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February 2001

Jurgen A. Arndt
Committed to Quality Health Care


Perhaps you believe in destiny, perhaps you don’t. But when considering the birth of Jurgen A. Arndt on July 16, 1943 in a fourth floor walk-up apartment in Berlin, Germany, during an air raid, you may wonder just how he became the President/CEO of Niagara Lutheran Health System, Inc. of Buffalo.

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Arndt family in Berlin - 1944. Left to right - Rosemarie,
Mrs. Arndt holding Jurgen and Dorothea.

With his father away, having been drafted into the German army, his mother refused to go to a shelter for the birth of her third child, Jurgen.

While he doesn’t have any memories of the war itself, the after effects are very vivid in his mind. How well he remembers his early years when American CARE packages arrived for his family during the West Berlin airlift when planes landed every few minutes with food and essentials of living for the people. Especially, he remembers receiving chocolates (what little boy wouldn’t) and that it was exciting to play Cowboys and Indians in the rubble with his friends. Another poignant memory he has is when his father, a stranger to this four-year old boy, returned from a Russian labor camp in 1947 and his family was re-united, thanks be to God.

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Arndt, age 9.

He grew up, going to grammar and high school in a divided land, knowing that there are no real winners in a war and dreaming of going to America one day. Because his two older sisters were nurses and he too wished to care for people, Arndt attended St. Marien’s Hospital School of Nursing in Berlin for four years, graduating in 1963. He smiles now when he hears that people are not so eager to go into the nursing profession because of the terrible hours and hard work. When he was at St. Marien’s, the students attended classes for four hours, beginning at 7:00 a.m. After class they had a meal, and then spent another eight hours on the patient floors for their clinical training and experience. Afterwards, they went to the nun in charge to ask permission to leave the floor, with the same question asked each day, “Are your patients taken care of and have you done everything you could to make them comfortable?” That floor duty was seven days a week, with one-half day off one week, and a whole day off alternate weeks! One wonders what those nursing students did with all that leisure time!

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Clinical training at St. Marien’s
Hospital School of Nursing.

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Graduation for the new R.N.’s, 1963, St. Marien’s.

Then came the day Arndt told his mother he was following his dream as he had saved enough money to go to America. Thus, he arrived in Buffalo on December 26, 1964 with one suitcase containing all his belongings and $50 in cash. He settled in at the downtown YMCA until he could find work and a place to live. “On New Year’s Eve,” he said, “I was looking up at the festive Main Street lights, watching people scurrying around to their parties, and surely, not feeling one bit festive; in fact, I was very lonely and wondered if I had done the right thing to come here.”

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Becomes U.S. citizen at Federal Building in Buffalo.

Soon Arndt found a job at Lafayette Hospital where he worked in the operating room and met Jackie Gray, his future wife, who was also a nurse on the surgical team. Fortunately, medical terms are relatively similar and he learned English quickly with the help of his hospital friends and West Side neighbors near the little two-room apartment he rented. He soon came to appreciate the friendliness of Americans. His neighbors, who looked after “the little immigrant”, invited him to meals “to fatten him up” and brought him extra dishes, pots and pans, etc. to help him set up his new home. It wasn’t long ‘til he knew, positively, he had chosen the right way for his life. In fact, when he had returned to Germany for a family member’s funeral, he became homesick for America and knew he would apply for citizenship as soon as he went “back home” to Buffalo. On one of the most wonderful days in his life, Arndt was sworn into USA citizenship by Judge John Curtin. How proud he was to wave the little flag given the group of new citizens.

After working in acute care for several years, he was hired as a charge nurse at Niagara Lutheran Home on Hager Street, the first free-standing nursing home in Western New York. There, 26 years ago, he believed he found what God wanted him to do with the rest of his life—care for the elderly who were not able to care for themselves. His father often told him as he was growing up, “When you decide to do something, be sure you are totally committed to do it, and then do it right.” That kind of commitment led to several promotions that ultimately brought him to his appointment in 1990 as Executive Director of two nursing facilities in Buffalo, and six years later to become President/CEO of the Health System when there was a corporate reorganization.

During those years, the board of directors and Arndt launched long range plans to develop a total-care campus for the elderly. This concept would allow for people to live independently in apartments, with other options for assisted living, for rehabilitation after surgery or for total nursing care. A search for land began and Town of Lancaster officials recommended several large parcels that would be appropriate for such a project. Chosen were 52 acres of beautiful farmland on Broadway that stretched down to Cayuga Creek and beyond. Phase I, construction of GreenField Health & Rehabilitation Center began, was completed and dedicated on September 26, 1998 with over three thousand people touring the state-of-the-art rehabilitation and nursing center at an open house the next day.

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Closing on Lancaster property, October 1995; future home of
GreenField Health & Rehabilitation Center. Left to right - Chris Greene, Esq.,
Damon & Morey and Arndt, President/CEO of Niagara Lutheran Health System.

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Groundbreaking of GreenField Manor and GreenField Court.
Left to right - Carolyn Girardi, Executive Director,
Lutheran Church Home, Arndt, the Reverend Paul Mertzlufft,
chairman Niagara Lutheran Health System.

Arndt’s vision for future services for the elderly, his total commitment to both the development project and currently operating facilities, and his excellent leadership have been outstanding. In fact, they were recognized when he received the Rev. Dr. Ralph Loew award from Lutheran Charities and the Humanitarian Award from the Samaritan Pastoral Counseling Center for his civic efforts. His response to being honored in any way is, “It is I who have been privileged to be a leader of the Health System and its six affiliates.” Six affiliates? Yes, for while the new Lancaster facility was in its infancy, the next phase for apartments and assisted living were on the drawing board. The groundbreaking for GreenField Manor (92 units for independent living) and GreenField Court (46 units which will be operated by The Lutheran Church Home) was celebrated June 17, 2000 and construction has been proceeding throughout the winter months.

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Mrs. Ralph Loew presenting the award to Arndt from Lutheran Charities.

How did Arndt’s executive/management role in these past ten years come to be so successful? Mainly because, he says, “Attitude is more important than performance—a person can teach staff to do a good job but you can’t teach attitude.” His philosophy, which demands the best quality care for every individual, is so ingrained in his personality that staff has a model of performance to follow. Each of the Health System’s nursing homes have received deficiency-free Department of Health surveys in the past ten years, an admirable record in healthcare with its stringent codes and infinite piles of paperwork. How then does management manage to survive and even grow in this difficult industry? With vision and with financial support of donations and bequests from individuals, as well as gifts and grants from the business community and the Western New York community at large. Caring Heart and Soul is more than the Health System’s slogan, it is the way of life for Jurgen Arndt, the boards of directors, his over 600 dedicated employees, 150 volunteers and assistance from the 1800-member Guild!

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Jaqueline becomes Mrs. Jurgen Arndt in Berlin.

While the responsibilities of the Health System and its affiliates are sometimes overwhelming, Arndt still holds membership in the Western New York Homes & Services for the Aging, New York Association of Long Term Care Administrators, and American College of Healthcare Administrators. He has served in various capacities in local social ministry agencies. He also served on the board of directors of Trinity Tower (senior living apartments) on Linwood Avenue and committees of his congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church, S. Newstead. As President/CEO of the Niagara Lutheran Health Foundation, Arndt felt privileged to present its annual Humanitarian Award to Richard Garman, well-known businessman, for his many contributions to the community. Carol Jasen, popular TV news anchor and a Trustee of the Foundation, was M.C. at last year’s dinner.

He still believes that America is the land of opportunity if one is willing to work hard and that Americans are blessed far beyond what many citizens believe. To quote Arndt, “A person can’t wait for the good things in life to just happen, but must work to achieve his personal goal. I still love my homeland and my younger brother, Michael, and other relatives who live there, but never take for granted how fortunate I am to have my American family of wife, children and grandchildren and my extended family of many wonderful friends and Health System staff people here in WNY. I dearly love my adopted land for the many freedoms and opportunities we have that people of other lands around the world envy. If I had to choose my profession over again, I would not have changed my decision to be a nurse and to care for the elderly in whatever way I was called, here in America.”

June Schillinger is a freelance writer.

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