Photography by Brandi Stage Portraiture
They embody all that is admirable about their employers — showing long-term dedication to their companies, its principles and those they serve. These three women go to work every day determined to make a positive impact through their tenacity and talent. Whether their role is showing hospitality to casino guests, ensuring patients receive great care or restoring power after a storm, they are proud to represent the workplaces that have earned their esteem.
Prioritizing the patient
Kristy Sargent credits teamwork for Encompass Health’s success
What sets Kristy Sargent apart is her ability to juggle multiple priorities while staying focused on the big picture.
“You also have to be very adaptable to changes that happen quickly to be successful in this role,” says the business development director for Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Gulfport. “My priority is also to bring a positive attitude to work.”
Sargent has spent her career in health care sales and marketing, including a decade in pharmaceutical sales and working for a hospital system in business development. When she came to Encompass four years ago, she brought her experience with business analysis, strategic planning and territory management, along with extensive sales training.
“Encompass is very patient-focused and prioritizes doing what is right for the patients. It is the goal that all patients are treated with comfort, professionalism and respect.”
At the time, she wanted to tackle a new challenge, to improve her leadership skills and to be more involved with patient care. The rehabilitation hospital, which helps people rebound after a life-changing illness or injury, has allowed her to do just that.
Sargent sees each position she’s held as a building block in learning new aspects of health care and making her more well-rounded.
“The position at Encompass has helped me grow outside of my previous sales/marketing roles, to have a greater impact on patient lives,” she says. “It has pushed me out of my comfort zone at times into areas that I did not think I was as adept to.”
From the CEO down, Sargent says, everyone at Encompass Heath is focused on patients having a great stay and the hospital being a place worthy of recommending.
“I don’t think there is an attitude of any job being too small for someone,” she says. “It has been challenging the past year to keep going, and I think Encompass Health has done a lot to help their employees and to be a positive place to work.”
Sargent herself tries to join liaisons in the field several times a week. She also develops ideas to grow Encompass Health’s services and get its message out. Additionally, “When needs are there, I help out in the hospitals that are sending us patients.”
Sargent acknowledges being intimidated when she first started talking with patients at their bedside, as it wasn’t what she was used to.
“It made me nervous that I wouldn’t be able to provide the right answers since I’m not clinical,” she says, “but it has turned into what I enjoy the most because showing empathy and kindness can be very rewarding, and you gain an interest in wanting to see the patient recover.”
Those admitted to Encompass Heath Rehabilitation Hospital arrive weakened from stroke, hip fractures, neurological and orthopedic conditions, COVID-19 and other traumas. They receive physical therapy three hours a day, five days a week, as well as occupational therapy, speech therapy and other specialized care they need to recover.
“Encompass is very patient-focused and prioritizes doing what is right for the patients,” Sargent says. “It is the goal that all patients are treated with comfort, professionalism and respect. We also rely heavily on a teamwork model within our department and other departments to ensure a positive and seamless patient experience.”
To do the best job, she adds, the marketing team must cooperate with everyone from the patients and families to the nurses, doctors and therapists. In fact, if she had to sum up her workplace in a word, she would use “collaborative.”
“I think everyone brings the willingness to help every day in whatever may come” Sargent says.
That attitude led to Sargent’s team being named “Marketing Team of the Year” in 2020 for the region, as well as being awarded twice for best marketing campaign during National Rehabilitation Week. The facility consistently has been recognized as a top-performing hospital, and Encompass Health, the country’s largest owner and operator of inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, was named one of this year’s World’s Most Admired Companies by Fortune magazine.
For her own success, Sargent credits a few basics:
“First is to always do what it right and keep the patients at the front of any decisions,” she says. “Secondly, I try to be someone who people would want to work with. Work can be stressful, but it’s much more fun when everyone is working together and there is a positive environment.”
With a consistent demand for its services, Sargent says she and the Encompass Health team can come to work each day assured that they are needed and are helping patients reclaim their lives. The goal in every case is to return patients home as quickly as possible and allow them to remain as independent as possible.
As for the staff, Sargent adds, “I think it is a positive environment for employees and somewhere if a person wants to grow in their career, there are opportunities.”
Sargent says both she and her team have evolved greatly during her time with Encompass Health. She has gained a better understanding of hospital operations — hoping to use her knowledge and abilities to benefit others and move the organization forward.
“I hope to continue to lead my team and improve my leadership skills along the way,” she says. “I am open to where that leads.”
Supplying energy, weathering storms
LaToya McClain sets example with Mississippi Power
In joining the Mississippi Power team, LaToya McClain has continued a family tradition.
McClain, an engineering supervisor based in Pascagoula, is a second-generation employee and follows in the footsteps of her father, who worked for the company for over 35 years.
She recalls visiting Plant Daniel with her dad as a child and considers this period the start of her “unofficial career” with Mississippi Power.
“My dad would often walk me around the plant, teaching me about the equipment at the age of 7 or 8,” McClain says. “I began my official career with the company as a co-op student two weeks before Hurricane Katrina.”
The certified project management professional, who graduated from Mississippi State University and holds a master’s degree from William Carey University, has worked in both distribution and generation for Mississippi Power, including two of the company’s generating facilities. As she marks her 16th service anniversary this month, McClain expresses pride in both herself and the firm she views as “a big family.”
“Working at Mississippi Power means I can contribute to my community not just through my work, but through additional service opportunities that the company provides.”
“Mississippi Power is a great place to work because it values its employees, and we put the customer at the center of everything we do,” she says. “Working at Mississippi Power means I can contribute to my community not just through my work, but through additional service opportunities that the company provides.”
Beyond providing power to their customers, McClain and her teammates have woven themselves into the very fabric of the community. They serve on boards for nonprofits, participate in community events and are passionate about education. Through volunteer groups called Community Connection, employees give back through activities like waterway cleanup, getting local students excited about STEM and rebuilding a community garden.
The company’s overall culture is rooted in principle-centered leadership (PCL), which is based on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Typically within their first 90 days, every Mississippi Power employee undergoes PCL training, and McClain notes that the firm was even featured in the “7 Habits” 30th-anniversary edition released last year, “sharing our success story of using these principles daily.”
One of those principles is habit number seven, “sharpening the saw,” which refers to continuous renewal professionally and personally. McClain appreciates the company’s emphasis on work-life balance, as well as career development.
“I’ve always felt like a valued employee at the company,” she says, “and it’s pretty evident that my colleagues feel the same way, given that we have so many employees whose career with Mississippi Power spans 15, 20 and 35 years.”
At this stage, McClain finds herself doing a myriad of tasks on any given day, including leading safety discussions, restoring service to customers, reviewing work orders, mentoring new engineers, planning system updates and attending community events. Having worked in both power generation and delivery, she brings substantial knowledge to the table at the start of a new project.
“I’m also a strong communicator, which is vital when you’re working with multiple teams,” she says. “Growing up professionally with our PCL culture also has taught me how to prioritize my tasks and how to seek first to understand when working through a conflict.
“As a result, I’ve been afforded multiple developmental opportunities that have allowed me to grow as a leader at the company.”
When inclement weather hits, every Mississippi Power employee plays a role, and the teamwork required always has impressed McClain. She’s confident the community appreciates it, too, after the multiple tornados, hurricanes and other storms last year.
“While we’re known for providing reliable power to our customers, it’s after a weather event when our employees really shine,” she says. “Our storm team is the best in the business and will work around the clock to get the lights back on safely and efficiently for our customers.”
The energy industry changes quickly, and McClain says several projects are under way at Mississippi Power focused on clean and renewable energy, including a solar and battery storage facility and an incentive program for electric vehicles. She’s excited to grow with the company and become an expert in these ever-changing technological advances.
Mc Clain also aims to give others the guidance and mentorship she received as a young professional.
“I want to look back and know that I was an integral part of the company’s continuing efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says, “and be an example for young girls that look like me who have dreams of becoming an engineer.”
‘I love what I do’
Melissa Foster is proud to be part of Scarlet Pearl
Melissa Foster has been with Scarlet Pearl from day one — and after almost 16 years, she’s still impressed.
“A former boss asked me to come work for him,” recalls Foster, a cocktail server at the D’Iberville casino resort. “I did, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Foster’s family has deep roots in Biloxi, and she’s worked in the hospitality industry for 23 years. Being with Scarlet Pearl since its beginnings in 2015 has given her a broad view of — and a deep appreciation for — her employer’s culture.
“I feel that I am an asset to the company because when you’re passionate about something, you become that brand, and I am the Scarlet Pearl brand. I have built many personal relationships with my guests, as well as my coworkers and management.”
“I love that they treat you like family,” she says. “Scarlet Pearl takes the time and effort to seek out resources to assist employees with possible crises, as well as educational information. They take the time to make sure that we are well cared for.”
High standards and a personal touch apply at all levels and in all aspects of the company, according to Foster. Her workday typically starts with a meeting, where supervisors brief the staff on the day’s promotions and special activities.
Many of Foster’s patrons are regulars, so she makes a point of greeting them and asking if they’d like their usual. She extends the same hospitality to new visitors, introducing herself and inviting them to ask any questions they may have.
“I love to make sure all my guests are well taken care of,” she says. “We have a strong team in the food and beverage department, as well as our management, who make my job easier ….
“Together, we can get things done because we have worked together for many years in the past. Everyone I work with has their own unique personality that brings diversity to the workplace, which keeps it fun.”
Far from being holed up in an office, Scarlet Pearl owners circulate around the entire casino, both the front and back of the house, speaking to most associates and knowing their names, Foster says.
“It’s amazing how they care so much about us …,” she adds. “Our management strives to make sure we are well cared for, and it definitely shows.”
One of Scarlet Pearl’s stated goals is to provide a welcoming experience to all who enter its doors. As one of the new-hire trainers in her department, Foster carries that philosophy forward, which has earned her recognition as associate of the month. She’s also received plenty of praise on guest comment cards.
“I feel that I am an asset to the company because when you’re passionate about something, you become that brand, and I am the Scarlet Pearl brand,” Foster says. “I have built many personal relationships with my guests, as well as my coworkers and management.”
With “amazing leader” LuAnn Pappas at the helm and setting the agenda as CEO, Foster says her employer is focused on giving back and community involvement. Through its Scarlet Pearl Cares initiative, the casino resort partners with over a dozen nonprofit organizations and raises awareness for important causes and initiatives. That generosity applies inwardly, too, according to Foster, as Scarlet Pearl helped staff with unemployment during the pandemic and “surprises us quarterly with gifts.”
“They go above and beyond without flinching,” Foster says. “It’s what we do.”
Everything Scarlet Pearl does “turns to gold,” she adds, and its amenities surpass anything she has seen on the Coast. These include its sumptuous high-limit experience in the Orchid Room, which opened last September, and a plush VIP lounge, which debuted in June.
Eventually, Foster would like to challenge herself with a new role, but for now, she’s content in her position and loves what she does. Scarlet Pearl has a bright future, she says, and it’s one she wants to be part of.
“My favorite quote is that people normally will forget things, but they won’t forget how you made them feel,” Foster adds. “I strive to give that feeling to every one of my guests.”