"Doug dresses like he's Gary Player," said Mills, president of the Midwest region of Golden Living, a leading national health care company. "He not only plays well, but he looks like a champion, too. I have to bring my A game when I play with Doug."
Olson is director of the Center for Health Administration and Aging Services Excellence (CHAASE) at UW-Eau Claire.
But while the two men differ in many ways, there is a deep bond of friendship and mutual respect between them that has existed since they were both undergraduates in the health care administration program at UW-Eau Claire in the 1980s.
Their individual and professional commitment to excellence in the field of health care administration has been the catalyst that led Golden Living to make a $500,000 gift over the next 10 years to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation in support of CHAASE and the UW-Eau Claire health care administration program. Golden Living is a family of companies that provide long-term care, nursing services, sub-acute care, rehabilitation therapy, hospice and home health services.
Olson graduated from UW-Eau Claire's health care administration program in 1984 and Mills in 1987. Following graduation, Olson went to work at the Board of Social Ministry (now Ecumen), a provider of senior housing and services. Mills went to work at Golden Living. Mills' father taught part time at UW-Eau Claire and was instrumental in the development of the health care administration program.
"Through these connections, David and I also kept in touch with each other," Olson said. "There was this family-like trust and bond that developed between us."
In 1995 Olson received a Bush Fellowship and went back to school for his doctoral degree in public health with an emphasis in health care administration after a career in senior care administration. Mills continued to pursue his career as a leader in the long-term care industry.
After receiving his doctorate in 2000, Olson joined the faculty at UW-Eau Claire. Working with others at the university, he started CHAASE to provide financial and program assistance to the health care administration program. Both the center and program are part of the UW-Eau Claire College of Business.
While developing CHAASE, Olson turned to Mills for advice and asked him to serve on the center's first board of directors. Throughout the past decade, CHAASE has broadened its scope, developing new leaders, forming collaborative relationships with practitioners in the field and establishing a national presence.
"When we were starting CHAASE, I reached out to David for his help and expertise," Olson said. "Because we were both alumni of UW-Eau Claire, we understood the context of the program, and early on we both knew that the university alone would never have the resources to do what we wanted to do for students and the field."
Mills said Olson understands the importance of mixing academia with practitioners in the field to ensure the program meets the needs of providers.
"Too often academics and professionals are working in their own separate silos," Olson said. "CHAASE bridges those silos. CHAASE takes the position that education is a two-way thing. We (at the university) learn a lot from those in the field just like we provide a lot of information to the practitioner world. We do things better together than separately."
Both Olson and Mills agree that the focus for Golden Living and UW-Eau Claire has been on what's best for the students because ultimately that is what is best for the field. Golden Living is able to enhance leadership and help develop potential future Golden Living executives.
UW-Eau Claire has had a relationship of 20-plus years with Golden Living. During that time, more than 50 students have chosen to begin their careers with Golden Living. The partnership has resulted in more than five practicum sites, two scholarships for students, funding for at least one faculty-student applied research project and employment of UW-Eau Claire graduates.
"Nobody loses by developing great leaders and making the health and aging services field better," Mills said. "This recent agreement is the right thing to do for the university, which is doing so much for the students, but it's also a good business decision."
The recent commitment by Golden Living will provide $50,000 a year for curriculum innovation, professional development activities for faculty, faculty-student research, travel to national conferences, student scholarships and leadership development experiences, and other needs of CHAASE and the health care administration program.
CHAASE will work with Golden Living to continue to bring Golden Living staff to campus as guest lecturers, to speak at student organization meetings, and to participate in on-campus recruiting and job and internship fairs. Golden Living also will continue to have the opportunity to recruit graduates from UW-Eau Claire's nursing, social work and other programs. CHAASE also will help develop a Golden Living summer internship program and explore expansion of practicum sites for UW-Eau Claire health care administration students outside the Midwest.
Over the years, many graduates have gone on to make significant contributions at Golden Living, including Chris Krebsbach, executive director at Golden Living Lake Ridge in Roseville, Minn. Krebsbach graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2002 in health care administration and has worked for Golden Living since 2004. Krebsbach was in Olson's first class at UW-Eau Claire.
"He had such great applied knowledge after spending 15 years in the field," Krebsbach said of Olson. "He knew so many people in health care administration across the country."
Krebsbach said it's an exciting time for the university and for the field of health care administration as well.
"The retirement of the baby boomers means there will be more demand for health care services, and the expectations of this generation will require health care administration to change and adapt," Krebsbach said.
He said the health care administration field will need the kind of quality graduate the UW-Eau Claire program is able to produce.
"I am proud and excited about the level of commitment to UW-Eau Claire the company has demonstrated," Krebsbach said. "UW-Eau Claire really is one of the best programs out there. The one-year paid internship is an important component of the program. There's a transformation that takes place six or seven months into the practicum where the students begin to relate to people as administrators. That doesn't happen in the short three-month programs of other universities."
When people are looking for the next leaders in the health care administration field, they really need to look at UW-Eau Claire. I kid her, but I won't be surprised if Kelsey and other bright students like her will be signing my paycheck someday. —Chris Krebsbach
Krebsbach has been a mentor and supervisor for UW-Eau Claire senior Kelsey Callahan during her yearlong practicum at Golden Living Lake Ridge.
"It's been a great learning experience," said Callahan, who is from Forest Lake, Minn., and began her practicum in August 2010. "Mr. Krebsbach has really helped guide me as I learn all the different aspects of being an administrator, from working with the financials to working on an interdisciplinary team and learning about human resources and health care regulations."
Callahan, whose goal is to become an executive director of a health care facility, said she thinks the partnership between Golden Living and UW-Eau Claire is a positive for both the field and the students.
"Golden Living is able to gain new leaders and keep fresh ideas growing by having the connection to the university, while the university gets to fund projects students in the past haven't been able to take advantage of," Callahan said, citing as an example the computer simulation programs, vLeader and Top Gun, which let her simulate decision-making at a health care facility and see how her decisions affect employee morale and business.
Callahan, who also worked for two years with Olson researching and writing a grant on long-term care leadership, said the UW-Eau Claire program helps students do things like research and grant writing that students usually don't get to do until graduate school.
"UW-Eau Claire really prepares students to understand and grasp what is going on in the long-term care setting," Callahan said.
Olson hopes Golden Living's example as a founding pillar of CHAASE will help continue to build the UW-Eau Claire program to a national level of prominence.
"There is plenty of room for other members of the health care field to get involved," Olson said. "We want to develop CHAASE as a national academic center of excellence."
Established in 1976, the UW-Eau Claire health care administration program is highly regarded across the country for its curriculum, which integrates health care with business content. In 2005 the UW-Eau Claire program was accredited by the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards, making it one of seven nationally accredited health and aging services programs in the nation.
The Golden Living gift will only continue to improve the UW-Eau Claire program, Krebsbach said.
"When I go to Golden Living meetings and look across the room, 60 to 70 percent of the people there are UW-Eau Claire graduates," Krebsbach said. "When people are looking for the next leaders in the health care administration field, they really need to look at UW-Eau Claire. I kid her, but I won't be surprised if Kelsey and other bright students like her will be signing my paycheck someday."
Image one- Doug Olson and David Mills have been friends and colleagues since their undergraduate days at UW-Eau Claire.
Image three- Kelsey Callahan goes over records with supervisor Chris Krebsbach.