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Mike Capone: Senior Care Centers
With more than 100 long-term-care facilities, including skilled nursing, independent and assisted living, memory care, hospice and palliative care, as well as several ancillary lines, Senior Care Centers (SCC) is the eighth largest senior living provider in the nation. Delivering award-winning care and a holistic approach to resident wellness and quality of life, SCC has nearly tripled in size in the last three years with more facilities throughout coastal and central Texas and western Louisiana.
The organization is grounded in its core values, “Integrity, Growth, Respect, Excellence and Wellness,” which some 15,000 team members strive to provide 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The round-the-clock nature of SCC’s business requires the right team — nurses and front-desk personnel to cooks and maintenance professionals and many others — to be engaged and active all the time. It also requires expert legal advice when the time comes to make key decisions. Since 2013, Mike Capone has proudly served in this important decision-making and advisory role as general counsel for SCC.
Breaking the mold
Providing late-life care is a unique business: one that requires much more than the cut-and-dry litigation that many corporate attorneys live by. Mike’s work extends well beyond his desk and he considers himself just as much a part of the team as the bedside nurses, activities staff and others involved in the residents’ day-to-day care. “We all work incredibly hard and put in many extra hours, all in an effort to benefit our residents,” he shares. “We’re very fortunate to have a ‘can-do’ type of team here.”
“When many people think of a nursing home, they don’t always think of a positive experience and they might worry about their loved one and how their experience will be,” says Mike. “Our goal is to break that mold. We want to be the leader and make for the most pleasant experience possible. We work every day not to be the typical nursing home.”
Mike says this high level of care starts with personal relationships. “I make it a point to visit as many residents and staff members as I can,” he says. “Many know me by name and recognize me when I walk in the building.”
With SCC’s mission and long-term vision in mind at all times, Mike can more effectively make legal and business decisions in the company’s best interest. “Mike really has our company values and mission in mind when approaching any situation, whether that’s settlements or negotiations,” says Mark McKenzie, CEO of SCC. “Working with him is a pleasure because he understands our business strategy very well and what we want out of business transactions. Before we had internal counsel, sometimes this piece was missing. Oftentimes we’d find ourselves with an agreement that would cover maybe 80 percent of what we wanted. Mike brings that extra 20 percent and helps us get the best outcome that is fair for all parties. I think the biggest difference is he takes the time to understand the business practicality of whatever we’re trying to accomplish.”
Mike studied sociology before going on to law school and says he’s always been driven by human interaction. “I’ve always wanted to know why we are the way we are and how we got here,” he says. “Today, in my role at SCC, this translates into an acute awareness of external and intangible factors that go into all human interactions, conversations and decisions.”
Although he wasn’t raised in a household of lawyers or seemingly destined to become one, Mike says his passion for people lead him to his current position. “My parents were professionals so I knew I wanted to be in a professional environment. I was always analyzing things and my father would joke, ‘you’re going to be a lawyer someday,’” he recounts.
After finishing undergraduate degrees in math and sociology, Mike went on to the Wake Forest University School of Law, where he focused on litigation and trial work. “I was on the National Trial Team for two years and I really thought I would be a litigator for the rest of my life,” he says.
He spent a few years working for a firm in New York where he handled primarily employment and labor matters, medical malpractice suits and health care matters. “I worked in whatever area they needed me in,” he says.
Then Mike moved to Texas to fill a position at Quilling, Sealander, Lownds, Winslett & Moser P.C. in the employment litigation practice. “SCC was a client and I was involved in a number of cases. I got to know the senior management really well,” he says.
When SCC had an opening in the general counsel office, Mike was asked by his firm to help support SCC for a short time. “I filled in not as an employee but in a secondment or interim position to help with SCC’s day-to-day legal affairs,” he says.
When Mike was finally asked to come on as a general counsel in 2013, it was an opportunity he could not pass up. “I thought I understood the bigger picture before, but it was amazing when I transitioned to in-house how much of a broader view I needed. It’s so much more than litigation. I have to consider the business impact, contractual and transactional effects, insurance impact and more. It’s been truly an eye-opening experience stepping over the line into an in-house role,” he says.
A partner, not an obstacle
In his role today, Mike says he and his team strive to be a part of the SCC “can-do” team, frequently serving as more of a strategic business partner to other departments than a lawyer behind a desk. “Lawyers are often thought of as people who say ‘No,’” Mike says. “I really try to say yes, ‘How can we make this possible?’ This can be on any number of terms — contracts, general day-to-day advice of business units, projects and initiatives and more.”
Until recently, Mike was SCC’s only in-house lawyer. “He is usually responsible for a broad spectrum of legal issues and capable of handling most issues that come his way, which is a huge benefit to SCC,” says Gavin J. Gadberry, of Underwood Law Firm P.C. Gavin and Underwood, which assists SCC with health care transactional and regulatory work.
“Mike is usually on point with a particular problem or issue when he calls,” adds Gavin. “So we try to provide the support necessary to help him go ahead and resolve the problem. He is certainly not afraid to get his hands dirty.”
Today Mike is joined by three individuals that serve on the SCC legal team: Aurora Ares, Dana Gray and Tammie Legal. At least one member of the legal team is often in business meetings to serve as a sounding board for how SCC goes about doing any sort of business venture. “The decisions we make in the legal department cannot be made in a vacuum devoid of how they impact the business,” says Mike.
In that vein, the other members of the legal department are consistently working directly with the facilities’ management teams to make sure that the residents get the best care possible. “I couldn’t do it without my team,” says Mike. “They care as much about the residents — and the business — as the direct-care staff and it shows in the effort they put in to their work.”
Mike works with many outside contacts on a daily basis, such as Adam Dougherty, partner at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C., SCC’s go-to for labor and employment matters. “When SCC receives a demand letter, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge or lawsuit involving employment laws, they often retain me,” explains Adam. “Mike is the go-to point of contact at SCC as we work through the claim and we’re in daily contact.”
“He is available before or after work and always highly responsive,” says Adam. “In turn, I try to be the same with him — emailing and communicating outside of work hours if necessary. He gives 110 percent to the company in terms of his availability. From an employment law perspective, he’s very knowledgeable and he’s a fast learner. He picks up the ball quickly.”
Inspired by leading care and quality service
This diverse skill set and ability to react quickly help Mike resolve many issues before they become larger matters. Mike says ultimately, his role as general counsel is inspired by the dedicated direct-patient-care team members and their daily work.
“Their ultimate passion is caring for our residents and our job is to help them do their job effectively and give the best care possible,” he says. “Our legal team strives to make their job functional and viable so they can concentrate on caring for our residents. This is why you’ll often find me going into our facilities and working with the CNAs or management-level nurses, facility staff and more; it all depends on the circumstances and who needs my help.”
This same teamwork approach extends on to residents. “If they’re dealing with something like family dynamics, I don’t hesitate to visit with them and help them understand — without pressuring or giving my own opinion — what their options are,” he adds. “In this sense, it’s not rendering legal advice as much as it is showing that we really care and are ready and willing to help, whatever the situation may be.”
With a sense of “we’re all in this together,” Mike says SCC strives to uphold its core values (Integrity, Growth, Respect, Excellence and Wellness) every day and the legal team helps make it possible. “Back when I started, our CEO, Mark, who started out as a CNA himself, made a point to tell me that my role wasn’t going to be someone that sits behind a desk,” says Capone. “He wanted me to be hands on and form the personal relationships that help me better understand the true nature of our mission and business.”
Going above and beyond the call for excellent care, Senior Care Centers is growing rapidly throughout the Southeast. Under the leadership of Mike Capone and other executives, the company can navigate any business challenge and focus on serving residents first and foremost.