we hope people see us as a healthcare provider who’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the community, because we’re all stepping out of our roles – the nursing staff to housekeeping, everyone as a team – to be able to provide the highest level of care and infection control.

Mimi: I’m just curious: You have an art background?

Shana: I do, yes.

Mimi: To what extent do you have the opportunity to tie it in to the rehabilitation work at Encompass?

Shana: I’ve had the opportunity to do that in multiple ways. My educational background is in art originally. I was really torn to go into something medical or something artistic. So I started out in art and it kind of led me into advertising, marketing, public relations. I eventually transitioned and went clinically into dentistry. I spent years in dentistry and did marketing and advertising, as well as being chairside in dentistry.

But I’ve used art in a lot of different ways. Even here, for national rehab week, I taught several classes to our rehab patients where we did adaptive painting as part of their therapy for that day. My original major was art therapy. I use it every day, designing things, being creative with our marketing and advertising. I try to use it therapeutically as much as possible. I also teach painting classes at Graystone in Bellefonte. I’ve been doing that for a couple years.

Mimi: I find it interesting, as I was reflecting before this interview, that historically, there has been some very positive female leadership at the rehab hospital. The women I’ve dealt with in that place over the years make me feel very proud as a woman. You’re one of them; a lot of your colleagues are also. How did that happen?

Shana: We have a lot of longevity here at Nittany Valley that I will tell you that is one of the things that drew me to be here, because I really wanted to plant roots. I feel very convicted about what we’re doing here and the community in which we do it. We have eight senior leaders on our leadership team that lead each department, and together we lead our hospital. And of those eight, six of us are women.

Mimi: How do you preserve an environment like that?

Shana: I believe that the underlying premise is that successful women have hired successful women. We’re not intimidated, but rather inspired and acknowledge collectively we are stronger. I think that we are a mirror for each other, and let each other’s light reflect and shine. We take the best of all of us and really know what each other’s strengths are, and allow that to guide the hospital. There’s not competition here; we build each other up, we genuinely support each other.

Mimi: So do you love it, even though we’re in this pandemic?

Shana: I absolutely do. I actually consider it a really unique opportunity. I believe it’s going to be a tremendous reflection on my career to look back and to be able to say I was part of this. Just like the other day, when we did our employee vaccine clinic, our chief nursing officer came in and she gave me one of the vials that was empty. And she said, ‘You should hold onto this as a souvenir. Because this is a thing from our time that changed lives. And we were part of this, we were saving those lives.’ And so I have that sitting on my desk and will always hold on to that vial because of what it represents at this time in history.

Mimi: You’ve moved around a bit. What’s different here?

Shana: State College is so amazing because it still has that hometown feel. You look around and you see the mountains and it’s rural, but yet it has that creativity and that liveliness and spirit of the people that are here; there’s so much culture and diversity, and I find that to be so exciting. Even when you look at the demographic of the people who we serve at our Encompass Health Nittany Valley, we have everyone from Penn State professors to farmers. It’s across the board and everybody has a story, and everybody that you talk to is so ingrained in the community in one way or the other; there’s something here for everybody.

I’m really looking forward to – as we get back out there and things open up – getting involved as much as I can be. I really want to be plugged into the community and to be seen as a leader in Centre County. There’s so much opportunity and so many people who are so creatively collaborative here. I’m looking forward to moving our hospital into the community even further to see just what kind of connections we can make, and the partnerships that we can have.

Mimi: Well, that’s a good way to stand. There’s a lot to be done, even though the nonprofit inventory in Centre County is quite an impressive list of hardworking people, working for people who need our help.

Shana: Sometimes when people think of State College, they think maybe of perhaps more affluent parts of the community. But there’s actually a very large population that is in need of various care situations. And that’s where my heart is, to be able to perhaps say yes when others would say no. Providing rehabilitation to our community at the highest level is what we are focused on, and I’m very blessed to be able to service all populations.

Mimi: What do you do for just plain old fun, just for you?

Shana: I like to always have a creative outlet, so I do a lot of art. I really like to use my pottery wheel and I like to paint. Most of all, I enjoying teaching. Right now, I’m teaching virtual painting classes for Mount Aloysius College.

I also have my own nonprofit; I will teach painting for nonprofits or charitable causes to raise money. They’ll do what they call a sip and paint, or a paint party, and I provide most of the materials and my own time, so all the money raised goes to the organization. Or, I’ll just go to senior centers or senior high-rises and teach classes just because I enjoy it. I like to pay it forward and enjoy using my talents to give to others.

I also really enjoy being outside. I planted a big garden last year, which was really awesome. I’m looking forward to doing that again this year. I have a koi pond in my backyard, and I like to hike and camp and boat. I just really enjoy being with my kids and my family. We do all those things together. My kids are my heart and soul and whatever they are doing, I love being there as their biggest fan. And if there’s somebody that needs me, I try to always be plugged into that, too. I really feel like I’ve been blessed in my life, and it’s really important for me to be able to bless others as well.

Mimi: Well, that’s a wonderful message to our readers. And I’m sure you’ll be hearing from some of these groups who are trying to find new ways to raise very important money for a very important subject.

Shana: That’s really what I hope to come out of this.

Mimi: Tell me how you think you’ve arrived at this point in your adult life with that remarkable attitude?

Shana: I think that my life has taken a lot of interesting turns. My path has not been straightforward. And while some may have seen that as a challenge, I’ve looked at that as a positive. I’m a glass-half-full person all the time, and I see things for what their potential is. And I really, truly believe everything happens for a reason.

I have a brother who passed away, and who was differently-abled. So when I was growing up, my house was filled with therapists and people who were providing rehabilitative services for Matthew, and I learned to really have an appreciation for those in the medical community. I just have a heart for those who may have challenges in life, as we all do. I’ve been blessed with wonderful parents, and I’ve had people along the way who have been really good to me. I full-heartedly believe the best way to live your life is to be a servant leader. I want to be seen as someone who leads with heart and compassion, who is selfless and able to put others first, and who is driven by the ability to quietly make a difference. My faith plays a very large part into that as well and is my guiding light.

Mimi: You speak from your heart, you act from your heart. And may you break the top of the chart, lead Encompass in the way that you are. When I met you, I was inspired. That’s why I invited you to lunch. And I wish you not just good luck, but good results. What you do helps a lot of people in many ways, and you know it when it happens. God bless you. Thank you for taking the time to share a wonderful philosophy.

Shana: Thank you so much. I really appreciate this opportunity and always enjoy my time with you, Mimi.