The Role of Hospitality in Rehab – Limelight Interview

hospitality in rehab - bedroom with teddy bear

Comfortable beds, direct light, and evidence-based treatment equal hospitality.


At Sanford Behavioral Health, we regularly ask our staff members what we do well. At the top of the list are always statements like, “We make a difference in our client’s lives” or “Empowering clients with client-centered care.” Words like “dignity,” “safety,” and “comfort” come up a lot. In short, we are proud of the way we make our clients feel. And we are proud of the passion and singular purpose of Team Sanford.


Today, we sat down with Human Resources Director Matthew McClellan, a self-styled “geek” in the art of conversation. We discussed hospitality, team-building events, company culture, and treating our clients like guests.


“The people are amazing here. Some of them have their own story, and I think that creates a part of who we are. The staff genuinely care. They care about each other and their clients. It is important work. Everybody is here for the same reason: to help others.” Matthew McClellan


Limelight Interview – Matthew McClellan

Matthew McClellan, Director of HR

SBH – How did you get to Sanford Behavioral Health?

Matthew McClellan—I graduated from Central Michigan University with a focus in human resources management. I also interned with Central Michigan, completing an internship in their human resources department. Then, I moved to Denver, Colorado, and I received an opportunity in HR to provide benefits for a corporation. After almost two years, I moved back to Michigan. I am a Michigan boy at heart, and most of my family is here as well. Colorado had everything I wanted but my family and the Great Lakes.

I had the opportunity to work for a tribal nation government,

Grand Traverse, Band of Ottawa, and Chippewa Indians, and I’ll say it was a lifetime opportunity. It lasted an amazing four years. I was even able to sit in for the tribal manager, which gave me a perspective on the government operation, funding, and federal grants within the organization. I learned to have a solid backbone, and I also learned that if you’re going to make a decision, you’d better dot all the I’s, cross all the T’s, and conduct your due diligence and documentation.

From there, I went to the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and absolutely loved it! HR is transferable to any industry, but you have to pick up the lingo as quickly as possible so you stay caught up. After 11 years, I decided to quit my job and take the summer off. I wanted to spend time with my daughters. And I’m also a huge golfer. I absolutely suck at golf, but I love the game. Once October came and we started getting some nastier weather, I began looking for a new job. One thing I was looking for was a place that had a great staff and a great company culture, something that would challenge me. That was Sanford Behavioral Health.


SBH – How does hospitality fit in the mental health treatment (rehab) field?

Matthew – There is a direct connection between hospitality and mental health treatment. You have the staff and the associates who are there to service the client and the guests. I like the term “guest,” and it applies to treatment, too. I am bringing the hospitality/guest mentality to Sanford. We don’t get hung up on terminology, but if you can shift to a guest mentality and treat every individual as if they’re a guest in your home, that’s the most simplistic way to bring it across to people. The light bulb turns on, and they start thinking of clients at Sanford as people first.


SBH – Could you give some examples?

I like to think of the simple things that you would do for a friend or family member who was coming to your home as your guest. Small gestures can enhance the client experience, making them feel safe and a part of the environment. I want to bring the guest mentality into our company culture organically. That is my main focus besides the day-to-day work. We work at an amazing place. We’ve got great staff, a beautiful facility, and great leadership.

When I say “organically,” it’s not me dictating what the culture is. It comes from the roots, letting all of the staff collectively identify who we are as Sanford Behavioral Health, what the vibe is, and what the feel is. It’s taking care of our guests’ wants and needs. Obviously, they are here for a purpose, and we’re here for a purpose. But there’s subtle innuendo from the interactions that we have with guests and having a positive work environment. The care we take with our client’s families to set them at ease. How we greet our incoming clients at the door. The welcome booklets that describe what to expect for clients and their families. The family education programs.


Matthew showing Sanford spirit on Employee Appreciation Day!


SBH – You have brought some fun, team-building events for the staff. How does that help create a positive work culture?

Matthew – I’ll use the Chili Bake Off as an example. If team members don’t like each other, an event like this doesn’t work. They can’t be resistant or uncomfortable. A Chili Bake Off is on a micro level, bringing people together. It’s away from what we do every day. People were laughing and having fun. It was not cliquey, everybody was just socializing on a different level. It was amazing. Does a Chili Cook Off identify us? No. But it opens up connections and doorways.


SBH – We have a number of team members in recovery. How does that impact company culture and hospitality?

I feel like we’re really good about being open to all manner of people. It is a great benefit for Sanford to have individuals working here that have their own story, their own trials and tribulations. Diverse people create a level of empathy and understanding for the clients who are coming here. It expands outward beyond direct contact with the clients. That level of awareness and education is huge. Having team members willing to share their stories and publishing interviews with staff members in recovery goes a long way toward reducing stigma. Whether you’re back of the house or directly with the clients it definitely correlates to a better overall experience for them.

The training we provide for staff about eating disorders awareness for example affects clients and staff alike. There are also no office parties with alcohol and reintegration after a lapse is a given. Because of what we do and who we employ, it creates an interesting and safe place to work.


Sanford West Behavioral Health Campus


SBH – What do you love about your job?

I am kind of geeky on this subject. Employee relations and the art of conversation is what I enjoy. I thrive on having some sort of problem or difficult situation in front of me and being able to work through a conversation with an individual regarding that. There’s a lot of nuances to conversations, reading somebody’s body language, their tone, how they’re delivering information. I look for the way to most positively impact every conversation I have.


SBH – What about the challenges?

Matthew – Oh, challenges. Well, first off is just adapting to this new industry. But there’s always challenges in human resources from recruiting to retention. I think one big thing for me right now is company culture. The culture of the organization is crucial to me. We’ve got some amazing staff and my main focus is getting them to a comfort zone: with benefits, compensation, culture, so we retain the excellent staff we have in place.


SBH – Do you have a motto?

Matthew – [Big smile] It’s it’s all about connections. By this I mean I’m looking for ways to make connections not just for myself but for all of our staff. So they make connections with each other of course, but also make connections with the property, with the feel of the culture, and who we are as an organization. Do they feel like they make an impact here? Because if they do, then they have connections! If we can connect professionally, personally, and empathetically we’re going to make a true impact on our staff and they’re going to make an impact on Sanford Behavioral Health. Connections are one of the primary factors in in long term recovery from mental health disorders, so it all goes together.



SBH – What makes Sanford Behavioral Health unique?

The people are amazing here. I talked about some of them having their own story, and I think that creates a part of who we are. But the staff genuinely care. They genuinely care about each and about the clients. It is important work. Everybody is here for the same reason: to help others. I went through the admissions process today as a new client would, and it was eye opening. It brought a whole new light to my understanding of our clients and their families. How a mental health disorder can disrupt an entire family system.

SBH – What is your favorite journey?

There are dynamics within my life right now that are challenging but rewarding at the same time and it’s all inclusive. So my favorite journey is this journey with Sanford, taking this position, being away from my girls and being able to enjoy my time with them more when I see them. I love Sanford, and it has opened up a new appreciation for my girls. One is 16 and I can tell by the mood how our time’s going to go and what way I gotta dance. But we have more quality time. So I I love the journey right now, there’s a lot of growth and development.

I’m from a small farm in northern Michigan and if you looked at me, you wouldn’t necessarily guess I’m a farm boy. But from farm boy to HR is an excellent journey. I know where my roots are. I still have a garden to this day. Got that green thumb.


Thanks Matthew!



Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit