A Passion For Caring

Joe DeMattos is passionate about  his work and his active life in Jewish Baltimore. Photo by Justin Tsucalas
Joe DeMattos is passionate about
his work and his active life in Jewish Baltimore.
Photo by Justin Tsucalas

When Joe DeMattos came to Maryland, his plan was to “finish what he came for” and then return to Hawaii. Now, more than a decade later, DeMattos is still here, married to a Baltimorean and the proud father of two boys

DeMattos, 53, is president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland (HFAM), the largest and oldest trade association of skilled nursing and rehab centers in Maryland. HFAM represents 150 skilled nursing centers in the state. He is also the first vice president at Har Sinai Congregation, as well as a professor at the Erickson School of Aging at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The Baltimore Jewish Times caught up with DeMattos.

JT:  You were born in Hawaii. How long did you live there, and how did you get to Baltimore?

My family has been in Hawaii since 1883. In 2002, I was [sent from Hawaii] on temporary assignment to serve as the campaign coordinator for AARP’s prescription-drug campaign to get prescription-drug benefits into Medicaid. In 2003, we were successful with the passage of the Medicare Modernization Act. [That same year] I accepted a promotion at AARP in Washington, D.C. The plan was to get my master’s degree in government from John Hopkins University and then go home to Hawaii.  But I was introduced to a young lady from Pikesville. Twelve years, several jobs and a master’s degree later, I’m married to Rebecca and living in Baltimore.

You are on the board at Har Sinai Congregation. Talk about that role. I am a Jew by choice. When Rebecca and I were planning to get married, I had already informally done a lot of religious studies. We went to go see Rabbi [Bradd] Boxman, and he got me involved initially with the Har Sinai interfaith committee. I did that for a number of years, and then I formally began my conversion process. Eventually I was asked to serve on the board; I served as second vice president for two years, and now I’m first vice president.

You work with seniors. Why did you go into that field?

My calling to do this work began years ago. A common thread in all [my earlier careers] was senior
advocacy. So when the call came [from] HFAM, what was behind me saying yes was that in advocating for the people whose teams care for Maryland elders day-in and day-out, I’m really advocating for quality efficient care for elders and for other people in need.

What is your average day like?

Probably the biggest part of my job is to listen to the stories of the people in my members’ care and to share those stories … with our community and the broader Maryland community. A typical day is a breakfast meeting with a member, going to a training that is open to all skilled nursing and rehab centers … and making a keynote address at that training session, then getting on the phone with a state legislator or a congressional staffer — reviewing draft laws and draft legislations — and meeting with my staff about that.

Why is this meaningful to you? Are there stories from your own parents or grandparents that drive you?

I lost my dad a year ago in Hawaii. He made a conscious choice to receive hospice care in a skilled nursing and rehab center in Hawaii. It wasn’t really until the end, right before he died, that he became weak again, and it was a very quick passing, but it was amazing to … see him actually get stronger as he was dying, because of the love and the care and the activities of the skilled nursing and rehab center. So when I’m having a particularly tough day, I think of the people who are in the care of my members, and I think about my dad and what a difference a quality skilled nursing and rehab center made during his last six months.

How do your Jewish values affect you as a leader?

For me, the values of Judaism … the concept of tzedakah, the concept of lashon hara, the concept of repairing the world and of social justice serve me not only in my personal life and in my synagogue life, but also in building a community as a CEO in a major health-care association.

For the past many months, the country has been consumed by the Affordable Care Act. As president of HFAM, what do you think of Obamacare?

The Affordable Care Act  has tre-mendous potential for the better integration, education and focus of health care in the United States. The question mark is going to be what it does to … marketplace value relative to the cost of health care. I’m optimistic that with the better integration of health care, and with the better focus on outcome, that over time having more people getting care earlier will ultimately lead not only to better outcomes, but also to lower costs.

You play lacrosse and run, too. Talk about that.

I have a passion for distance running. I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon for the third time this year. I am not-at-all gifted at lacrosse, but my 4-year-old and 7-year-old are growing up in Maryland, so I had to start [learning how to play].

It says on your LinkedIn profile that you are known for helping organizations and individuals
reach key strategic objectives in community, government and public relations. Give some examples.

I help my staff, my volunteer leaders and my members focus on what
will really make a difference. I [also] teach leadership at the Erickson School of Aging. In that role, I help future leaders to really focus on what their skills are and what they are
excited about … and I help them apply [those skills].

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