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Healthcare Heroes

Chief Operating Officer, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

This COO Empowers Team Members and Leads by Example

Leah Martin Photography

 

Mark Paglia was a wrestler at Cathedral High School and later at American International College.

He said the great thing about wrestling is there is “no one-size-fits-all method that leads to success.” But there are several qualities, traits, and habits that wrestlers possess. “They trust themselves and count on their teams to train together to get better. They aren’t afraid to try new things. They are disciplined, grateful, focused, detailed-oriented, and able to adjust.”

These are qualities, Paglia told BusinessWest, that positioned him well for his current role as chief operating officer at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, and the myriad challenges that have come with that assignment.

While working for Mercy Medical Center and its parent company, Trinity Health Of New England, Paglia served in several different roles, including executive director of Behavioral Health. He would sum up his tenure this way:

“I became the ‘project guy,’ the ‘turn-around guy,’ where I would be asked to go into departments or services that were really struggling both from a regulatory side or the financial side and turn them around,’” he said.

He was given a number of difficult assignments in that vein, such as leading efforts which led to the successful redesign of the methadone maintenance treatment program, resulting in two-year licensure with the Department of Public Health; leading efforts to open the new Clinical Stabilization Services unit; stabilizing redesign throughput for behavioral-health patients in Mercy’s emergency room; and leading the Outpatient department from a state of uncertainty to being fully licensed and financially viable. Ultimately, he was charged with winding down behavioral-health services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital when Trinity Health Of New England made the difficult decision to close them in 2020.

As noted, these experiences, including his wrestling prowess, helped steel him for what has been his most stern career challenge, but also the most rewarding one: opening a new behavioral-health hospital, MiraVista, at the Providence Hospital site in April 2021 — in very little time, in the middle of a pandemic, in the midst of a nationwide nursing shortage and general workforce crisis, and at a time when the need for behavioral-health services was soaring due to COVID and the many ways it impacted people of all ages.

“I really find myself leading from behind, where I screen, recruit, and hire exceptional people, identify what the goals of the organization are, invite the individuals to participate, and identify what their passions are — what they believe in — and then empower them to go.”

But his efforts to open MiraVista’s doors under such difficult circumstances and then put it on a path to accreditation and expansion of both inpatient and outpatient services only partly explains why Paglia has been chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Health/Wellness Administrator category.

Another key consideration is the manner in which he manages — and has managed throughout his career.

He calls it ‘invitational leadership,’ which, as that name suggests, aims to ‘invite’ employees and all other stakeholders to succeed. It involves sending positive messages to people, making them feel valued, able, responsible, and worthwhile.

“I identify goals for the organization and goals for the various departments, and then invite the individuals responsible for that work to participate and own the work,” he said while explaining what this practice means to him. “Through that, I really find myself leading from behind, where I screen, recruit, and hire exceptional people, identify what the goals of the organization are, invite the individuals to participate, and identify what their passions are — what they believe in — and then empower them to go.”

Summarizing thoughts expressed by team members at MiraVista, Erin Daley, chief Nursing officer and herself a Healthcare Hero in the Emerging Leader category in 2017, wrote in her nomination of Paglia:

“His impact is garnered through his compassionate and inclusive leadership of clinical and operations teams; we find Mark, more often than not, behind the scenes working with the team and individual staff members to make them as effective and productive as they can be. Universally, team members remarked that Mark inspires them to do their best work for patients and for each other because he makes them feel their contribution is valued and an essential part of the process. Simply put, he listens. He engages people and integrates ideas, and this is what distinguishes him as a hero; his impact has longevity and grows exponentially through others.”

Such sentiments explain why Paglia will be taking the stage at the Log Cabin on Oct. 27 to be recognized as a Healthcare Hero. More importantly, they explain why he has emerged as a true leader within this region’s healthcare sector.

 

Taking the Lead

Paglia took what would be considered a non-traditional path to his current post with MiraVista.

Indeed, after earning a degree in business management at AIC, he went to work for a flat-glass manufacturing company. Along the way, he was asked to coach wrestling at Minnechaug High School, a role that made him realize how much he liked working with young people and helping them develop.

Mark Paglia, seen here with several team members at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, practices what is known as the ‘invitational’ style of management.

Mark Paglia, seen here with several team members at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, practices what is known as the ‘invitational’ style of management.

That experience inspired him to go back to school to earn a teaching degree. He would eventually land a job in Connecticut working in a day-treatment program for youth with behavioral-health issues.

“I was really drawn to the kids, but I felt like I didn’t have enough time with them in the school setting,” he told BusinessWest, adding that these sentiments led to another rather sharp turn on the career path, this one taking him to a job as director of the Adolescent and Family Services Department at the Gándara Center’s main office in Springfield.

“I think that’s where I found my passion for caring for those who are in need,” he explained. “And that’s where I started to understand business management and performance management, and that’s where I learned the invitational model of empowering people; that was the foundation for my career.”

Fast-forwarding somewhat, Paglia said he spent nine years at Gándara before becoming program director for the Brightside Treatment Center, part of the Sisters of Providence Health System, in 2009, and later became director of Outpatient Services – Behavioral Health at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, and then executive director of Behavioral Health for Mercy Medical Center and its affiliates, including Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, Brightside, and behavioral-health services on the Mercy campus.

“I’m blessed to work with some of the most passionate, committed, extraordinary leaders … it’s a joy to come to work every day.”

While he was in that role, Trinity Health Of New England made the difficult decision to close Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in early 2021, leaving a huge void in services available to the public.

Seeking to fill that void, Health Partners of New England acquired the property with GFI Partners with the intention of bringing back inpatient psychiatric services and a compliment of substance-use programming. And it turned to Paglia to get that difficult job done.

Recalling those days and, ultimately, the reopening of that facility, Paglia said the sum of his previous experiences certainly helped him overcome a number of hurdles, adding that he was essentially starting up a new business, starting with the hiring of staff.

The first priority was the methadone clinic, which served 600 patients and needed to remain open, and did, with the transition from Trinity Health Of New England to MiraVista, sister facility to TaraVista Behavioral Health Center in Devens, taking place at midnight on April 20. What followed was a ramping up to open an adult inpatient psychiatric unit, he went on, adding that this was achieved 10 days after the acquisition, with a second unit added in June, followed by a detox unit and then an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit, a clinical stabilization service unit, and other substance-use addiction services.

From left, Mark Paglia with Erin Daley, chief Nursing officer; Erica Trudell, director of Nursing for Inpatient Behavioral Health Services & Education; and Alicia Morel, Talent Acquisition specialist.

Overall, MiraVista has expanded inpatient bed capacity from 36 at opening to 101 today. This includes 50 acute-care psychiatric beds in separate units for adults and adolescents, 30 detoxification beds in its acute-treatment unit for substance-use disorders, and 21 beds in post-detoxification for individuals transitioning to outpatient care. And it is staffing up for the opening of another unit, a substance-use program. Meanwhile, planning and preparation continue for the opening of what Paglia called the most challenging unit — a child psychiatric facility — with an anticipated opening date of February 2023.

Overall, MiraVista has gone from one employee, Paglia, to roughly 350 team members in just over 16 months — again, in the middle of a pandemic and a workforce crisis. In a word, he described this as an “extraordinary” accomplishment, adding that “we are midway through our journey to hire the very best staff to reach an expected 650 employees.”

Equally impressive, he said, is the number of visits from the Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation that the facility and its team have endured on its way to accreditation.

“Typically, an organization has one visit every three years for their accreditation,” he explained. “Because we had different lines in different units open at different times, we had four surprise Joint Commission visits where they did a complete audit and survey, and I’m incredibly proud that we passed all four with deeemed status, which gives us the opportunity to qualify for our CMS-contracted services with Medicare and Medicaid, which is a difficult achievement. To do all that in one year is pretty extraordinary.”

“I picked up quickly a long time ago that when someone is passionate about what they’re doing, they have their own internal motivation to be successful.”

He credits all that MiraVista has achieved to date to the team of leaders he has assembled.

“I attribute a lot of it to the leaders that we were able to bring in to create the foundation for this organization,” he told BusinessWest. “I’m blessed to work with some of the most passionate, committed, extraordinary leaders … it’s a joy to come to work every day.”

 

Shared Mindset

One of the goals of invitational management is to make all members of a team feel the same way, Paglia explained, adding that he strives to accomplish such sentiment through active listening, getting employees involved, inspiring them to assume a sense of ownership in the operation, and making sure those in every position know they have an active role in the success of the company.

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

MiraVista Behavioral Health Center is appropriately lit up for September, which is Recovery Month.

“I picked up quickly a long time ago that when someone is passionate about what they’re doing, they have their own internal motivation to be successful,” he said, adding that one of the goals for him and other leaders is to match this passion with career opportunities that will enable those individuals — and the company — to grow.

While doing all that, he also likes to bring fun into the equation. In fact, it’s a big part of the success formula.

“We plan for fun,” he said, adding that an ‘engagement committee’ he established has launched several initiatives that team members can take part in together, from a Halloween party to a recent barbecue and cornhole tournament; from an ice-cream social to fitness challenges.

The cornhole event and ‘mismatch day,’ where employees wear outfits that do not match, don’t explain why Paglia is an effective leader — or a Healthcare Hero for 2022 in the Administrator category.

But they are part of the explanation.

There are, in fact, many parts to this equation, but the result is an engaging administrator who has taken the lead at MiraVista — in every sense of that phrase.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

Health/Wellness Administrator

Medical Director, Holyoke VNA Hospice Life Care

Alicia Ross

Alicia Ross

This Administrator Has Been a Pioneer, a Mentor, and an Inspiration

By Mark Morris

Growing up in the Philippines, Alicia Ross always hoped to become a doctor. Her father, a dentist, had other plans and wanted his daughter to take over his practice.

“I didn’t want to go into dentistry, so I went into medicine,” Ross recalled. Shortly after graduating from Manila Central University and passing her medical boards, she emigrated to the U.S.

In 1971, Ross joined the staff of Holyoke Medical Center, specializing in hematology and oncology. At the time, she worked with cancer patients, with the single goal of healing them. But for patients with advanced cancers, doctors can often reach a point where there are no more treatment options. Ross understood those patients needed something else.

“It’s huge for the patient to be reassured they’ve done all they can do to fight their illness. It’s also just as important for family members because they will remember this for the rest of their lives.”

“We had to refocus our goal,” she said. “For those cases, instead of a cure, we would instead work toward comfort measures for the end of life and do our best to ease their pain.”

So began what could be called a new career for Ross, or at least a new, exhilarating, and rewarding chapter in a remarkable — and ongoing — career. In 1991, she would become the founding medical director of Holyoke VNA Hospice Life Care.

Over the past 30 years, she has changed countless lives, and not just those who come under her care. Indeed, as an administrator, she has been a leader, a mentor, and an inspiration to those she has worked with, primarily by challenging them to continuously find ways to bring comfort and, yes, quality of life to those in hospice care.

“Someone referred to Dr. Ross as a ‘pioneer,’ and I think that is a very apt term for her,” said Maureen Groden, director of Hospice and Palliative Care, adding that Ross has changed the way many think when they hear that word ‘hospice,’ and she has spent her career educating and innovating.

Alicia Ross says many people recoil at the idea of hospice without realizing what a benefit it can be.

Alicia Ross says many people recoil at the idea of hospice without realizing what a benefit it can be.

Jennifer Martin, director of Operations and IT for Holyoke VNA Hospice Life Care, agreed.

“As medical director, Dr. Ross has always been our go-to; she is the backbone of the hospice program,” she said. “In our weekly team meetings, she goes above and beyond to make sure we provide the absolute best care for every patient and every situation.”

Those sentiments certainly help explain why Ross has been named a Healthcare Hero for 2021 in the always-competitive Administration category. Over the years, that honor has gone to those who don’t simply manage, but lead; those who not only care for those in need, but inspire others to reach higher and find ways to continually improve that care.

Ross certainly continues that tradition.

 

Life-changing Decisions

Getting back to that word ‘pioneer,’ it is used to describe those who break new ground and blaze a trail for those who would follow.

As Groden said, that term suits Ross because of the way she studied hospice care and adopted best practices, but also because she sought to keep raising the bar in all aspects of this field of healthcare.

Turning back the clock to the late ’80s, Ross said she traveled to England to study under Dr. Cicely Saunders, considered the founder of the modern hospice movement.

“Before we started our hospice services in Holyoke, I went to England to better understand how they did it,” she told BusinessWest. While she worked primarily with the doctor’s staff, Ross also met with and learned from Saunders herself.

Ross turned her knowledge into action in 1990, joining others in creating Holyoke VNA Hospice Life Care. They did so, she said, with a simple philosophy: that “dying is a part of living.”

With hospice care, it’s possible to bring dignity and acceptance to patients and families when they are making difficult decisions about end-of-life care. But it is never an easy conversation.

“We still see patients who have a strong negative reaction to the word ‘hospice,’” Ross said, adding that this is unfortunate because people who could benefit from hospice care are not always referred early enough to enable them to gain some benefit from it.

“In addition to nurses who provide pain relief, hospice also offers other services to make a person’s last days more comfortable,” she noted. “Home health aides, chaplains, social workers, even volunteers can all bring comfort to the patient.”

No matter what faith a person follows, she added, the chaplain’s role is part of providing comfort and pain relief. “During this time, many patients have emotional and spiritual pain. When the chaplain can reduce some of that emotional pain, it also eases some of the physical pain.”

Volunteers also play an important role. While COVID restrictions have curtailed in-person visits to patients, volunteers also make an important contribution in providing comfort.

“We try to match volunteers to the patient,” Ross said. “For example, if the patient is a veteran, our volunteer is a veteran.” By aligning interests, the volunteer becomes a welcome face and often develops a friendship with the patient.

Administering medicine is an important part of hospice, but there are often non-medical ways to ease a patient’s pain. Ross gave an example of how a patient with lung disease will regularly experience shortness of breath.

“While morphine is a good treatment, oxygen is too, so a fan blowing in the room can be very effective,” she said, adding that anxiety also contributes to difficulty in breathing. “Many patients feel they are burdening their family, so we work on lessening their stress and anxiety to help them understand they are not a burden on their family.”

According to Groden, family members often struggle and wonder if they’ve done the right thing in referring a loved one to hospice. She said Ross approaches that conversation by reassuring the family that, at this point in time, additional treatments would actually cause more harm than good, and that hospice is the most compassionate approach.

“It’s huge for the patient to be reassured they’ve done all they can do to fight their illness,” Groden said. “It’s also just as important for family members because they will remember this for the rest of their lives.”

While modern medicine can extend people’s lives, many still need hospice in their later years. Ross also pointed out that hospice is not just for the elderly. “We have a lot of illnesses that can affect relatively younger people, like Lou Gehrig’s disease, early-onset dementia, and, of course, cancer, which affects people at all ages.”

No matter the age, she noted, the goal of Hospice Life Care remains the same. “Our main purpose is to give patients comfort through the end of life, to make them as comfortable as possible, and treat their symptoms so they don’t suffer.”

After 50 years at Holyoke Medical Center, 30 of which were at Hospice Life Care, Ross has certainly seen many changes in healthcare. She listed electronic medical records and advancements in medication as two of the most significant.

While many physicians choose to retire rather than confront new technology, she took time to learn electronic medical records and embraced the advances in both technology and medicine. Her colleagues say she never misses a beat, one of the reasons she’s an effective leader and healthcare provider.

At the urging of her husband, Ross had planned to retire by 2015. But when he became ill in 2014 and passed away quickly, she decided to continue her work.

“I thought if I retired, I would only sit around the house and mourn, so a better choice was to keep working,” she said, adding that, with each life she impacts, she embraces that decision.

 

A True Leader

Martin observed that Holyoke VNA Hospice Life Care admits approximately 275 patients to hospice each year.

“When you multiply that number times 30 years, it gives you an idea of just how many lives Dr. Ross has touched,” she said, adding that her lasting impact is measured not in numbers, but in words, especially those used by family members of patients to describe the compassionate care they received.

Those words convey many things, including just how much of a pioneer she has been throughout her career, and how she has convinced so many that dying really is a part of living.

Mostly, though, they convey that she is a true Healthcare Hero.

 

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