New leader takes the helm at home health agency
NEW HAVEN — The Addison County Home Health & Hospice Board could have scoured the country to find a new leader for an agency seeking to rebound after an internally tumultuous year that saw the sudden exit of former Executive Director Tim Brownell.
But in the end, the board didn’t have to look beyond the ACHHH’s own headquarters off Route 7 in New Haven. The board last week announced it had picked Deborah Wesley, RN — the agency’s former vice president of clinical services — as its new executive director.
Wesley served around two months as ACHHH’s interim leader prior to landing the permanent job.
“We’re very excited to have her,” ACHHH Board President Bryan Young said on Friday. “She’s been on top of everything that’s been thrown at her.”
Young and his colleagues had been prepared to mount a search, but ultimately asked themselves, “What are we going to improve upon?” after seeing Wesley’s job performance, according to Young.
Wesley, who joined the agency around two years ago, has more than 30 years of experience — 25 of that in management positions — in the home health field. She previously worked for Riverdale Health Services in the Bronx, N.Y., and was a leader in establishing a home care hospice for Jewish Senior Services in southern Connecticut.
It’s clear Wesley has made a profound impact on her colleagues during her relatively short tenure with ACHHH. Ten agency employees took time to show their support for Wesley during the Independent’s interview with Wesley on Thursday.
“I’m excited and humbled to be a part of this team,” Wesley said, glancing at her assembled co-workers. “It’s amazing to work with individuals who are so focused on our community, and that is our mission: to serve our community, our family and friends, together as a team.”
Wesley heads an agency that was dealing with internal strife just three months ago.
As previously reported by the Addison Independent, Brownell vacated his position with the nonprofit in early February. His departure came in the wake of criticism of ACHHH’s leadership by past and present employees of the agency, which dispenses a variety of health care services to homebound patients and to terminally ill residents. Those complaints, largely relating to administration/staff relations, were detailed in an extensive article published in the Independent back on Jan. 31.
Employees — including those who spoke up on Thursday — said they’re excited to begin a new chapter in the agency’s 50-year history, and they believe Wesley is the right leader to move the ACHHH forward.
“I think there’s a renewed sense of value, teamwork and responsibility,” Jenn Quinn, a home health physical therapist, said.
“Deb is not a ‘boss’; she’s our leader,” said Becky Bonvouloir, a longtime home health RN. “She’s right there pulling with us every step of the way. She doesn’t ask anything of anybody else that she herself hasn’t done.”
“There has been a real showing, especially recently, with the leadership — both at the board and within the agency — to support what the clinicians have always wanted at the forefront of what we’re doing here, which is that focus on providing the care,” said RN John Buonincontro. “It might sound cliché, but it’s an important one that drives us here.
“I think there’s a strong commitment from the leadership that’s here now,” he added.
Jameson Sylvia, is an ACHHH physical therapist.
“There’s more collaboration between all aspects of the agency,” he said. “It’s not just with patient care, but how to provide more for each other and the community in ways outside of what we do. I think it’s a value the company has always had, which was something that drew me to this company.”
Wesley said she will continue to keep the agency patient-focused.
“Our mission is our patients first, and we make sure the rest comes later,” she said. “We believe if you do the right thing first — take care of our patients — the rest will fall into place.”
She realizes times will continue to be financially challenging for home health agencies. The federal Medicaid and Medicare programs — which cover a large percentage of ACHHH patients — aren’t reimbursing for the full costs of care.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently announced Medicare payments to home health agencies in 2019 will increase by 2.2 percent, or $420 million, based on new federal policies. ACHHH could also benefit from a new “rural add-on policy” that will adjust reimbursement rates based in part on low-density client populations.
“For us, health care is changing,” Wesley said. “For the first time in 20 years, Medicare is changing how it’s going to pay us for home care. We are preparing as a team in how to get ready for that. It changes not only the financial landscape, not only how we deliver health care, but how we document that.”
Looking ahead, ACHHH will soon unfurl a major new amenity in June. It’s a tele-health system that will allow providers to interact electronically (and visually) with its patients living with chronic ailments, such as heart disease and diabetes. The revolutionary improvement will enable workers to monitor patients’ vitals and progress from a distance and thus cut down on travel.
Wesley stressed she’s getting a lot of input in her decision making.
“We drive this as a team,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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