Marsha Sensat

Marsha Sensat is the chief nursing officer at St. John’s Health and recently took a second role as the head of senior living services at the Living Center.

If they can afford it, most people are comfortable sticking with one job. Marsha Sensat? Not so much.

The chief nursing officer at St. John’s Health is now also the head of senior living services, taking the post temporarily after Living Center Executive Director Malenda Hoelscher left to move closer to her extended family in South Dakota.

With nursing homes facing threats from the coronavirus pandemic and with the construction of Sage Living in full swing, Sensat takes the helm at a crucial time for St. John’s.

Though she doesn’t plan to hold the post forever, Sensat could be juggling her dual roles for quite a while, so she took some time out of a recent vacation (on which she started working at 6:30 a.m.) to talk about the job.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you want to take on this role?

A: I saw a need within the organization, and the way I understand it, this would be a difficult need to fill. It is a regulation that a Wyoming-licensed administrator is in place over a nursing home or long-term care center.

I had the understanding that it may take a while — maybe months — before we could find someone that would qualify and fill that role. So I immediately contacted the Wyoming State Board of Nursing Home Administrators to find out what it would take for me to qualify to get that license so that I can meet the need of what [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] requires.

Q: How long will you stay in this role? What will the process look like for finding a permanent replacement?

A: I had to go through a lot of work to get my temporary license, which is good for six months, so through March 15, 2021. However, knowing that that could expire and we may not possibly have that new person in place, I am going to go through the program as an administrator in training in the state of Wyoming, which is pretty intense.

It’s 500 hours of didactics, eight hours a month with a certified nursing home administrator, a preceptor. So I spend two hours a week with her, then I’m going to do my studies of all the regulations and then I’m going to sit for a board for the national exam administrator national exam and the Wyoming nursing home administrator exam.

The reason why I’m going to do this is that I don’t want St. John’s to have to worry about not having that person in place should we take a long time to find someone, or should we get someone and they decide to leave and we’re in this situation again. I want to shore that up and secure that we have the leadership that is required by regulation.

Plus, I’m thoroughly, 100% enjoying it.

Q: How are you balancing your role as chief nursing officer with the new interim position and all the studying for the licensure?

A: I’m balancing it because I have such a great team with the leaders within the hospital as the chief nursing officer. The team is very strong. I’ve worked very closely with them in the last 18 months. We know how to work together, they know what I want, I know their strengths and weaknesses, so I feel like I have a very strong footing there.

And the team at the Living Center is extraordinarily strong. Many of them have been there for 13, 18, some 24 years. They know their job, and they’re excellent at what they do. I feel like I’m a support to them, but they work so well together. It’s a five-star facility, and they maintain that.

They know exactly what needs to be done, so I’m there to support them, ensure that we’re following regulations, run the meetings I’m supposed to run.

Then I’m doing the studying at home on my off time in the evenings and weekends.

Q: Other than simply meeting regulations, why is so important to have someone in that role as the head of the Living Center, especially considering Sage Living is being built right now?

A: The administrator’s piece in the new Sage Living construction is vital. There’s a lot of meetings that take place, and I’m representing the staff. I’m also involved in the inpatient rehab facility construction because that one’s mine also.

So in looking at both of these new buildings — as well the IRS is going to be a new department within our organization — I’m looking at workforce planning education for the staff, ensuring that we create a community of vision. That’s very important. I want to ensure with Sage Living that I maintain the five-star rating and the community involvement.

I’ve built a hospital before, so I’m aware of the responsibilities, and I don’t find that to be consuming most of my time or my energy. I feel comfortable in that role.

Q: Other than the construction, what are you looking ahead to in terms of the operation of Sage Living or the Living Center?

A: As we still go through COVID, we want to make sure that we stay in direct line with the CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines when it comes to infection control. And vaccines for flu and pneumonia are important as we go into the flu season to ensure we keep our residents safe.

I think about raising the energy and the excitement. The vision of this wonderful building and all the opportunities that it’s going to offer our community is important. And I’m very excited about just being a part of that with the staff, as well as with the residents, who are very excited about it.

Being able to offer all the things that we’re going to be able to offer our residents and their families in this beautiful new building is just astronomical. It’s going to be a place of peace and comfort. We’re going to be able to try to provide a homelike atmosphere that’s based on the needs of each individual resident, which is huge. Our memory care, which we have not been able to provide for our community before, is going to be offered. And following the code of ethics and standards of practice within nursing homes and long-term care in general, it’s going to be easy the way the building’s laid out.

Just being in that building with all the glass in the windows and them being able to see outside is going to be healthy for our residents and our staff.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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