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Rick DeStefane is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Reliant Care Group LLC., a network of long-term, skilled nursing facilities in the Midwest. Over the course of his three-decade-long career, DeStefane has built a robust portfolio of well over seventy diversified businesses. His professional interests stretch across eight industries; aside from his work in the healthcare sector, he owns several restaurants and even owns two Prospect League baseball teams. His primary entrepreneurial focus, however, remains on Reliant. Since its founding, Reliant Care Group has grown to encompass over 20 care facilities, 2,500 residents, and more than 4,000 employees; it draws in millions in revenue annually.
Rick DeStefane’s principles drive his entrepreneurial efforts. He firmly believes that everyone, regardless of mental condition or history, deserves compassionate care. Many of the residents in Reliant’s networks had been turned away from other facilities because providers had been unable to treat severe mental or behavioral conditions effectively. For DeStefane, filling this care gap was both an entrepreneurial opportunity and a moral imperative; today, around 35% of Reliant residents either return to their communities or require a lower level of care.
In his free time, Rick DeStefane enjoys spending time with his children.
Favorite Quote: “You only fail when you quit trying.”
City: St. Louis, MO and Hannibal, MO
Tell us about Reliant Care Group. How did you come up with the idea for the company?
I’ve known that I wanted to create a lasting change since I was a child. When I was ten, I decided that I wanted to be President of the United States — or if not that, the leader of an organization large enough to create lasting change. I started Reliant as a way to meet a social need that I knew wasn’t being adequately addressed yet. Mental and behavioral health is severely under-treated in our society. Reliant Care Group’s skilled nursing facilities meet the long-term care needs of those struggling with acute mental or behavioral conditions, among others. These are the people that most facilities aren’t equipped or able to support — often, our residents have been turned away from one or more care facilities before they come to us. I founded Reliant Care to help people, and I think it’s safe to say that we have.
How have you been able to grow your business? Be specific.
Preparation and hard work. As I mentioned before, I knew that I wanted to take on a leadership role early on, so I prepared accordingly; when I went to college, I picked up undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Business as well as an MBA and CPA. All four were essential to my success today. Thanks to my education, I was able to navigate the intricacies of the healthcare business and strengthen Reliant’s connections to the private sector and government entities. Of course, formal education alone isn’t enough to assure success in any field. Some skills can only be acquired through years of hard work and dedication — even after decades, I still put in twelve-hour plus days relatively often.
What do you wish more people knew about the work that you do?
How necessary it is. People don’t like to think about what it takes to care for those with severe conditions. In some circumstances — if a person isn’t a self-guardian or if they are living post-incarceration — our residents would have had to struggle with their conditions alone if we weren’t there to support them. Today, roughly 35% of Reliant residents either return to their communities or move down to a lower level of care. That, if anything, proves that we can help those in need. Ignoring mental health concerns comes at an enormous social cost, and we need to do a better job of paying attention.
What do you think you do better than most people? How are you able to do it?
Trust. In a lot of business environments, leaders think it’s better to fire first and ask questions later than forgive and move on. I couldn’t disagree more with this approach. My staff is an enormous part of why Reliant has seen the success it has. Everyone makes mistakes; the best leaders know how to help their employees learn and move on from them. That way, everyone involved becomes better at their job and more engaged with their work. You need to care for and trust your staff, otherwise, your employees will never grow, and your business will never reap the benefits of that growth.
What would you say was one of your biggest mistakes as an entrepreneur, and how did you learn from it?
Early on in my career, I started a business that fell apart when two key employees stole copious amounts of money from its accounts. I had to shut down the company entirely, and had to give up all of the hopes I had built for the venture. It was a loss, but I learned from it. Today, I have as many internal controls in place as I can have without impacting organizational trust, and intervene early if I notice signs of trouble. You can’t stop fraud — but you can catch it as quickly as possible.
What is your favorite book?
I really enjoyed The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. It’s a great foundational read, and I think it expresses why people need to learn to love themselves and become comfortable with who they are as a person before they can be successful in the other aspects of their lives.
Where do you hope to see Reliant going in a few years? What do you want for yourself?
My standing goal is to guide Reliant Care into a place where it can help more people. Currently, there are some hints that legislators will scrap the limits now imposed by the Institutional for Mental Illness (IMD) rules and regulations on skilled nursing facility population ratios. If this happens, Reliant’s centers could admit those with Axis 1-2 mental health diagnoses without any restrictions. This would be a blessing.
Ideally, I would like to get to a place where I don’t have to work long days and six-day weeks so often. There’s always so much to do, and it’s easy to get burned out. I love my work, but I enjoy establishing an ongoing and better work-life balance.