New leader looks to build on 142-year-old legacy
By Stefan Yablonsky
Oswego Health is in a great position, according to Michael C. Backus. It has met the challenges facing health care across the board, he said.
“We’ve done that, I think, because of our ability to step in during the pandemic, lead on vaccines, lead on managing patient care — what we are focused on at the end of the day are quality outcomes. That’s a lot of what we’ve worked hard to accomplish,” he said. “That’s the vision I have going forward for Oswego Health.”
Backus joined Oswego Health staff as the chief operating officer and executive vice president. He worked alongside former president Michael Harlovic and other members of the senior leadership team to stabilize the health system.
“He joined Oswego Health in 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus issue,” said Ed Alberts, chairman of Oswego Health board. “This really gave us a chance to see Mike Backus operate. We knew very, very quickly that this was going to be a great opportunity for Oswego Health.
“So, we as a board knew that Mike was the right choice. There are a few times in life when you come across a no-brainer. This falls into that category of no-brainer.”
Backus became president and CEO on Jan. 1, following Harlovic’s retirement.
The transition was positive. Harlovic and Backus had a seamless transition, the new CEO said. Eliminating as many barriers to health care as possible is a major focus of his.
“From the short time that he has been here, he is everything we expected he would be —and more! He’s done a phenomenal job. We couldn’t be more pleased,” Alberts added.
“There’s a lot of growth that is potentially going to happen in Central New York. I think Oswego Health is very well positioned in this community to step into those spaces and there’s certainly a lot of development in Fulton that people are going to see going forward,” he said. “We’re definitely seeing more patients than we ever have, especially in primary care. We’ll continue to expand that footprint. That’s the growth that I want for this health system.”
Supporting the staff
Backus said his team wants to make sure that staff has the tools and the product at the end of the day to provide the level of care that the community wants.
“The pandemic has had an affect not only on our community as a whole but it has also had an affect on our workforce. We want to make sure that they have those support mechanisms in place — that’s a big part of my vision for this health care system,” Backus said. “As a good community member, we’re making sure that we are standing up for our community, our workforce; those people who live here and work for Oswego Health.”
“We want to make sure that they have the tools with the ability to build upon all the services that they provide; that they are able to take the time they need to collect themselves and be able to come back refreshed and ready to go and take care of our community,” he continued.
More than Oswego Hospital
Oswego Health is 1,200 people or so strong.
“We’re a major employer in the community. We’re not just Oswego Hospital — even though the hospital is a very big sector of our core,” Backus said.
Besides the hospital, the system includes two senior facilities, The Manor at Seneca Hill and Springside at Seneca Hill.
It also operates Oswego Health Home Care as well as two outpatient centers, including the Fulton Medical Center, the Central Square Medical Center and other services.
Behavioral health — there’s such a big need right now, Backus said.
He pointed to Oswego Health’s Lakeview Center for Mental Health and Wellness as a prime example. Since it opened in January 2021, it has served thousands of individuals on an outpatient basis.
“We were blessed at the end of the year last year to receive a charitable contribution from the Lobdell family of Pulaski. Those kinds of resources in the community are so important,” he said. The Lobdell family donated $1 million to the facility, the single largest donation Oswego Health has ever received.
Being able to expand Oswego Health’s primary care footprint is paramount, according to Backus.
“Oswego, the entire community, really, has struggled to have those services available,” he said.
Because of the high demand for primary care services, in July of last year, Oswego Health expanded access to care by opening a third location in Oswego at 33 E. Schuyler St. Oswego Health has four additional primary care locations throughout Oswego County — two in Fulton and in Oswego.
“Some people have gone without a primary care doctor. Making sure people have those resources available so they can go and get those regular checkups; making sure they can get vaccines, making sure those support networks are available that’s a big focus for us,” he said. “We want to help people get care ahead of time so those more chronic diseases are better managed in real time. I’m very, very proud of the efforts that Oswego Health has taken on.”
“We have always celebrated our employees. We had an award called the ‘I Care Award’ — a celebration where an employee is celebrated for a great job. It’s important for the community to know about the skilled caregivers that we have throughout the entire health care system,” he explained. “It’s not just the folks that you see, the surgeons, doctors — it’s the people behind the scenes that really do a lot of the blocking and tackling that are so very important to health care.
“Those are the people — dietary, housekeeping, physical therapists — they are all the ones that you don’t always see as critical. But at the end of the day they are the people who really get the job done. And celebrating them with an award, it is so very important, so very impactful for our healthcare system. It creates the culture that we want to have, collaborative with our employees so they know how appreciated they are. Their work is vital.”
“We always focus on making sure that work-life balance is there for our workers. That is a challenge. The workforce has been impacted over the last several years in so many different ways,” Backus said. “I think we have made some really, really good decisions — making sure our wage structure is where it should be, making sure our recruiting tactics are where they should be … offering tuition assistance for those maybe looking to modify their work positions a little bit, looking for different skills or different career path and making sure that we are stepping into some of those spaces where we should be.”
“We have folks who come into our health system in one place, but then they want to transfer somewhere else — we support them all the time,” he added. “We have been very aggressive and very smart in terms of trying to figure out ways to build the workforce and create that collaboration with our team.”
“We’re always trying to attract more registered nurses, LPNs, nurse’s assistants — we’re always out there trying to make sure we are an employer of choice. We’re always looking to add to our workforce,” he said. “Employees want to make sure that they have a good fit, want to make sure that their teammates are there to help them and also want to see support from directors and from everybody in the entire system. That collaboration is so important to us. We want to make sure that we support every aspect of our community. I think that’s one of the things where Oswego Health has done a really good job during the pandemic of stepping in where applicable and where appropriate.”
Keeping it local
Backus said he believes Oswego Health will be able to maintain its independence and grow as an organization.
Just recently, Katie Toomey was elected to serve on the Healthcare Trustees of New York State’s board of governors for a three-year term.
She serves on the Oswego Health board of directors and the Oswego Health Foundation board.
“We’re very proud to have Katie as a member of our board of directors. With her network, it really fits very well, she understands the challenges of healthcare right now across the entire continuum of care,” Backus said. “Having her voice there on the New York state board of trustees is very helpful. As we continue to advocate for more resources through the state, she’s a great collaborative partner to have.”
As an independent, nonprofit hospital health system, Oswego Health is proud to be led by its volunteer board of directors — who each give their time and talents to support healthcare in the local community, Backus added.
“Katie, along with our other board members, plays a critical role in all our strategic decisions,” he said. “Taking her talents to the state level will emphasize the good work done by the tremendous caregivers at Oswego Health and help further our efforts to expand services throughout Central New York.”
Backus is working with the board of directors to build a strategic plan for the long-term future of Oswego Health.
Trends change and Backus believes patients are noticing “that bigger isn’t always better in healthcare.”
“We want to ensure healthcare continues here and decisions are made at the local level. I think you’ve seen the benefits of that. I really think that focus on local care, expanding those services — especially primary care — will help continue that legacy that’s been here for 142 years. I want to make sure that we build on that going forward,” he continued. “It’s been our mission to remain independent. I think our outcomes over the last several years really speak to why. We’ve made really good decisions in real time. The pandemic required us to do that — we were able to scale it up — we have a talented leadership team here. We’re vested; we’re part of this community. We want to make sure that care remains local — locally led.
“And, I think that’s why the board has made those smart decisions, making sure that we are focused on expanding our resources and growing care, right here in our community. We need to celebrate that and build on that more. We are prepared for this time and continue to build toward the future.”
Mike Backus ON…
Shortage of workers
“I am immensely proud of Oswego Health’s efforts building career development pipelines for caregivers working in partnership with Cayuga Community College, Sean Broderick and the Fulton City School District, New Visions through CiTi BOCES, just to name a few. These programs have helped us demonstrate the opportunities in healthcare to local students who then can enter programs to learn nursing and other clinical skills. Marq Brown, vice president of human resources and chief people officer for Oswego Health, leads our recruiting and retention efforts building the next generation of caregivers for our community.”
Competition from largest health centers
“I’m a competitive guy by nature and I believe Oswego Health is an emerging leader in healthcare in Central New York. We proved our ability to care for this community through the pandemic and continue to build upon those efforts. Coupled with that community support, I am noticing a trend of people who want to remain local for their care. Traveling to Syracuse or Rochester for a primary care visit or orthopedic consult isn’t easy and we’ve built a system at Oswego Health that I think offers patients quality care in a convenient setting. Our focus on providing high quality, accessible, and affordable care makes us competitive with anyone.”
Trend forcing smaller hospitals to join larger systems
“Trends change and I think patients are noticing that bigger isn’t always better in healthcare. Again, our focus is on high-quality, accessible and affordable care that is patient-centric. That’s how we have provided care for this community for over 142 years as a sole, community hospital. Oswego Health made prudent, at times conservative, financial decisions and saved for tough times like healthcare is facing today. That’s allowed us to invest in our workforce to ensure patients have the skilled caregivers they need when they need them. We were able to make some of those real-time decisions because they were made locally, here at Oswego Health in consultation with our volunteer community board. We can adapt. We can innovate. And we can pivot in real time. That’s how we cared for this community for the last 142 years and it’s how we’ll continue to care for this community.”
Oswego Health At a Glance
110 West Sixth St.
Oswego, NY 13126
President and Chief Executive Officer
Michael C. Backus
Medical Director or equivalent
Duane Tull, MD
Chief Financial Officer or equivalent
Chief Nursing Officer or equivalent
Chief Branding Officer
Number of Employees: 1,245
Licensed Physicians: 251
Number of Beds: 164
Inpatient Visits in 2021: 4,965
Outpatient Visits in 2021: 303,086
Visits to Emergency Department in 2021: 26,273
Number of Surgeries in 2021: 4,409
Source: 2023 CNY Healthcare Guide