Tuesday April 12, 2011

Former Lee Memorial Hospital Director Heads Nursing Facility

Dennis Casey now the administrator at Mercy of Northern New York
By Lou Sorendo

    He’s not done yet.

    Dennis Casey, former executive director of the now-defunct A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital in Fulton, is now taking on challenges at Mercy of Northern New York, a Watertown-based nursing facility operated by Samaritan Health System.

    Casey recently led Lee Memorial through its transition to an urgent care center. He worked for the Fulton facility for 25 years. After a brief hiatus, he is back in the healthcare game and is as enthusiastic as ever about exhibiting his leadership skills.

    Casey, 63, is the administrator at Mercy, a 160-bed long-term skilled nursing facility.

    He still resides in Fulton and travels the hour-plus drive to Watertown every day.

    “It makes for a long day,” he said. “But the challenges and rewards are worth it.”

    “Quite frankly, I wasn’t ready to retire,” Casey said. “This opportunity came along and I asked, ‘Certainly, why not?”

    The transition from Lee Memorial to Mercy has been a smooth one for Casey.

    Prior to being hired, he had a conversation with Thomas Carman, president and chief executive officer of the Samaritan Health System. “It seemed like a good match,” Casey said. “Tom is a very high-class, community minded individual and it’s been a great relationship.”

    The Springfield, Mass. native has been at Mercy since Dec. 1.

    Mercy of Northern New York has been in financial difficulties for “quite some time,” Casey said.

    Samaritan Medical Center recently acquired receivership from the state Department of Health to operate Mercy of Northern New York.

    “Samaritan Medical Center has been a tremendous help in improving things here at Mercy of Northern New York,” Casey said.

    Casey earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Colby College, Waterville, Maine, and his master’s degree in health administration from Georgia State University, Atlanta, Ga.

    Challenging environment

    Casey is generally responsible for the overall leadership, management and supervision of the nursing home staff and facility.

    He works with other managers and nursing home staff on short-term daily and long-term activities of the organization.

    Casey said the most challenging aspect of his job is continuing to manage a decrease in reimbursement from state and federal government funding sources.

    “They are the large payers in long-term care,” he said.

    He said in spite of decreasing reimbursements and spiraling costs, Mercy is striving to meet the long-term care needs of its residents with high-quality services.

    “They are referred to as residents and not patients. This is their home,” he said.

    That is really the main continuing challenge, as it is in the acute or hospital side of the business, he added.

    Casey does not see the problem as alleviating any time soon.

    He said in order to change the reimbursement shortfall, a change in fiscal policy will be required.

    “A higher priority must be given to health care,” he said. “And we’ll need to be able to find ways to have more efficiencies and economies of scale and less regulation in the industry.”

    “Those are the key criteria that are going to have to come into play in the relatively near future,” he said.

    Casey took a brief respite from healthcare administration between his Lee Memorial experience and his current role. But now, he enjoys getting back into playing an active role in managing and the provision of high-quality healthcare services.

    “It is very gratifying,” he said. “Basically I get a great deal of personal satisfaction working with people involved in healthcare and being able to make improvements in healthcare services that we deliver that will benefit other people.”

    Experience a plus

    His years at Lee Memorial have certainly paid dividends for Casey.

    “I draw on that experience every single day that I am here,” he said. “My previous experience is a tremendous help to me in long-term care and working with the folks at Mercy of Northern New York.”

    Casey said he has the ability to work with people to help improve their personal and managerial skills.

    He is also adept at developing and bringing in improved programs to residents.

    Casey said there are many similarities between the acute care and long-term care sides, as well as any type of health care. “The ultimate goal is to provide quality care to people that we serve here,” he said.

    “I think the delivery principles are the same. It’s an integrated delivery system using a wide variety of services available,” he said.

    Casey seems many similarities between Lee Memorial and Mercy.

    “One of the similar things is the opportunity to build a team of dedicated people, and the people at Mercy are very dedicated,” he said. “It’s a real opportunity to build teamwork because healthcare is very integrated.”

    He said people need integrated services, such as nursing, dietary, physical therapy, housekeeping, communication or social services.

    “All those kinds of things that we encounter on a daily basis in our lives at work and at home are very similar to things that people need in a long-term care facility,” he said. “They are basically human needs that folks require.”

    Casey said the reimbursement system is quite similar as well, with the two primary payers being Medicaid and Medicare.

    “While billing is a little different, they are still very similar,” said Casey, adding that acute care gets paid at a higher level of reimbursement compared to long-term care.

    “I have had the fortunate experience of being involved in healthcare and understanding the reimbursement system for many years, which has been a real advantage,” he noted.

    Obstacles to overcome

    Among the challenges Casey cites which confront the healthcare industry in the Greater Watertown area is providing appropriate services for long-term care as well as in the newly developing, state-backed assisted living programs.

    Assisted living is one step between independent living and long-term care.

    “There’s a real shortage of assisted living facilities here in the Greater Watertown area, but that is being corrected” through a HEAL grant procured by the Samaritan Health System, Casey said.

    Casey also noted the Mercy building is relatively old and its development has occurred over several different stages and time periods.

    “The building we are in is early 1970s and is really not designed to provide the optimal long-term care that we would like to be able to deliver because of its age,” he said.

    “The Samaritan Health System has the opportunity through the HEAL grant to develop new long-term care facilities along with an assisted living program,” he said.

    “Those are real opportunities that will greatly improve healthcare services in the Greater Watertown area. It could take a couple of years before the new facilities are constructed, but hopefully in a couple of years they will be constructed and up and running and people here will have much better facilities and accommodations,” Casey added.

    Casey said like almost any other area in Central and Northern New York, there is a severe shortage of healthcare workers.

    “Again, that is a challenge for staffing but also presents an opportunity,” he noted.

    Mercy is in the beginning stages of determining whether it can work with some of the other organizations in the Watertown area to help with staffing and be part of their clinical training. The goal is to present a more coordinated effort in trying to entice more people into the healthcare field.

    Casey is a fellow with the American College of Healthcare Executives.

    He and his wife Ann have four adult daughters.

    Casey’s hobbies include gardening and reading. He worked for Lee Memorial between 1985 and 2010. Previously, he was assistant administrator at Providence Hospital in Holyoke, Mass.

Oswego County Business Magazine
Issue 164

Issue 164
October/November 2019

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