DANBURY, Conn. — Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) will recognize Cynthia Emiry Roy, president and CEO of Regional Hospice in Danbury, with the 2019 Macricostas Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Roy has applied her entrepreneurial career exclusively to nonprofits, armed with the same drive and skills exhibited by successful business owners.
Her current project – directing construction of the Regional Hospice Center for Comfort Care and Healing, which opened in 2015, and running the highly successful operation – set a new standard for the way hospice care is offered not only in Connecticut, but across the country.
“Cynthia’s long resume of work with nonprofits and her drive to do something never before achieved in Connecticut, will convince anyone that the skills and drive expressed by business entrepreneurs are the same needed to make nonprofits successful,” said Dr. David Martin, dean of WCSU’s Ancell School of Business, which administers the Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
The award will be presented on Tuesday, March 26, at 11:30 a.m. at the Ethan Allen Hotel in Danbury.
Roy had been the executive director of another hospice in Connecticut for nine years when, in 2007, the board of directors at the Regional Hospice offered her the president and CEO job at Regional Hospice.
“I told the board, ‘I will come to work for you if you let me build a hospice inpatient center-one like you have never seen before!’” Roy recounted. She had learned that not all hospice care was suitable in hospitals or home. For some people at the end of life, a center that could assess and handle their special medical needs and help family members cope with emotional and spiritual needs all at the same time was the best solution. Connecticut had almost no options for patients and Roy knew from her travels around Connecticut and other states that no other facility met the best-practice standards she could build.
The Regional Hospice board of directors agreed and Roy set about her task. First, she had to change state hospice inpatient regulations, which didn’t represent best practice in end-of-life care. The original law from 1977 required a drinking fountain and a phone booth to be within a short distance of every hospice patient’s room and didn’t include any best-practice, evidence-based research within the regulations.
Roy had to find a location and raise money as well. “We didn’t have a $10 million donor,” she said. “Our average gifts were $400 each.” She identified a piece of land that was wooded and quiet, but is within half-a-mile of Exit 2 on Interstate-84 for easy access.
Operators of another hospice in the state lobbied against the change in regulations in order to blunt Roy’s attempt to construct a building. She spent several years engaging state and federal legislators before Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the reworked law in 2012.
Finally, Roy was able to hire an architect to design the building.
“I knew exactly what I wanted and I knew no one had done it before. We could do something really special,” Roy said. “I didn’t want it to look like a hospital. I wanted it to feel like home. It is the last home for most of the people who come here. We created an experience that is unforgettable.”
Roy has grown the organization from a small business to an $18 million corporation. The 36,000-square-foot building, which cost $14 million, offers 12 patient suites, each with space for family members to sleep, gourmet catering service from the kitchen, a library, chapel, a spa and a playground for children, as well as administrative offices. It is a fully licensed specialty care hospital and the only facility of its kind in Connecticut. It is getting state and national recognition from other health care providers. In addition to the center, Regional Hospice also provides hospice care in four counties to people in homes, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities.
Many people who work in hospice care have had a personal experience with loss that makes them passionate about the calling. As a teenager, Roy lost a best friend to leukemia. The experience of losing and caring for someone who was terminally ill changed her life. Sadly, she had a number of other significant losses that changed her view on dying with dignity.
The difficult experience gave Roy a personal understanding about end-of-life care and decisions the patient and family must consider. At the same time, Roy said, she approaches her position as a job that involves many of the same tasks as any corporate, for profit, business.
“Our business culture is very important because we are working with families and patients at very difficult times in their lives while juggling the expenses of health care,” Roy said. “If you make a mistake at the end of life, people never forget that memory. You don’t get another chance to do it right.”
Roy expects everyone who works at the hospice agency to have the same commitment to service and mission that she does.
“The expectations of care are high here” Roy said. “People have to believe wholeheartedly in our mission, or they won’t work here. People have to bring positive energy, love and compassion to our care.”
At the same time, she concentrates on nourishing the staff. A Reiki specialist and aromatherapist are brought in regularly, and employees are treated to social events.
Roy previously worked with the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Roy completed her clinical internship training at St. Vincent’s Psychiatric Hospital. While at Columbia University, she also worked with a United Nations non-government organization, International Committee on Aging.
She received a master’s degree in science majoring in social work from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in science from Boston University. She holds an accreditation as both a home care manager and hospice administrator. In September 2013, Roy was appointed to the governor’s Palliative Care Advisory Council. She presented the 2017 Macricostas Lecture on “Entrepreneurship in the Nonprofit World,” at WCSU.
The prestigious Young Professionals Organization invited Roy to join the CEO group in 2016. Membership is for leaders younger than 45 who run companies larger than $18 million. Her fellow members, nearly all of whom are men, discuss and look for solutions to most of the same issues Roy faces every day: questions about payroll, staffing, capital projects, short- and long-term investments and profit and loss concerns.
None of the rest of them, however, come face-to-face with death as part of the job.
“I’m on a different path, spiritually and professionally, to do this work,” Roy said. “People think running a nonprofit is easy, not like a regular business. But it is a health care business, with tremendous meaning and profound privilege.”
For more information, contact Paul Steinmetz at (203) 837-9805 or at Steinmetzp@wcsu.edu.