Colleen Hilton, 59, Westbrook mayor, CEO
Colleen Hilton, the veteran mayor of Westbrook, doesn’t have much free time on her hands. On any given day, she’s traveling between multiple meetings and talking on the phone in and out of the car, also working as the CEO of VNA Home Health & Hospice.
At 59, Hilton is heading into the final year of her third term as Westbrook’s mayor, and may be making another run for November 2016. When first elected in 2009, she made waves by not reappointing leadership roles in the city, and has also brought Westbrook into positive light as an up-and-coming community in southern Maine.
All the while, Hilton has also run VNA, which has since merged with a larger company. It routinely takes her to offices all over the state. Hilton began her career as a nurse and says she still uses the skills she learned while nursing.
My Generation spoke with Hilton recently about her jobs as mayor and company CEO, and how things have changed during her careers in both the public and private arenas.
Q: You’re at the top of your game professionally. Is this the path you planned?
A: Not really. I always wanted to be a nurse and therefore that is the path that I chose and worked in that role for many years before being encouraged by a former mentor/supervisor to consider an administrative role. I was reluctant to do so as I truly enjoyed my work providing clinical nursing care, but this mentor convinced me that I could have more influence on patient care in the administrative capacity. I gave it a chance and progressed from nurse manager to branch manager to clinical director and now president and CEO for a large home-health and hospice organization. I’ve never forgotten my roots of being a nurse and use those skills to this day.
Along the way, I also believed in service to the community. These were values instilled in me from my parents, who always said, “If you live in the community – you need to participate and give back to the community,” so a former classmate and friend, Don Esty, asked me to consider serving on the Westbrook School Committee, and I did for 10 years. After serving and believing that it was time to try something new, some friends convinced me to run for mayor. Athough I was initially reluctant, I answered the call to service and now going on five years later, I continue to serve the citizens of Westbrook as their mayor.
Q: What has changed the most in your career and how have you adjusted?
A: In my professional work as the president and CEO, I did not anticipate going through a large merger. My organization is now merged with Eastern Maine HomeCare, or EMHC. We now have offices in South Portland, Bangor, Ellsworth, Caribou, Houlton and Fort Kent. I guess I would have to say that I am adjusting to the new role, which involves getting to know the various communities in which we provide service, which is all of Aroostook County, Penobscot, Hancock, Cumberland and northern York. I’m also getting very familiar with the geography of Maine and find that it is beautiful in all regions.
I find that although the geography may change, what all of our communities have in common is a desire to be at home to heal or to be comfortable at the end of life and to live as fulfilled a life as possible within a safe community surrounded by friends and family. If I have had to make adjustments, it is merely to surround myself with the most talented individuals I can who are committed to the mission and exceptional customer service.
A common theme in both my professional work and my community service is that we continue to have to be extremely creative and do more with less. At the same time, I need to be willing to take risk to make investment at key moments in order to move us forward to stay relevant and to thrive.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: Well, in five years I hope that I have more grandchildren because I have one now and she is a complete joy and I truly adore time with family. I also hope that in five years I still have good health and feel energized by my work, whatever I may find myself doing professionally or in service to my community. And if I plan well, I sure hope that I can take a few more vacations because I think by then I will really need some beach time.