Health care executive Melanie Sullivan focuses on developing employees to meet future growth as senior vice president and “chief people officer” at Ecumen, the Shoreview-based senior care provider.

Sullivan, whose nickname is Mel, has more than three decades of experience in health care strategy, innovation, organizational development and operations.

At Ecumen, Sullivan oversees employee training, organizational development and talent acquisition in leading the organization’s human resources professionals.

Sullivan is taking on a newly created role as Ecumen, one of the country’s largest nonprofit providers of senior housing and services, braces for continued rapid growth in the aging population.

“There are 10,000 people turning 65 every day,” Sullivan said. “There’s just such excitement in this field for innovation, strategy and technology and how we’re going to build on the people who serve in this field.”

Ecumen, which got its start as a relief organization in 1862 in Mankato, offers services such as independent living, assisted living, short-term rehabilitation and long-term care as well as home and hospice care.

The organization operates in 40 communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Idaho, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee.

“The development of our people is key to our success and the service of our mission into the future,” Shelley Kendrick, Ecumen president and CEO, said in a statement. “Mel’s health care expertise is a tremendous asset for us, as is her commitment to recognizing individual team members’ strengths and developing the training to help them be their best.”

Sullivan previously worked at Constellation, a collective of medical insurers and health service organizations based in Minneapolis.

She also has worked as chief executive and chief operating officer for Twin Cities Orthopedics and St. Croix Orthopaedics.

Sullivan earned a doctorate of education in organizational development from the University of St. Thomas and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas.

Q: What led to the creation of your role at Ecumen?

A: I knew (Ecumen CEO emeritus) Kathryn Roberts for quite some time and I’ve also known (president and CEO) Shelley Kendrick and I know her long-standing objective has been to help get the hurdles out of the way to help team members do the best job that they can and create a culture of purpose, which really resonates with me. So when they talked about creating this role it was an honor to be part of that conversation because they’re committed to the people at Ecumen.

Q: How will your health care experience help you at Ecumen?

A: Understanding health care, knowing how it gets delivered, understanding that it’s constant change, having done it for a long time in multiple settings and working with some really great teams, all of those things will help me make a difference as quickly as I possibly can. As care providers or people that are serving these individuals we can be the stability, we can be that reassurance.

Q: What are your priorities as chief people officer?

A: The biggest compliment any organization can have is when somebody refers somebody else to work there. A year from now, if I can consistently hear that message, not that they’re not now, but if I were to hear it as a new person to the organization, that would be success.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is