When you learn from the lessons of life,
your story becomes an inspiration. It is not about the wealth you earned, but
the lives you touched through your work. When she started her journey, she had
only one motive which was to serve people. With passion and dedication towards
her goal, Nancy Agee, CEO of Carilion Clinic, has made a significant impact in
26 counties in Virginia serving over 1 million people. Carilion Clinic is a $2
billion not-for-profit integrated health system with seven hospitals. With a
history of 120 years of care and support Carilion Clinic remains mission
focused even today. As she shares a few inspiring insights with us today, we
are certain that her words of wisdom will stir up our thoughts to help those in
need. In conversation with our Newsmaker, Nancy Agee:
What was your goal while growing up? Did
you always want to be where you are today?
From the time I was about 5 years old, I
wanted to take care of things, take care of dogs, take care of people. When I
was a teenager, I had a health scare and wound up having major surgery on my
knee. It was serious – not life threatening – but I found myself hospitalized,
on crutches or in a wheelchair for the better part of two years. That was
life-changing. I wanted to be like those people who cared for me. They were so
wonderful and great caregivers. I think those early experiences all coalesced
when I became a nurse.
What are some of the most important
achievements, highlights, biggest challenges or roadblocks of your journey as a
leader? If possible, kindly help us with statistical insights as an overview of
your individual achievements.
A little more than 10 years ago, right
before the recession started, we decided to change Carilion’s operating
structure and become more of an adaptive clinic delivery system with many more
employed physicians. We put physicians in leadership roles, significantly
expanded our campus and hired about 350 new doctors. We made some sweeping
changes that cost a lot, all of which were planned and thoughtfully done, but
without the notion that we’d be heading into a recession.
It was a little bit like stepping off into
the great unknown, and that was tough. As the chief operating officer at the
time, I had to lead the transformation as well as make sure our day-to-day
operations were running smoothly. Also, as we adapted to the clinic model, we
strengthened our partnership with Virginia Tech and built a medical school and
the research institute. All of those pieces coming together at the same time
was challenging, and there were moments when we thought, ‘maybe this isn’t the
right thing,’ or ‘we’ve gone too fast’.
In hindsight, it was the right thing to do,
and it was a hard thing to do. It took the courage of many, including our
board. Our operating margin went negative, yet our board saw the vision and
they believed this was the right approach. We emerged from the recession with
the right operational model to ensure our operating margin would be healthy.
More importantly, we were well-positioned to improve the health of the
communities we serve.
Have you achieved all that you had
desired? Tell us about the moment when you realized that your hard work has
finally paid-off. What keeps you driven and determined towards work?
In some ways, yes, though the very human
work we do is more a journey and far less a destination. In retrospect, I could
never have imagined the success that we at Carilion have seen. For example, ten
years ago, the land that now houses the Virginia Tech Carilion School of
Medicine and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC along with several
clinical buildings was a brown field in a flood plain. Today, it’s the center
of the Roanoke Innovation Corridor – a burgeoning district that is combining
clinical care, education and research and lifting up a community. The
excitement is building in Roanoke.
And yet, when you’re in the moment, it’s
hard to have a broad perspective. Our hard work over the past decade is
starting to pay off now, but that payoff is nowhere near over, and I expect it
to outlast my tenure.
If you asked me what I am most proud of, I
have to say, our staff. They’re talented, caring and resilient. That’s really
our North Star – what’s most important. I’m proud of a lot of other things as
well: certainly our relationships with Virginia Tech and Radford University,
our ability to innovate, our nimbleness, the quality health care we provide,
the work that we’re doing – especially in the ambulatory space – to help
patients stay out of the hospital. There are myriad things that I think
we do well.
In the end, it’s all because of great
staff, great leaders, great physicians, great nurses — the whole team. It’s a
credit to them that we’re able to do what we do. And quite honestly, maybe even
more importantly, we’ve got a great board that expects us to innovate, expects
us to do the right thing.
At the beginning of every day and the at
the end of every day, what drives me – what drives us – is a laser-like focus
on our patients. They are the reason I got into this business and they are the
reason I stay.
What seeded the vision of Carilion
Clinic? Brief us about the services that Carilion Clinic provides and tell us
why customers choose you?
Carilion Clinic has a 120-year history of
supporting those in need in our community. We began as a not-for-profit
hospital and remain mission-focused today. Our stakeholders are our community
members and every bit of our operating margin is reinvested in the communities
we serve. That’s important to us – it’s a great responsibility to shoulder, and
one we gladly take on.
We serve about one million people in 26
counties in Virginia. Carilion Clinic’s seven hospitals and more than 200
practice sites provide the full spectrum of care to our community. The only two
services we don’t offer are transplants and burn treatment. Carilion is the
largest private employer west of Richmond in Virginia, and as such, we provide
for both the physical and economic health and wellbeing of our community
Amidst all your responsibilities and
roles at Carilion Clinic, how do you manage to balance between professional and
I am so lucky. It’s not said often enough,
but family really should be the first priority. And without that touchstone
you’re missing out. My husband, my son, my daughter-in-law: they are the people
who will say, ‘You really screwed this up!’ They’re really going to give it to
you, and they’re going to be there again tomorrow.
My other recommendation: get a dog! They’ll
love you no matter what! I was traveling last week and when I got home [my dog]
was just crazy. And when I get home tonight, he’ll be crazy and excited. It
doesn’t matter if you’re gone 10 minutes or two weeks, dogs love to see you.
There’s a lot you can learn from a dog.
From a professional standpoint, finding a
moment of calm in a stressful time is important. Often you’ll find me visiting
patients, listening to them, learning from them. That’s where it all began for
me and it’s where I find the greatest peace.
What are your individual plans going
ahead? What does the future hold for Nancy and Carilion Clinic?
Remember the brown field and flood plain
that I talked about earlier? Now it’s home to Virginia Tech Carilion School of
Medicine and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC along with several
clinical buildings. Ten years ago, it was difficult to imagine that empty field
as a center of innovation, but here it is, acting as a hub for research,
education and care. The possibilities are limitless.
I expect to see more growth, as an
organization and as a region. So much has changed over the past decade, and
we’re only just beginning to reap those benefits. We just announced a planned
billion-dollar investment in our service area over the next seven years, which
will include a major expansion of Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and a new
Behavioral Health Hospital. Our partnerships with Virginia Tech and Radford
University are flourishing. Internationally renowned physicians and researchers
are moving here to work. Exciting things are happening in Virginia!
We’ll continue to evolve. What’s not going
to change is our devotion to patients and doing our best to help people have
the best health outcomes they can possibly have.