Rickie and Jacob Shearer are father and son. Rickie graduated from the University of Alabama, Jacob from Clemson. Rickie grew up in Blue Ridge, Jacob in Laurens. Both love stock car racing.

Rickie is the Administrator of NHC Laurens. Jacob is Administrator of NHC Greenwood.

They’ve got a lot in common. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Jacob is a chip off the old block. What could make a father prouder than a son following in his footsteps? Not much.

Rickie graduated from Alabama with a degree in health management, and after serving internships in hospitals, went to work for National Health Corporation, which sent him to Johnson City, Tenn., Somerville, Tenn., and after three years there, to Laurens in 1988.

At Clemson, Jacob majored in business management.

“It was always a goal to get in long-term care, on the administrative side of it, but for my dad and I to be 30 miles apart, no, never really saw that coming,” Jacob said.

“Jacob paid his dues to get that opportunity,” Rickie added. “When he was in high school, he worked here. I’ve got three kids, and they’ve all worked at NHC at some point. They grew up with summer and after-school jobs. Jacob worked some in our Anderson facility when he was at Clemson.”

“We obviously grew up in and around NHC,” his son added.

After college, Jacob worked for a year full-time in Anderson, then moved on to Greenville, Charleston, Bluffton, Knoxville, Tenn., and Alabama until the opportunity opened in Greenwood.

Rickie has worked for the company for 35 years, Jacob for six.

“I call him for advice all the time,” Rickie said. “I’m joking when I say that.”

The business of health care requires more than balance sheets and ledgers.

“Our job is to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves,” Rickie said. “Our business sells a product like any other business, but the difference between health care and operating a retail store is that you can’t take our product and hold it in your hand. We sell care, and that’s what we spend our day doing.

“I spend a lot of my time talking to residents. Behind taking care of patients, there’s a corporation that we run. Each one of these facilities is its own corporation. In my case, it’s taking care of 176 in-patients plus another 50-60 out-patients, running a staff of over 200 people. It’s a full day. You run a corporation, but you’re also concerned with the product, which is the people you take care of. … You can’t spend 35 years taking care of people and not grow close to the people you take care of. … There’s an emotional attachment that’s similar to family. You become family to them, and they become family to you. It’s hard to lose a member of the family sometimes, but that’s what we do.”

“There’s no getting away from taking care of somebody,” Jacob said. “We don’t get holidays. We don’t get weekends. Health care never stops. … We also have to take care of the people who themselves take care of those patients and residents.

“It takes a servant’s heart to do a job that our nurses and CNAs (certified nursing assistants) do every single day.”

Ultimately, the relationship between father and son became intertwined with their jobs.

“There’s a lot of admiration that led to me wanting to go into long-term care,” Jacob said. “Honestly, to me, it goes back to one single word, leadership. Seeing him (Rickie) as a leader in the household.

“He has built an outstanding long-term care facility in Laurens, and seeing his focus and attention to detail sort of drove me into wanting to be a part of something very similar.”

“I used to operate on the premise that we provide a service nobody wants,” Rickie added. “Nobody wants to come to a nursing home, but 35 years in this industry taught me that’s not true. What people want is not to be sick. They don’t want to have health issues, but when they do, they want the best care available, and that’s why we’re here.

“That realization sort of changed me, way before I came to Laurens. It sort of hit me one day ’cause the stereotype of nursing homes … you know what? That’s not what’s going on here. If people had their choice, they’d be full of life, full of vigor, they’d be at home with their families. When people have an illness, whether it be dementia, a physical illness, they want the best care available, and that’s why we’re here. That means you’ve got to have the best people. Not everybody can do what nurses, CNAs, housekeepers, laundry workers and dietary workers can do and have to do.”

“Everyone would prefer to be at home,” Jacob said. “For those who stay with us long-term, the goal for us at NHC is to make their stay here as much like home as possible.”

A father and a son formed a natural kinship with such a policy. Home is still where the heart is.