They are the money people — they handle vast sums of money every year and make sure their organizations are on solid financial footing. They deal with budgeting, accounting, audits, cost analysis, data analytics, monthly reporting, revenue cycles, third-party payer contracting with the health insurance companies and much more. And constant changes in state and federal regulations and reimbursement structure only make their jobs a bit more challenging.
Played role in unifying operational procedures of various health care centers serving tens of thousands of patients
By Ken Sturtz
When Tracy Wimmer reflects on her career in accounting, she doesn’t have to look far to find the reason for her career choice.
Her mother started as a bank teller in 1969 and retired 50 years later from JPMorgan Chase as a branch manager. Wimmer says she fondly remembers going to work with her mother as a child.
“She always used to bring me into the branch and I would go right to the computers and right to the adding machines and just loved playing with all the buttons and numbers,” she says. “So, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do pretty early in life.”
Many parts of her job as chief financial officer of ConnextCare are reasons finance appealed to her in the first place.
Wimmer likes pulling numbers apart and digging down into them. Financial statements are often rolled up and require peeling back multiple layers to get to the bottom of things and ensure they’re accurate. It’s something that has always come easy to Wimmer and that she enjoys working on.
“I like knowing what makes up each line and does it make sense and should it balance at the end,” she says. “And if it doesn’t balance, why doesn’t it balance?”
Wimmer, of Blossvale, grew up in Oswego County. She had jobs with Community Bank and PAR Government Systems before moving to the United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area. During roughly eight years with the United Way, Wimmer was promoted to director of finance and administration.
She later worked in accounting for several food wholesalers before transitioning to a position as director of internal review and finance at Upstate Cerebral Palsy. She was hired as controller at ConnextCare in 2016 and promoted to chief financial officer in 2018.
Wimmer arrived at ConnextCare as the organization was continuing to regroup following a reorganization. In 2013, Northern Oswego County Health Services, the predecessor to ConnextCare, merged with two practices in Fulton and Oswego operated by Oswego County Opportunities as well as three of Oswego Health’s practices in Mexico, Parish and Phoenix. The organization already operated the Pulaski Health Center as well as school-based health centers in Oswego County.
Although the organization had grown to include six health care centers and was serving tens of thousands of patients, operations remained somewhat disjointed, Wimmer says. Each location tended to handle any number of processes their own way. Even patients often didn’t understand that all the offices were part of one unified health care system.
“They were kind of like their own little health centers operating by themselves more or less,” she says.
The situation improved in 2018 when the organization launched a rebranding campaign and changed its name to ConnextCare. The effort took hold and went a long way toward educating patients about the structure of the new organization, Wimmer says.
“From that point on we have done an exceptional job of molding processes and procedures and communication out to the patients,” she says. “When people see ConnextCare now they know we have six health care centers and they’re all one.”
Changes occurred behind the scenes as well to ensure ConnextCare was operating efficiently. Since the organization’s billing department is located in Pulaski it was important to make sure each location was following the same policies and procedures. It was also a matter of revising some of the processes. For example, at one point some offices were still faxing documents, Wimmer says. Now everyone follows a uniform process of scanning and emailing them.
Reforming ConnextCare’s processes wasn’t Wimmer’s only concern. She also became a part-time student, balancing work with going back to school to work on her master’s. Beginning in 2016 she completed two courses a semester. She received her master’s degree in health care leadership in December 2019.
“I’m a firm believer that you have to have education to advance in your career,” she says.
A few months after she completed her master’s, ConnextCare was rocked by the pandemic. The organization lost a third of its business at the onset because dental services shut down except for emergencies. Although they were able to get dental practices back up and running, the school-based centers also took a hit, Wimmer says. They still haven’t returned to their original volume.
All of that was concerning news for the person in charge of charting the organization’s finances.
The solution turned out to be telehealth. Before the pandemic ConnextCare had received a federal grant to purchase telehealth equipment. But the system hadn’t been rolled out for about a year due to reimbursement issues with insurance companies, Wimmer says.
When the pandemic suddenly made it very difficult to see patients in person, insurance companies reacted by loosening their previous restrictions on reimbursing for telehealth visits. With that, ConnextCare managed to roll out its telehealth system in just two weeks. All of the organization’s providers did well with the system, Wimmer says.
“I think that was kind of our saving grace,” she says. “We took a hit on volume, but we were still able to make up. We never had to let any staff go.”
Although the challenges brought by the pandemic have forced ConnextCare to adapt and made financial planning more uncertain, Wimmer says she still loves her job, the work being done to help people and the family-oriented atmosphere of the organization.
“I love knowing that the providers give back to the community every day,” she says. “It’s just a good feeling to come into work every day.”
Birthdate: Dec. 12, 1973
Birth Place: Syracuse
Education: Bachelor of Science in accounting, Empire State College; master’s in health care leadership, Empire State College.
Affiliations: Community Healthcare Association of New York State, Central New York Care Collaborative, Health Financial Management Association, Leadership Oswego County.
Personal: Husband, two adult children, 1-year-old grandchild.
Hobbies: Reading, cooking, baking, spending time with family.
St. Joseph’s Health, CFO
She’s been involved in several major projects that have advanced St. Joseph’s operations
By Mary Beth Roach
Meredith Price is vice president and chief fiscal officer at St. Joseph’s Health — the same hospital where she was born in 1973. Her three children, ages 7 to 12, were all born there, as well.
She started her job at the hospital in 2013, shortly before giving birth to her youngest child. She said that between her delivery and by continuing to “experience the culture of St. Joseph’s,” she realized that her job there is a perfect fit.
She describes her job as “all things finance” for the St. Joseph’s system, which includes the hospital on the Syracuse’s north side, as well as its affiliates and primary care centers.
St. Joseph’s budget is approximately $750 million and employs about 4,000 people.
Price’s responsibilities involve overseeing all of the revenue cycle functions, purchasing and supply chain management, documentation and coding of medical records, front-end patient access, general finance, accounting, payroll and financial reporting.
Since taking over the position, Price has been involved in several major projects she believes have advanced St. Joseph’s operations. She explained that they did a bond offering that enabled them to take on some large projects, including the implementation of an electronic medical record system and the development a cogeneration plant, which allows it to produce its own energy for their facilities.
Then, in 2015, the hospital came under the Trinity Health umbrella, which has more than 100 hospitals in its system. This allowed St. Joseph’s to take advantage of many benefits. For example, being part of its group purchasing organization gave them the advantage of better pricing. Also, St. Joseph’s was able to restructure its debt through Trinity under their interest rate, she explained.
Price’s job is not without its challenges.
There is a constant focus on payments, revenue, being able to have the financial means to reinvest in the organization, and keeping an expense structure that’s flexible.
It’s difficult, she said, to not always be able to say yes to everything that has an expense associated with it.
“We always look to what’s going to be best for our quality, for our patients, but also make sure we’re being financially good financial stewards of our resources,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges healthcare faces is the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Price called it “a game changer,” saying that “it has helped push us forward quicker, in a way that we may not otherwise have done.”
While the hospital experienced significant losses in the spring, she said, they were able to quickly look to “right-sizing” the organization in the summer months, so that the organization was better poised when the January resurgence of the disease hit.
The financial impacts they saw in January were nothing compared to what they experienced in the spring months, she said.
“I feel like we’ve really got ourselves in a position where we’re able to be agile and look for efficiencies continually,” she said.
The pandemic has ramifications for the ongoing work of her team and the hospital overall, she added.
“The environment in which we work has changed,” she said.
With most of her staff working from home, she continues to see great efficiency. A remote workforce also offers the ability to recruit employees from across the country, she said.
And even though the hospital had been discussing telemedicine prior to COVID-19, when the disease hit, they had to move to that very quickly.
“I think the new world with virtual medicine is really going to continue to open up doors in terms of what things look like and how things will be done,” she pointed out. “I think we’ll continue to explore how we use technology to better serve patients.”
When asked about her managerial style, she said that it involves honesty, transparency and the ability to have open conversations with staff.
“I would say the value of honesty and integrity definitely is top of the list. I have an open-door policy with my staff and other managers and directors to ensure that they’re comfortable coming to me and have those honest and integral conversations. Transparency is definitely a key. I pride myself with being very transparent with my team. In return, I get the same from them,” she said.
Also key for Price is learning all the aspects of the health-care facility’s operation.
“I’m really a support service for the organization. Finance provides a supportive role, so we can understand where do we need to grow, where do we need to focus. The more I understand the operations of the areas I’m working with, the better I can service them in my role and my staff can service them in their roles,” she said.
And, she sees the role of a CFO has continually grown.
“Finance and operations are so dependent on one another. Your traditional finance role is really becoming so much more integrated with operations, focusing on strategic initiatives, service lines and how we can drive things forward. The role of CFO continues to evolve,” she said.
She credits her “very qualified and high-performing team” for helping her to stay on top of the ever-changing field. She is also a member of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, which offers courses and tracks, and she does her continuing education with them annually.
The Liverpool native and Siena College graduate had worked in public accounting with Price Waterhouse and Coopers for about six years, with her main clients being in the healthcare and banking fields. From there, she went to Crouse Hospital in 2001, which had just entered bankruptcy. She helped to turn that organization around. This would lead to the next chapter of her career — consulting with financially-distressed hospitals.
“It allowed me to gain expertise, not only in the finance realm but really getting familiar with operations of the hospital systems. I feel like it rounded me out beyond just the pure finance side, which was great,” she said.
But the traveling required in that job became difficult. When she had her first son, she realized that she wanted to be home again. So, she took a position with Upstate and was there three years before being offered the position at St. Joseph’s.
When she’s not running the financial business of the hospital, she and her husband, Justin, are running a very busy household, with their children, Chase, 12; Tatum, 10; and Easton, 7.
“I absolutely love spending time with my family,” she said.
With the kids taking part in hockey and lacrosse, there’s a lot of time spent at the field and rink.
And, she’s a runner.
“That’s probably my biggest stress reliever — just getting out the door and going for a run,” she said.
Birth Place: Liverpool
Education: Siena College
Affiliations: Member and fellow of Healthcare Financial Management Association; assistant treasurer, Catholic Charities of Onondaga County
Personal: Husband, Justin; children:Chase, Tatum, and Easton
Hobbies: Spending time with her family, running, watching youth hockey and lacrosse, reading and crafts.
OCO, Senior Director of Finance
New on the job, she is working on reforming processes that can make an organization more efficient
By Ken Sturtz
Last fall Maria Chatterton joined Oswego County Opportunities as its senior director of finance, responsible for overseeing a $30 million budget. Despite years of finance experience, she was new to nonprofits.
Throughout her career Chatterton has had a variety of jobs including preparing tax returns, working for a tourism company and analyzing government defense projects. She even worked a stint as a supervisor for the Census Bureau.
“So, I really started completely different than where I landed,” she says. “I have a very different background than people expect.”
Chatterton grew up in Parish and has lived in the area her whole life. She wasn’t sure what career she wanted to pursue in college. She enjoyed talking to people, so after college she took a job with a tourism agency, selling and arranging tours for groups. Occasionally she’d lead tours. She’d worked there nearly four years when 9/11 brought tourism to a halt.
With the tourism industry’s future uncertain, Chatterton took a job as a financial assistant at an environmental engineering and construction firm. Her boss was impressed with her work, her responsibilities grew and the company paid for her to get her master’s. She received an MBA with a focus in organizational behavior studies.
Chatterton says her MBA proved useful because it helped her see things from a different perspective when analyzing an organization and its finances and processes. She found that her skills tended to lend themselves to finance rather than accounting.
“I would say finance, not accounting in that accounting is very scientific and finance is more of an art,” she says. “And I definitely live in the art end of the equation of performance management.”
After working for companies in the medical manufacturing and automotive industries, Chatterton spent nine years as an analyst with Lockheed Martin. Her focus was underwater systems, including sonar and unmanned submersible vehicles; some of the work was classified. She also worked on the U.S. submarine program. Her job meant she was constantly asking questions about the numbers in front of her. She also dealt often with government proposals.
Chatterton says the work was very interesting and she was constantly learning, but that the travel along with the high stress, high performance work environment wore her down over time. She also felt the challenges of trying to make changes within a large organization.
After Lockheed, she worked as a financial analyst for defense contractor Saab.
Chatterton says she eventually grew tired of working in the defense industry. She’d been able to work on huge projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but she started feeling like she wasn’t really helping or being challenged enough.
“I was going to the office and I was a workhorse, but I wasn’t inspired by what I was doing,” she says. “And I didn’t feel connected to the end user and I said I want to try something different.”
At first, she wasn’t exactly sure what that was, but her mother had operated Chatterton Bookkeeping and Tax Service in Parish for nearly 40 years and invited her to join her. When she left her job in January 2020, her intent was to take over a large portion of her mother’s firm beginning with the busy tax season.
“And then of course COVID hit and plans changed,” she says.
A large number of people didn’t file tax returns that spring. Tax work disappeared and Chatterton couldn’t fall back on her tourism background because no one was traveling. So, she took a temporary job supervising a team for the Census.
“And in the middle of it I saw an ad for OCO,” Chatterton says. “I looked at it and said everything on there either I know how to do it or it’s very interesting to me.”
Chatterton was seeking more than just a job. After working in the defense industry, she was drawn to the opening because it was directly focused on Oswego County and offered an opportunity to do something positive for her community.
When she started at OCO Chatterton was anxious to learn about nonprofits and how her experience would play into her new role. She discovered the nonprofit and defense industries were similar in that both work extensively with the government. Whether it’s for a human services agency or a defense contractor, government-funded programs involve similar skill sets to handle proposals, reports and oversight.
Chatterton began learning more about OCO’s programs and how the organization functioned. She discovered OCO is still very paper-oriented with records and needed a more robust, centralized process for purchasing.
“I identified almost immediately that we needed a procurement role added to the ledger,” she says.
Procurement for the agency is spread across multiple people who aren’t connected, which can lead to confusion and inefficiency when purchasing, Chatterton says. That’s partially a product of OCO’s growth and its history of multiple grassroots programs and entities that have since been absorbed by the agency.
Reforming processes, such as with purchasing or record keeping, can make an organization more efficient, Chatterton says, which is especially helpful in the future if the agency has to operate with less funding.
One thing that Chatterton says has surprised her since coming to OCO is seeing just how big of an impact the agency has on the community in Oswego County through all of its health, community and housing programs.
“That’s what drew me into wanting to be here,” she says. “It’s my community that I’m helping. That mattered to me.”
Birthdate:May 25, 1977
Birth Place: Oswego
Education: Bachelor of Arts in general studies, Columbia College; Master of Business Administration with a concentration in organizational behavior, Syracuse University.
Affiliations: Participates in local bowling league.
Personal: Single. Has a sister, two nieces, one nephew and two cats.
Hobbies: Enjoys making stained glass, painting and glass bead work.
Crouse Health CFO
He oversees and provides strategic direction for all the financial aspects of Crouse Health
By Mary Beth Roach
Making a difference in the Central New York area and creating solutions to the challenges that he faces as the chief financial officer at Crouse Health are two of the factors that motivate Kevin Randall in his career.
Upon graduating from SUNY Oswego, Randall worked with The Bonadio Group, a large CPA firm with an office Syracuse. He then went to Price Waterhouse Coopers, where he said he became interested in the health care field. He had had a number of clients all over the country, but Crouse was his only local one, and when the hospital offered him a position, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I couldn’t wait to start my career at Crouse, knowing I could make an impact in the local community,” he said.
He began at Crouse in 2013 as a senior accountant; took a job as CFO at Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo in April 2018, but returned to Crouse later that same year as the director of finance, with the additional responsibilities of overseeing the supply chain. In August 2019, he was named as CFO.
In that role, Randall oversees and provides strategic direction for all the financial aspects of Crouse Health, which includes accounting, cash management, payroll, purchasing, materials management and inventory. Crouse Health’s budget is approximately $490 million for 2020-21, with about 3,400 employees in the system, he said.
“As CFO, you’re balancing many factors, and a lot of them are out of your control. Nothing’s been more out of our control and nothing we could plan for like COVID-19,” he said.
Hospital management makes decisions daily that improve the health and well-being of the community, he added.
“When you look at it, there are challenges, but that’s why we’re in health care. We pride ourselves on being advocates and leaders and creating solutions to those complex challenges,” he said.
As it relates to the pandemic, there were multiple challenges. The leadership team had to determine how to handle things from a supply chain perspective. Like others health care facilities, elective surgeries were canceled, and Randall said, they had to focus on obtaining personal protective equipment in order to keep patients and employees safe.
That leadership team he referred to includes the president and CEO Kimberly Boynton; chief operating officer and chief medical officer, physician Seth Kronenberg; chief information officer Kim Rose; chief nursing officer, Lynne Shopiro; vice president of marketing and communications, Bob Allen; and Randall.
He explained that he has had to make sure the finance team was doing what it could do to provide support, search for any grants or other financial aid resources that might be available.
“We had to make sure we were staying on top of it. But, over the past year, our focus has been, from a leadership perspective, what can we do to make sure that we’re keeping our patients and employees safe,” he explained.
He added that he couldn’t be prouder or more appreciative of Crouse employees during the pandemic.
“Our medical staff rose to the occasion during this time period to meet the community need; whatever the patients needed. I think the word ‘hero’ has been thrown out there a lot in terms of health care in the past year. In my opinion, there are no bigger heroes than here at Crouse. Not just Crouse, but the entire community at large. We’ve really banded together. It’s really something to see,” he said.
Helping to navigate Crouse through the pandemic financially has certainly been a challenge, yet Randall sees it as a career achievement. Another highlight, he said, was being offered the CFO position at Crouse at the age of 32. To be a CFO is a goal “you’d like to get to at some point in your career and you definitely work toward, but definitely not getting offered that at the age of 32,” he said. “That is definitely humbling to me.”
Randall is 34 years old.
His philosophy as a CFO stems from his early days at Crouse.
“We always used to use the words, ‘service leadership.’ It was something that came out of our executive level. It took me a while to fully understand what that meant. But really to me it embodies the idea of being a coach and a mentor,” he said. “I’ve always looked at my role in leadership as one of supporting my employees versus one that’s more of a rule enforcer. It’s really helped me develop and advance a tremendous finance and supply chain team here at Crouse I could not be more thankful for.”
It’s this team and the members of the leadership team that help him stay up-to-date with all the many changes in the field.
“Health care is an ever-changing industry, which I think is that attraction that most of us have. People who spend their careers in it like the fact that it’s ever-changing. It keeps them on their toes,” he explained.
His office meets with the leadership team on a consistent basis to make sure they stay up to date on the various topics related to health care.
Looking ahead, Randall said that Crouse will continue to strive to be a leader in quality health care in a place the community feels pride in, whether it’s for health care services or as an employer.
“We owe that to this community. We’ll do everything we can to keep Central New York healthy as we’ve done through the pandemic,” he said.
Having grown up in the North Syracuse area, Randall’s pride in Central New York is obvious. A big factor in the Randalls’ decision to move back to the area from Buffalo a few years ago was because he and his wife, Erin, wanted to raise their family here. The couple has three children, Ava, Juliette and Oliver, ranging in age from 12 to 3.
“There’s no better place to raise your family than Central New York,” he said.
And the family is his focus outside of work, he said. His oldest is currently quite involved in basketball and he finds himself coaching her from time to time, he said.
Birth Place: North Syracuse
Education: Bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oswego; currently enrolled in a graduate program to obtain my Master of Business Administration in healthcare leadership.
Affiliations: Finance committee chairman of Iroquois Healthcare Association; board of directors of Laboratory Health Alliance;assistant treasurer of Crouse Health Foundation; girls junior varsity basketball coach at Bishop Ludden High School.
Personal: Wife, Erin; three children, Ava, Juliette and Oliver
Hobbies: Family, coaching daughter’s basketball team, avid Detroit Lions & Syracuse Orange sports fan.
Oswego Health CFO
In charge of finances during a decade of rapid growth for Oswego Health
By Ken Sturtz
To say Eric Campbell’s life had come full circle in 2016 when he was named chief financial officer for Oswego Health would be an understatement.
Campbell was born at Oswego Hospital. He grew up in the area and his parents taught in the Oswego school district. Later in life when he became a certified public accountant, most of his portfolio was in health care. One of his main clients: Oswego Health.
“So, it’s really good to be back working and living in the community where I grew up,” he says.
Campbell never imagined himself becoming the CFO of Oswego County’s largest health care provider or overseeing a $138 million budget. Originally from Sterling, Campbell had no business background growing up, though he did enjoy numbers. At George Mason University he took some introductory accounting classes, finding them challenging and enjoying the challenge.
He completed several internships in college that helped solidify his interest in accounting. His internships allowed him to become familiar with many unique businesses.
“You’re not in one place all the time,” he says. “You’re going to those businesses. You’re meeting different people and I really enjoyed that.”
After college Campbell became a certified public accountant and spent seven years with Fust Charles Chambers LLP, a Syracuse CPA firm, where he rose to be an audit manager. The firm had a significant health care practice and roughly 75% of Campbell’s work was with health care clients such as hospitals, home care agencies and skilled nursing homes. He had taken on Oswego Health as a client and in 2010 the hospital was in the process of transitioning leadership. At the end of that process the CFO at the time asked Campbell to join the team.
It took Campbell some time to come around to the idea. He liked his job and was reluctant to leave his firm; he thought he might become a partner someday.
“It certainly wasn’t part of my career path, but I was really open to change,” he says. “I saw it as an interesting challenge and thought it would be really rewarding to be back in the community.”
In 2010, he left his CPA firm and became CFO of Oswego Hospital, under the umbrella of the Oswego Health system. He was responsible for overseeing the hospital’s business-related departments, including fiscal services, patient financial services and patient access. Campbell says the position was a great opportunity to step out of his comfort zone and broaden his skill set.
The day-to-day challenges in health care are significant, which means there’s always something new to learn or address, Campbell says. Some of his skills as an auditor translated well to his new role. For example, he was good with people. And as an auditor, he was constantly asking questions, which often helps preemptively solve problems.
One difference that took some getting used to was the fact that his audit work at the CPA firm tended to be very project-based with deadlines. At Oswego Health, the quantity of work was far greater and it was pretty unrelenting, Campbell says.
There was another reason for the heavier workload. When Campbell arrived in 2010 the organization was expanding at a dramatic pace.
At the time A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital in Fulton had closed and Oswego Health stepped in to fill the void, opening the Fulton Medical Center in 2011. A year later it opened the Central Square Medical Center, offering urgent care, lab and medical imaging services. The organization has continued to grow to meet the needs of the community. Specialty doctors and primary care have been a priority.
The result, Campbell says, has been an exciting incremental transition from a hospital to a larger health care system.
“We’ve grown leaps and bounds over 10 years,” he says.
That growth hasn’t come without challenges. The organization wasn’t always prepared for so much growth so quickly. They had to look at efficiencies with their revenue cycle, reporting structures and billing operations. And they had to work hard to sell the community and recruit the right kind of people to the organization, particularly doctors.
Another challenge that’s somewhat unique to health care is the frequent changes in state and federal regulations and reimbursement structure, Campbell says. For example, in the fall Oswego Health was notified that its Medicaid rates were being reduced going back six months.
“There’s not too many businesses where you provide a service and then six months later the government says actually we’re going to pay you less for that because we’re changing our rate structure,” Campbell says.
That kind of uncertainty makes budgeting and long-term planning more difficult. It’s also one of the reasons Oswego Health needs to continue growing its service offers for the entire community, he says, to help offset some of those reimbursement issues. It’s certainly challenging, but for Campbell that’s also part of the fun of his job.
And the challenges certainly haven’t slowed Oswego Health’s growth. In January it opened the Lakeview Center for Mental Health and Wellness at the site of the former Price Chopper in Oswego. And a major renovation of the hospital’s third and fourth floors into private patient rooms is ongoing.
For his part, Campbell says he’s grateful he’s been able to be a part of Oswego Health’s leadership team during a period of such dramatic change.
“The growth of Oswego Health has been one of the exciting things for me,” he says. “You can kind of see the pieces coming together.”
Birth Place: Oswego
Residence: Town of Oswego
Education: Bachelor of Science in accounting, George Mason University.
Affiliations: Board of directors for CenterState CEO; member of the finance committee for ConnextCare; member of the New York State Society for CPAs, the American Institute of CPAs and the Healthcare Financial Management Association.
Personal: Wife, Angela. Two children aged 11 and 8.
Hobbies: Spending time with family, golf, kayaking and fishing with his kids, coaching youth basketball.
Upstate University Hospital CFO
Handling an annual budget of $1.3 billion, his tenure has been marked by challenges and accomplishments — and the pandemic
By Mary Beth Roach
Stuart Wright’s career as chief financial officer of SUNY Upstate University Hospital for the past 13 years has been marked by great change and growth, significant financial challenges and accomplishments. And, most recently, by the pandemic.
Wright oversees all the financial functions of the hospital, including the budgeting, accounting, audits, cost analysis, data analytics, monthly reporting, revenue cycle, third-party payer contracting with the health insurance companies, scheduling and registration functions and the outpatient pharmacy operations.
He also interacts with the leadership of the other two components of the Upstate system — the medical university and the physicians group — in areas regarding operations and financial matters.
Wright believes that crises can bring about positive change and transformation. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has put that theory to the test.
The pandemic has created operational and financial challenges for Upstate, he said. The safety of its patients and employees had to be ensured and purchasing enough personal protective equipment had been difficult. In addition, he said that in March and April of 2020, the hospital was basically ordered to shut down in order to allow for space should Downstate hospitals need to transport patients here. While that never materialized, Upstate was running at only a 60% capacity in order to keep those beds open, Wright said.
What did materialize, however, were big revenue losses. For a three-month period — from March to May of 2020 —Upstate was losing up to $1 million a day, Wright said. They needed to continue to track and report how much money the hospital was losing and from where. At the same time, they were working with various organizations and lawmakers to try to lobby the federal government to keep the adequate funding needed. It would require a change in the reimbursement formula that Wright had been pushing for six months.
Eventually, with the assistance of Sen. Schumer’s and Congressman John Katko’s offices, Wright said, they prevailed, and Upstate received a robust payment from the CARES Act, based on the methodology that Wright had been advocating to help offset those million-dollar-a day losses.
Yet, despite the challenges, Wright sees a silver lining.
“We have changed our paradigm in some regards to be more technologically advanced and nimble in the delivery of care. And we’re doing a significant more amount of telemedicine visits than we have in the past,” he said.
Prior to COVID-19, Upstate did not do any telemedicine visits. Now they’re up to 3,000 telemedicine consults per week, he said.
Because Upstate has such a large service area with 17 counties, this technology can prove beneficial for those patients who would have to travel several hours across the state to come to the hospital.
But the pandemic is not the only financial crisis Wright has faced in his 13 years with Upstate.
When Wright began as the CFO in 2008, the hospital had $500 million in revenue and New York state was providing almost $50 million a year in annual support. But over the course of the next eight years, the state, facing its own financial troubles, cut its support to zero, he said. The state continues to support the academic component of Upstate.
“I was part of a core group of individuals that helped bring about a true shift in our paradigm to an accountable organization that was going to grow, be nimble, and think strategically,” he said. “That, to me, was probably one of the most exciting parts of my job — bringing about that paradigm shift and finding ways to live without state support at all and actually thrive.”
And thrive it has. Today, that revenue line has nearly tripled to $1.3 billion.
Upstate has done more than $500 million in building projects during his tenure, which included the Golisano Children’s Hospital; the Cancer Center facility, which cost more than $100 million; and the East Tower. Wright was also one of the lead advisers in Upstate’s acquisition of Community-General Hospital in 2011, and he added, they are in the process of constructing a $140-million ambulatory pavilion on Upstate’s main campus that is slated to open in 2023.
“We’ve just continued to move the organization to improve, I think, our reputation in the community. Our quality’s improved. Demand for our services has grown,” he said. “It’s a very different organization than we were in 2008, and it’s been exciting to be part of building what we have today.”
Wright sees Upstate as experiencing two types of progress — what he referred to as organic growth and acquisitive growth. The organic growth is the recruitment of physicians and marketing them, and the hospital’s equipment, and technology. Securing Community-General is an example of the acquisitive growth. At that time, Wright said, Upstate was running at 90-plus percent and needed more beds; while Community was going bankrupt with unused beds and about 1,000 jobs there at risk.
The acquisition, he said, allowed Upstate to continue to grow and has helped to make up for the cuts received from the state.
The hospital has also tried to grow strategically, he said, so it can offer services that, while perhaps not considered profitable, are part of Upstate’s mission.
“We’re what we consider a safety net hospital,” he said. “We’re the Level 1 Trauma Center in the area. We provide the Poison Control Center. We provide a number of specialty clinics that are not profitable, but we do them because it’s part of what we believe is our service to the community.”
To progress requires the organization to be efficient. He and his team have developed systems to enhance accountability and productivity, bench marking themselves against other organizations in the industry to make sure staffing and spending are optimum throughout the system.
Wright also sees Upstate as a critical economic engine for the Central New York area. With approximately 11,000 employees, it is the largest employer in the county.
“We provide jobs, good-paying jobs, and vital services to the communities we serve,” he said. That service area reaches as far north as the Canadian border, south to the Pennsylvania border, west to Rochester, and east to the Utica area.
In describing his managerial style, Wright said, “I believe and ascribe to a servant-based leadership style. Hire the right people, give them the right tools, give them the right direction and let them go. It’s been a very successful model and it’s worked for me.”
With health care being an ever-changing market, Wright believes in the importance of staying ahead of the trends and being able to see the industry from a more global perspective. He said that there is increased pressure on the federal government to contain healthcare costs, and that articles he reads about reimbursement now and in the future involves cuts.
“We have to be able to adapt to those cuts, just like we did adapt to the state cuts,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot of consolidation, a lot of growth. We have to achieve a scale economy, we have to be dynamic, figure out what markets we’re going to be in, how we’re going to be efficient, deliver high quality, how we’re going to invest those dollars we do have.”
Born and raised in Elmira, he received a bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree from the University of Rochester. He resides in Cazenovia. Spending time with his family and enjoying the outdoors help Wright relax away from the hospital.
Before coming to Upstate, Wright was a certified public accountant; did healthcare consulting; worked as the CFO of regional insurance companies for CIGNA; and then as a fiscal intermediary for the federal government. But he had never worked in and for a hospital.
It was the desire for more direct involvement in patient care that led him to take the position at Upstate.
“Everyone working in the health system — we’re all part a vital part of the organization saving people’s lives and giving people hope. That’s why I do what I do. I love it,” he said.
Birth Place: Elmira
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania; master’s degree from the University of Rochester.
Affiliations: Member, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants; Member, New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants; Member, Vizient Academic Medical Center CFO Task Force; Member, Healthcare Financial Management Association; Graduate of CIGNA Financial Development Program (FDP); Completed AICPA Business Valuation Program; Masters Certificate in Government Contracting from George Washington University; Past Board Member, Syracuse Samaritan Center; Past Board Member and Treasurer of the Syracuse Rescue Mission; Past Board Member – Central New York Arthritis Foundation
Hobbies: Spending time with his family, and anything outdoors, including hiking, fishing and relaxing on his boat