Someone was remarking the other day that, over almost four decades, Otsego County had two key players that could be called upon in any crisis.
One, Bill Streck, Bassett Healthcare Network president/CEO since 1984, who spent years developing contacts in Albany. A Democrat, he was a go-to guy around here, someone who could call the Governor’s Office and expect an answer.
Two, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who served in Albany from 1986 until this past Dec. 31, rising to leadership and maintaining it until the Senate shifted to the Democrats. Even then, he – like Streck – knew where the levers of power were and how to push them.
In the past year Streck, 74, and Seward, 69, both retired. In tackling the largest crisis in a century, which arguably the COVID-19 pandemic is, their departures left a void.
Anticipating 36-year state Sen. Jim Seward’s retirement, Bassett President/CEO Tommy Ibrahim “asked me to join his team” when the two met for the first time last fall, the senator said.
Conversations continued, and Friday, Feb. 12, Ibrahim made it official: Seward has joined the hospital network as a “strategic affairs liaison,” offering advice on a part-time basis on how it can interact with Albany to obtain the best outcomes.
In an interview, Ibrahim reported that Carolyn Lewis, former county economic development director, has been promoted from a Friends of Bassett role to director of public & legislative affairs, leading the hospital’s lobbying effort, and Seward’s expertise will be available to her.
“As a senator,” Ibrahim said, Seward “was a strong advocate of programs that support the health and well-being of the people in our region. (This) is a natural extension of Jim’s life and career.”
For his part, Seward pointed out that state Ethics Law prohibits state legislators from lobbying their former colleagues for two years after leaving office; but he can approach his contacts in the Executive Branch, which includes the state Department of Health and other agency systems that Bassett depends on.
And he knows who makes what decisions.
“I was very impressed with Tommy,” said Seward. “Since coming here, he’s put together a new management team. They’ve been developing a vision and a plan going forward. I look forward to doing whatever I can to assist the Bassett leadership.”’
Seward, who represented Otsego County in Albany for 36 years before retiring Dec. 31, said, “I’m ready to tackle new things. But I’m also glad to do this on a part-time basis. I do want to smell the roses a bit, too.”
COOPERSTOWN – Retired state senator Jim Seward, R-Milford, has agreed to join Bassett Healthcare Network in an advisory capacity as a strategic affairs liaison, Network President/CEO Tommy Ibrahim announced this morning.
“The former senator has been a public servant of our area for decades and has an intimate knowledge of the communities served by Bassett,” Ibrahim said in an email to the Network community.
The choice of Heidi Bond, “General in the Fight Against COVID-19,” as we put it, has been seconded by many since the “Citizen of the Year” edition appeared last week. She and her team at the Otsego County Department of Health rose to the challenge.
All of us thank her for her tireless contributions in 2020.
Otsego County has been lucky in leadership this year. Here are four other individuals who shone, and there are many others who, unheralded, have as well.
One, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who returned Jan. 20 from a 12-month deployment in Djibouti with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, expecting to settle back into civilian life with wife Amy, daughter Mia, now 12, and son Cooper, 7.
Instead, he went from one foxhole to another.
By the end of March, he was in the midst of COVID-19, and county government found itself in a financial crisis, laying off 58 FTEs, and looking ahead to a hefty tax increase.
Then came the Ruffles Plan, which the first-term treasurer developed in consultation with colleagues in similar-sized counties: one, cuts; two, borrowing; three, chase limited money still flowing from Albany.
The plan reduced the deficit from $13.5 million to $5.4 million; borrows $4 million over 20 years at a historically low interest rate (1.0033 percent), and front-loads road work next spring (CHIPS money is still flowing from Albany).
This kept the county 2021 budget under the 2-percent tax cap.
Ruffles could have been buried under county-budgeting minutiae, but was able to see the big picture: COVID isn’t going to last forever – it could be at bay in weeks, certainly months. Then, tourism will return, sales tax will return – and the county will be able to fulfill its obligations.
Two, Tommy Ibrahim, recruited from nine-hospital Integris in Oklahoma with a goal of elevating quality and efficiency at the eight-county Bassett Healthcare Network, and returning it to profitability.
He arrived in June, and by December announced implementation of “OneBassett,” flattening the five “silos” – the five hospitals – and managing them horizontally, by discipline.
It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around, but Google “Bassett Hospital HR” and see how hiring, formerly scattered across the system, has been unified, a one-stop shop to getting a job at Basset, if you will.
Think it through. You can see how organizing and managing Bassett services individually – enabled by technology that wasn’t there a few years ago – could raise efficiency and lower costs across the board.
This isn’t just theoretical. Bassett has lost money for four years. Ibrahim – “call me Tommy,” he’ll say when you meet him – expects “OneBassett” to put the system at break-even by the end of 2021 and in the black after that.
A prosperous Bassett is essential to our aggregated health, prosperity and quality of life. Important stuff.
Three and Four: SUNY Oneonta’s new president, Dennis Craig, and the new SUNY chancellor, Jim Malatras.
A “super spreader” event on Friday, Aug. 21, the first weekend students returned, had pushed on-campus “positives” to 107 within a week.
Sunday, Aug. 30, the new chancellor was at SUNY Oneonta, trying to figure out what went wrong. And he acted, suspending classes for two weeks. As positives went over 300, he closed the campus for the semester.
By mid-October, campus President Barbara Jean Morris had resigned and, to succeed her, Malatras named Dennis Craig, who as president of SUNY Purchase kept a campus outbreak to seven cases in New Rochelle.
Craig’s action team came up with a plan of reopening within two weeks, and he successfully quelled a faculty revolt, and lined up enough support to aim at reopening on Feb. 1.
This is leadership.
In crisis, leaders emerge. And that happened here. Happily, identifying Heidi Bond and four other high-profile leaders doesn’t take anything away from the many others.
County Board chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, as he does so well, brought together the talent around him – Ruffles, Meg Kennedy, Bond, Brian Pokorny and many others.
The mayors of Oneonta and Cooperstown, Gary Herzig and Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch respectively, Bill Streck in his final weeks at Bassett’s helm, and his COVID team, were all great.
And this doesn’t mention all of our fellow citizens who soldiered on – businesspeople and non-profits alike – and church, and schools, and police, and …
The point is, there are a lot of people we can thank as Otsego County begins to come back to life in 2021.
This mini-editorial is prompted by our next two editions’ editorials: This coming week, the topic is, of course, Christmas. The following week, Citizen of the Year.
That means we would be unable to comment on “OneBassett,” an exciting innovation at the 5,200-employee Bassett Healthcare System, until the New Year.
We all depend on Bassett, particularly in Otsego County on the mother ship, Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, and Fox Hospital in Oneonta, for our health, for employment, as a magnet for brainy people, for economic development and for the general vitality of our communities.
So every one of us has a stake in Bassett’s success, as do the seven counties beyond Otsego that the system serves.
COOPERSTOWN – “OneBassett” is here, Network President/CEO Tommy Ibrahim announced yesterday.
Ibrahim, who arrived in June from Integris Health Systems in Oklahoma, also announced the reorganization of the eight-county network is largely complete. It creates a North Region (Bassett and Little Falls hospitals) and a South Region (Cobleskill, Fox and O’Connor in Delhi).
And he announced “system executives” in the North (Bassett President Bill LeCates) and South (Cobleskill Regional Hospital Eric Stein) who, with a team of three vice presidents – for operations, medical affairs and nursing – will implement a horizontal management structure aimed at achieving consistent levels of expertise across the region.
COOPERSTOWN – Bassett Healthcare Network this afternoon announced five more key appointments to new President/CEO Tommy Ibrahim’s executive team.
The four will join “internal leaders from across the network who will be the core team to help drive system change,” said Ibrahim, in making the announcement.
“We are at a pivotal moment in our industry and change can’t wait,” he said. “We have a solid foundation across the network on which to build and we are fortunate to be operating from a stable financial position.”
COOPERSTOWN – The Bassett Health Network this morning announced four key promotions, including that of Fox Hospital President Jeff Joyner to network senior vice president/chief operating officer, as the new president/CEO, Tommy Ibrahim, here since July, begins to put his team in place.
The other three key appointments are:
Michael Thompson, as vice president/systems improvement. Most recently, he was vice president/provider service for Integris, Oklahoma City, where Ibrahim was executive vice president and chief physician executive before his appointment here May 20.
Lisa Betrus, as senior vice president/chief strategy and transformation officer. Since 1998, she has been CEO/administrator of Valley Health & Valley Residential Services, Herkimer, taking on the extra role of network vice president for continuum of care in 2017.
Cailin Purcell, as vice president/chief of staff. With 10-year tenure at Bassett, she was most recently Department of Surgery senior director, overseeing leadership of Women’s Health, Anesthesia and Perioperative Services.
COOPERSTOWN – Bassett Healthcare Network today announced the departure of Dr. Steven Heneghan, the network’s chief clinical officer and a key player in recent successful efforts to limit the coronavirus locally.
Dr. Bill LeCates, Bassett Hospital president, will assume interim responsibilities of chief medical officer for the hospital and the network on an interim basis.
COOPERSTOWN – Dr. Tommy Ibrahim began his tenure this morning as president and CEO of Bassett Healthcare Network.
He succeeds Dr. William F. Streck, who served as president and CEO from 1984 through 2014, then returned on an interim basis in 2018 after the resignation of his successor, Dr. Vance Brown.
Ibrahim comes to Bassett from Integris Health, the largest not-for-profit health-care system in Oklahoma, where he was executive vice president and chief physician executive. He was a hospitalist – an inpatient physician – before moving into administration.
COOPERSTOWN – Tommy Ibrahim, MD, MHA, Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive for Integris Health System, will succeed Bill Streck as president/CEO of the Bassett Healthcare Network, it was announced a few moments ago.