Before joining Chicago-based senior living provider Enlivant (formerly Assisted Living Concepts) in April of 2018, Nancy Fox Ardell had already cultivated more than two decades of experience in the legal space of the healthcare industry, specifically in large healthcare institutions in Chicago. Today, she puts that expertise to good use, working to implement a culture of safety at Enlivant that ensures that both staff and residents are well cared for.
Ardell’s path to healthcare was an unexpected one. Her career started in the banking sector. As a loan officer for ABN AMRO Bank, she negotiated loan documents and worked on strategic sourcing initiatives. From there, she spent a short time at accounting firm Arthur Andersen, whose involvement in the Enron scandal led to its demise.
“I’m a big believer in ‘things happen for a reason,’” Ardell says of her tenure at Arthur Andersen. “Staying open to opportunities is key—you never know when you’re going to find that dream job.” For her, that job was in healthcare.
After Arthur Andersen went under, Ardell found herself working at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (now the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab) as an associate general counsel, where she quickly learned the specifics of taking on legal duties in the healthcare industry. She worked closely with physicians and inventors on research grant applications and clinical trial documents, and found ways to incorporate her existing legal knowledge in IT and financing into the broader healthcare sphere. “My position at RIC really informed my desire to work in healthcare,” Ardell says.
After her time at RIC, Ardell became managing counsel at Cadence Health in Winfield, Illinois, running the day-to-day operations of the legal department. Close to her home, Cadence offered Ardell the chance to play a large role in her family’s healthcare system, which was particularly gratifying. There, her in-hospital office allowed her to see all areas of the organization, giving her a greater picture of how her work affected health outcomes.
In 2015, Cadence was acquired by Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, and Ardell moved to the role of senior associate general counsel. There, she worked in an organization that had both healthcare and academic components, granting her a larger perspective of the strategy function of her job.
Ardell says that each of these experiences built upon one another to inform her understanding of the legal function of healthcare, allowing her to carry these lessons into her work as general counsel for Enlivant. Now, she provides strategic oversight for 230 assisted living and memory care facilities across twenty-six states.
“I’m a big believer in ‘things happen for a reason.”
Thanks to her in-house work in other healthcare organizations, Ardell understands the importance of partnering with clients, focusing on clinical quality, and handling regulatory matters in a way befitting the industry. This perspective comes in handy when working with her legal team to elevate Enlivant’s customer service initiatives, for instance. Upon first joining Enlivant, Ardell spent several days driving around the Midwest to eleven different senior living communities, learning how the buildings were constructed and what systems were put in place to care for residents. “It’s good to know the environment and understand what they’re dealing with,” says Ardell.
Ardell has also engaged in a number of major initiatives, inspired partly by her previous healthcare experience, that have improved Enlivant’s quality of service in a number of ways. For example, Enlivant’s Culture of Safety Program, a partnership with Clinical Quality Group, established a systemwide approach to safety for the organization’s 7,900 employees. Workers receive quarterly training on specific health and safety issues and are given easy pipelines to communicate ideas and concerns to leadership. “It provides straightforward talking points for leaders and engages community leadership in a way that everyone understands,” says Ardell.
Another initiative Ardell prides herself on is the Nurse Navigator, a nonstop resource for workplace injuries that grants workers access to registered nurse and triage care over the phone. “It’s a great resource for staff,” she says. “It helps them understand that we care about them and lets us more effectively manage our employees and their well-being.”
As Ardell continues her work in the healthcare industry, she remains endlessly thankful for the knowledge and perspective her long career has provided. At Enlivant, she’s committed to using her long history in the industry to help the company carry out its mission of compassionate, high-quality care for its residents.
Editor’s Note: At time of publication, Nancy Ardell no longer works at Enlivant.