“Your beginning does not have to define your end.”Dr. Solanges Vivens
Dr. Solanges Vivens is an author, philanthropist and the founder and CEO of Vital Management Team (VMTLTC) Long Term Care, a multimillion dollar Washington, D.C. nursing home management company that became tremendously successful in both administration and nursing education. She accomplished many firsts in Washington — and even national — healthcare. From growing up in a poor family in Haiti to achieving extraordinary success, Vivens has lived a life most of us would only dream of.
The Lucky One
Throughout her book, “Girls Can Move Mountains: Rewriting the Rules of Female Entrepreneurship,” Vivens looks back on a life riddled with challenges: her humble beginnings as a sickly child in Port-au-Prince, working less-than-desirable jobs and surviving assault as a young immigrant in 1960s New York. Still, she consistently considers herself very fortunate.
“I define success as preparation plus opportunity and a little bit of luck,” says Vivens. “Because if you’re not prepared, the opportunity can be right here, and you can’t take advantage of it.” Examples of this approach to life and business abound in her story.
As a young woman, Vivens had diligently worked her way to becoming the first Black director of nursing in the Washington Home’s 90-year history, overseeing the entire nursing department. Still, she continued to study, building upon her education and aptitudes. Describing when she faced color and gender prejudice from superiors, Dr. Solanges Vivens laughs, saying, “I became licensed to do my boss’s job.” With a doctorate and administrative qualifications in hand, her breakthrough opportunity came when she was offered the leading role at another large facility that was, at the time, failing.
While others might have declined, Vivens’ faith in her own readiness to excel paid off. Within 90 days of becoming the administrator at the Washington Center for Aging Services, now overseeing the entire enterprise, Vivens had turned the operation around, earning accolades from the government, major media and her peers.
Through the company they started together, her early alliance with two white partners made it so that Dr. Vivens — a small but statuesque Black, immigrant woman with a strong Haitian accent — could take over an $11 million nursing home administration contract without objection from certain quarters. With her late husband, Keith, Vivens developed the operation to include a staff complement of more than 800.
Education, she advises women through her media platforms and mentorship, is key for them to regain their agency. This was why she made sure to provide English language classes for the home health aides, nursing assistants and other employees at VMTLTC ― many of them young immigrant women like she was.
Her extraordinary success also earned her enemies, but that saga is one you’ll have to read more about in the book, “Girls Can Move Mountains.” A valuable lesson she shares here is this: “No matter what happens to you, you have two decisions: You either act or you react. When you react, you give your power to someone else. All those years, no matter what happened to me, I overcame it because I did not react. I did not let the behavior of others define me.”
In the 1960s as a young woman in her early 20s, Vivens learned the difference between the haves and the have-nots. She was employed as a live-in nanny by a wealthy, young, white family. Enjoying her own bedroom and bathroom for the first time in her life, in a home where others came to cook, clean and even drive, made her feel like a princess. Seeing herself in these prestigious environs gave her the impetus to thrive in business and to strive for excellence, so she could live like this family did one day. From their nurturing arms, she stepped out into her early days in nursing.
Over the years, she would climb to the pinnacle of the nursing home industry, running multiple successful facilities and ancillary businesses, speaking as an expert to packed audiences at conferences across the country, and traveling the world for work and play.
Following her retirement from the healthcare industry, Vivens is dedicating the next chapter of her life to helping other women realize their full potential. Vivens Media Group produces books, films and podcasts that provide mentorship and empowerment. Her newest print and audio book, “Girls Can Move Mountains,” is an intimate reflection on her colorful life that also shares poignant lessons she learned along the way. Her book urges women to be the authors of their own stories. “Daily, as you live your life, you are making history,” says Vivens. “Make sure whatever you do is what you want your history to be.”
Vivens often keeps a turtle pendant tucked close to her heart, whether or not it is visible to others. “In order for the turtle to move forward, the turtle must stick its neck out,” she explains. “And that is what I’ve been doing all my life. From one job to the next, from one school to the next, from one bit of trouble to the next. All my life I’ve been sticking my neck out for something more.”
She has found fulfillment in her mentorship work, in her son Kevin, who, until it was sold, had taken the reins at VMTLTC, and, of course, in the carefully cultivated turtle-themed gardens at her former D.C. home and the Florida residence where she now enjoys her retirement part time. Through her media enterprises, she continues to share the lessons she’s learned.
“When you are in the valley,” said Dr. Solanges Vivens, “You need to know that there is another mountain ahead, so you don’t stay in the valley. Always look to the next peak, to the next mountain.”