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Alumni Bound by Mission in the Hudson Valley

Alumni Bound by Mission in the Hudson Valley
Pictured, from left, are, Marie Yezzo ‘01, Jack Burtis ‘15, G’18 and Elissa Chessari ‘02.

Marie Yezzo ’01 calls it “the Scranton domino effect.” As the vice president for professional support services at WMC-Health, a health care network in the Hudson Valley in New York that serves more than 3.5 million patients, she started hosting graduate students in Scranton’s Master of Health Administration program for their residency training five years ago. And she witnessed one Scranton graduate after another impress the hospital staff and go on to earn a full-time job in departments across the health system.

A few have moved on to other hospitals, but five of those Royals remain: Jack Burtis ’15, G’18, Brittany Drake-Koo G’11, Sahar Malek ’10, G’12, Robert Patella G’17 and Connor Shanahan ’15, G’16, all working alongside Yezzo and Elissa Chessari ’02, who is the vice president of operations for Westchester Medical Center, the network’s flagship hospital. These are just seven of the Scranton alumni at WMCHealth using their Jesuit education to make an impact in health care.

The Mission

For Chessari, the mission of WMCHealth resonates with her values and harks back to her years at Scranton.

“Our mission statement at Westchester Medical Center is to provide the highest quality of care, regardless of ability to pay, and that is what initially drew me (here),” she said. “I suspect that this mission is what attracts and retains so many other Scranton alums.”

Yezzo credits the strong network among Scranton health care administration alumni for bringing each of these graduates to WMCHealth. A biology major with a minor in business while she was an undergraduate at Scranton, Yezzo sees similarities in how both she and her colleagues from Scranton’s MHA program approach their day-to-day work.

“We didn’t all go to school (at Scranton) at the same time or even cross paths until we started working at Westchester Medical Center. I’m not sure if it was coincidence or divine intervention,” she said. “We use our Scranton educations to treat others, both co-workers and patients, as we would want to be treated. Seeing our impact is the best part. Some of us have been with the organization for more than 10 years. We have been part of major construction projects, programmatic development and various initiatives from design to completion.”

Essential Indirect Care

Although, as administrators, the alumni are not providing direct patient care, each is impacting the lives of patients.

“While most on my team are not involved in direct patient care, we support the bedside care providers,” Chessari said. “We work hard to find enhancements to operational efficiency and improvements in processes and business initiatives, which translates into better patient care and better outcomes.”

Patella works as a financial analyst at Bon Secours Charity Health System, a group of three hospitals that are part of WMCHealth.

“I am helping the organization to reduce labor expenses, manage valuable resources and improve departmental performance,” said Patella, a 2017 MHA graduate. “At Scranton, I learned a lot about time management, personal brand management and managing conflict within a team, which I use in my day-to-day work.”

Burtis helps make decisions that lead to better patient outcomes in his role as a revenue integrity analyst. He earned his MHA from Scranton in 2018, after completing his undergraduate degree in 2015.

“I work alongside our revenue cycle team to improve processes and develop tools to help ensure accurate billing for services provided by our network’s physician group,” he said. “I love the challenge and the novelty of my work. No two days are the same in health care. There are always new challenges that really require you to think and problem-solve on your own.”

Similarly, Shanahan relishes the fast-paced environment in his job as the manager of the outpatient department clinics and AIDS care center.

“Health care is a growing industry, and the connections I made at Scranton allowed me to not only understand the potential opportunity in the field, but also allowed me to capitalize on starting a career in such a fast-paced industry at a great place like Westchester Medical Center,” he said. “Working with the many groups and departments within Westchester Medical Center on a daily basis can be challenging, because everyone has different desires and needs. But remembering that we are all working toward the same goal — providing the best possible patient experience — helps us work together to get the job done.”

The WMCHealth network also employs numerous Scranton graduates from the nursing programs, in addition to these health administration alumni. And their colleagues say the Scranton graduates stand out in their contributions to the health system.

“There is a learning curve for anyone who joins a network of the size and complexity of the WMCHealth,” said Anthony Costello, the senior vice president of professional and support services and the supervisor of many of the Scranton MHA alumni. “We’ve often found degree holders from The University of Scranton well prepared to handle the ever-evolving dynamics of a regional health care provider.”

The Network

As Yezzo pointed out, these Scranton alumni are ready to tackle the challenges in the health care field not only because of their rigorous Jesuit education in health administration but also because of the strength and support of the Scranton network. The Health Administration Alumni Council is a major part of that network.

Active since 2014, the Health Administration Alumni Council has built a thriving mentorship program between alumni and current students while celebrating the professional achievements of its alumni, both informally and with the annual Daniel J. West Award for early career success.

Alumni engage in a LinkedIn group and meet annually at the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Congress on Health Care Leadership in Chicago. The council is also involved in planning the Annual Healthcare Symposium on campus in Scranton.

Jonathan Forte ’07, G’09, the vice president of the Health Administration Alumni Council, emphasized how much the alumni council wants to support current students. “Every job that I’ve ever received is a result of some connection that I’ve made as a result of networking or mentorship, and all of that started for me as a student at The University of Scranton — relying on the professional network of my professors and guest speakers and people who felt it important enough to come in and speak and spend their time with current students,” said Forte, who will start a new job in September as senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Choptank Community Health System on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Forte said it’s important to share the knowledge these practitioners gain from being in the real world with students, both in Scranton’s undergraduate and graduate programs.

“We want students to have a sense of what being a hospital administrator looks like in today’s health care environment and of applying our Ignatian values learned on campus in health care management,” he said. “This is our opportunity to pay it forward and give back.”

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