By Carleen Broberg, Marketing Director*
In 1974, Ray and Mary Ann Griffiths founded the first Rae-Ann skilled nursing facility. They wanted to call it Ray Mar, a derivative of their names, but that name was taken; hence, “Rae-Ann” was born. The first facility was in Cleveland on Rocky River Drive and more locations were to follow. But, let’s take a step back before 1974.
Ray Griffiths grew up on the west side of Cleveland. He came from a long line of policemen: father, grandfather, brother. However, before he donned that uniform, he entered the Army and was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Mary Ann was originally from New England, but her father was transferred to Louisville, KY where she attended nursing school. One evening she went to a dance and met the tall, army guy from Cleveland. Not long after, in 1959, they were married and moved to the west side of Cleveland.
Ray became a policeman in Lakewood and Mary Ann worked as a nurse at (old) St. John’s, Deaconess, and Bay View hospitals. In the early 1960s Ray made $2,500 a year as a cop and Mary Ann was making $1.50 an hour as a nurse. They bought their first home with a monthly mortgage payment of $110. Ray tells the story of running out of gas on the way to work and having no money. His sergeant gave him $20 with the promise to never run out of gas again.
Around that time, Ray heard of an opportunity to be a live-in custodian in an apartment building in Lakewood. With Mary Ann’s agreement, they sold their home and took their little son to live in that building. Ray was the manager and Mary Ann did the cleaning, sometimes with the baby in the playpen. They soon moved to manage an even bigger 36-suite building. Now with two children, Mary Ann continued to do the cleaning, making $5 for a one-bedroom and $15 for a two-bedroom. This pivotal decision to manage apartments led to their interest in real estate and they soon became licensed realtors.
Their family grew to four children and they began to invest in real estate, growing their portfolio of income properties. One day Ray read about a nursing home for sale on the west side of Cleveland. It was in deplorable condition and was even mentioned in a book called “Tender Loving Greed,” an exposé of nursing homes and the mistreatment of the old and helpless. Ray and Mary Ann knew they had their work cut out for them. The nursing home that was for sale was listed in the book as “the worst in Ohio.”
First, Ray and Mary Ann spent a year of driving back and forth to Columbus to take the training courses to become nursing home administrators. Then they spent “a lot of hard work, soap, and water” to improve the facility and living conditions. Ray installed and designed the entire sprinkler system for the building himself. (He’s most proud of this accomplishment.) One by one, they addressed the shortcomings of each department. For instance, they gave the kitchen staff a day off and then scrubbed the kitchen themselves. This was their approach to each department. as well. It was a seven-day-a-week commitment and a family affair. All four children were there helping, too and earning “pin” money.
One day, in 1976, two years after acquiring the building, Mary Ann got a call from Mary Adelaide Mendelson, the author of “Tender Loving Greed.” Mendelson was calling because she wanted to place a patient at Rae-Ann! She said it had gone from the worse to the best nursing home in Ohio. This was the highest point in Mary Ann’s career.
Good staff, great leadership, and outstanding policies led to this success. Mary Ann knew that to prevent bed sores and pneumonia, which were common conditions in nursing homes, Mary Ann trained the staff with the policy of, “Up, dressed, out of bed, and down to the dining room by 8:30a.m.” Ray and Mary Ann were on-site, hands-on owners implementing these policies daily. They ran the home with the philosophy of dignity for the individual.
By the mid-1980’s Ray, Mary Ann, and their four children owned and operated four skilled nursing homes throughout the Cleveland area. In 2000, the Griffiths built and opened The Belvedere of Westlake, a 33-suite assisted living facility. To this day, there are current staff members that have worked for the Griffiths family for over 30 years. There are countless families who have repeatedly placed their loved ones in a Rae-Ann facility.
What started with a small nursing home in 1974 grew to become to be a highly regarded group of rehabilitation, long-term care, and assisted living centers, still operating more than 40 years later with the same philosophies of the founders. Year after year, Rae-Ann Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers have been recognized and honored for exemplary care. The vision Ray and Mary Ann had truly made them pioneers in the healthcare field. When asked what advice they would give young entrepreneurs, they said, “You must work hard, maintain high standards, and be willing to take risks.”
*This article was compiled after a conversation I had with Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths on Oct. 16, 2017 during Mrs. Griffith’s stay at Rae-Ann Westlake, where she successfully completed rehab following hip replacement surgery.