For the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of serving as President and CEO in hospice and palliative care, a service for patients of any age who have been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness of six-months or less. I joined Regional Hospice and Palliative Care in Danbury, Connecticut, USA, 10 years ago and began the most challenging and rewarding part of my career as I transformed hospice regulations in Connecticut. After several years of negotiations, the changes I fought for were finally signed into law by the governor and implemented in 2012.
In 2015, my dream of building a specialized, 36,000-square-foot, residential style facility, dedicated to the comfort and dignity of patients and their families, came to fruition. We opened Regional Hospice’s Center for Comfort Care and Healing — the first and only not-for-profit, all-private suite hospice in Connecticut. And over the past 10 years, Regional Hospice has grown from a small organization into an $18 million corporation. When I embarked on this journey, I had no idea how much I would learn from the experience.
There were many lessons learned along the way and many still to come as we celebrate the Center’s third year of operation. I have learned from our patients and their families, from our management team and from mistakes we have made. The heart of what we do always begins with a vision of excellence in quality and patient care.
Along with any lessons, there are many challenges along the way:
Thinking “This will never happen” — I cannot tell you how many times I heard those words as we started the process to improve Connecticut’s antiquated hospice care regulations and build the Center for Comfort Care and Healing. I am a risk-taker and entrepreneur by nature, as you must be to get any business started. I believe that if you are passionate about your product or service, you will do anything to make it a success.
Forming synergies — In any entrepreneurial project, it is vital that you develop strong relationships with the city and stakeholders to help build your case. The support of legislators on the local and federal level was vital to the success of the project. To get legislative support, you must include them in the process, making sure they truly understand your mission and goals. These relationships are key to implementing favorable rates for building permits, taxes and possible collaborative efforts. The benefits that an entrepreneurial business can bring to a city should be measured additionally in economic development dollars. For example, 18,000 visitors came to our facility in 2017 to be with friends and family, and while there, spent considerable money at local restaurants and hotels. Small- to medium-size cities are significantly impacted by the growth of a strong organization.
Fostering financial intelligence — Community banks are appreciably more willing to support local businesses. Many local banks have foundations that help support nonprofit work. It’s also wise to enlist members of the banking community onto your board of directors. Because there is no remuneration for nonprofit board of director members, there is rarely a conflict of interest. Refinancing your mortgage every few years can save your business a lot of money over time.
Factoring in scalability — Every year we budget for growth. We evaluate market share dollars and anticipate where we are growing and who our competition is, and growth affects our revenue.
Thinking creatively — We listen to feedback and accept guidance. We are willing to change a concept if it no longer suits our mission. We also have a creative and novel approach to advertising. This past year, I collaborated with a legendary creative team, comprised of J.J. Sedelmaier, producer of MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead,” SNL’s “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” and Cartoon Network’s “Harvey Birdman;” John Colquhoun, creator of Little Caesar’s “Pizza! Pizza!” character; Stephen Hersh, creator of campaigns for Goldfish Crackers, Milano Cookies, KFC and Jell-O; and Marvin Waldman, a former Executive Creative Director and Executive VP of Y&R Advertising, to create “Making the Best of Everyday,” an animated ad campaign about “dying with dignity” that features a realistic, holistic, even humorous approach to a difficult topic. The ad campaign has already been recognized for its excellence with two industry awards, The Platinum — Best of Show Award from the prestigious Aurora Award Competition and the Gold AVA Award. It is so important that a business is willing to evaluate flexible ways to market their services. Creating an animated campaign was an “out-of-the-box” way for us to share a message.
Assembling the right team — I have always believed remaining as an independent entity allows creativity, independence, agility and quicker growth. While we are a preferred provider for most health care systems, being an independent provider has allowed us to expand and grow without extensive overhead and lots of management expenses. It is critically important that the team surrounding the CEO has strengths and skill sets that the CEO does not have, and the key managers are keenly aligned in thinking and vision with the CEO. If a team member is not in sync with the team or the CEO’s vision, a leader has to be willing to cut their losses and move on to find team members who actualize the vision. The team that starts with a new organization should be redefined and changed as the organization grows.
Making the best of every day – This has become our tagline but it is truly also what we believe from a patient care perspective as well as in our employee culture. We get the privilege of bearing witness to dying people of all ages. Having this privilege is profound. We have all learned individually, and as a collective team, that every human being needs to make the best of everyday regardless of a diagnosis, disease or death. At the end of everyday it is what life is all about.
This article was published in the international publication YPO Ignite. Cynthia Emiry Roy, MS, LCSW, CHA is the President & CEO of Regional Hospice and Palliative Care.