A Renewed Culture of Collaboration and Innovation Takes Root at Upstate University Hospital

By Thomas Crocker

Inspired by the vision and leadership of a CEO who is one of their own, physicians at Upstate University Hospital thrive in a culture in which partnership and engagement are paramount — and they are free to grow and innovate in the service of providing world-class patient care.

Upstate University Hospital CEO Robert Corona, DO, MBA, is not a proponent of leading from behind a desk.

“I try to stay out of the office as much as possible,” he says. “I’d rather go on rounds with physicians and nurses or visit the physical plant to ask what’s important to those who work there, and then provide the tools they need to succeed. Regardless of their role in the organization, people want to know their work makes a difference and that they’re trusted and appreciated.”

Appointed in January 2019, Dr. Corona’s path to the hospital’s CEO position included two decades in clinical and academic realms at Upstate Medical University to a leadership role at the medical diagnostic device manufacturer Welch Allyn. His journey instilled a belief in him that an organization is only as strong as the talented people who power it. Most recently, Dr. Corona was the John B. Henry Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medical Director of Neuropathology, Chief Innovation Officer, and Vice President of Business Development at Upstate Medical University prior to his appointment as CEO at its hospital.

“People are our strength,” Dr. Corona says. “They work at Upstate because they want to belong to something bigger than themselves. We’re situated in a large region and serve many different populations across a wide swath of the state. Everyone at the hospital feels a sense of appreciation and value for the contributions they make to the institution because the communities we serve rely on us for so many services that only Upstate provides.”

In less than a year, Dr. Corona has united the Upstate community around a vision of transforming the hospital into an innovative teaching institution. That vision rests on four pillars: relentless pursuit of high-quality care, leveraging innovative technologies to make the hospital smarter, commitment to environmentally sustainable practices and sourcing, and promotion of what Dr. Corona calls “the Upstate experience.”

“The Upstate experience is exceptional for patients and families but also our employees,” he says. “Focusing on all three groups creates a positive interchange. Happy employees result in happy patients and families. Happy patients and families help create a more pleasant work environment for providers and nonproviders alike.”

The Upstate experience empowers physicians to do their best work at the bedside, in the laboratory and in the classroom — in short, it is an atmosphere in which physicians can pursue their passion. Here is a look at how several Upstate physicians are doing just that.

“I’m passionate about integrating advanced technologies into our work at Upstate University Hospital, including computing, communications, robotics and artificial intelligence. Human capital is crucial to this effort. When so many people are using their senses to care for others, they improve the intelligence of the hospital.”
— Robert Corona, DO, MBA, CEO of Upstate University Hospital

Upstate University Hospital CEO Robert Corona, DO, MBA, set fresh priorities for the clinical system when he was appointed as CEO in January 2019. The pillars shown in the graphic below are presented as a reminder at each month’s Management Forum and other meetings. With two hospitals, the Golisano Children’s Hospital, and nearly 70 specialty clinics, quality care, patient experience, innovation and sustainability are priorities.

Amy Tucker, MD, MHCM

Before she joined Upstate University Hospital in 2017 as Medical Director of Ambulatory Services, Dr. Tucker practiced cardiology at the University of Virginia for 25 years, serving as the Director for Ambulatory, Consultative and Rehabilitation services in the Cardiovascular Division. As much as she enjoyed clinical care, Dr. Tucker wanted to spend the next phase of her career improving the healthcare system for clinicians and patients. The opportunity to do that attracted her to Upstate University Hospital, where she became Chief Medical Officer early this year.

“I’m excited about pursuing strategic growth, expanding clinical services for patients, and improving the quality and safety of care,” Dr. Tucker says. “I want to help remodel our healthcare system at Upstate to provide better access and clinical services to the patients in Central New York.”

A fundamental component of Dr. Tucker’s strategy to enhance patient care is to improve the well-being of the hospital’s medical staff. With support from Dr. Corona and other hospital leaders, Dr. Tucker works in collaboration with a well-being task force to combat physician burnout. She also works with an EHR usability group in partnership with the IT department. To improve access to care, Dr. Tucker notes that Upstate is expanding specialty services to key areas and, in July, welcomed its first class of family medicine residents. Upstate will connect these trainees with local physician practices in the hope that many will stay to establish their careers in Central New York, thereby helping alleviate a shortage of primary care physicians in the region.

“Our new leadership team is committed to serving the people of Central New York,” Dr. Tucker says. “We are working to create a healing environment, educate the next generation of healers, and pioneer new diagnostics and therapeutics to provide cutting-edge care.”

Innovation and Leadership for Access

Chief Medical Officer Amy Tucker, MD, is working with Chief Ambulatory Officer Nancy Daoust on data pulled from EHRs to evaluate room utilization for access and throughput in the outpatient clinics. “We are looking at ways we can see more patients and use our clinic space more efficiently,” Dr. Tucker says.

Jeremy Joslin, MD, MBA, Associate Chief Medical Officer for Capacity and Clinical Operations, is focused on maximizing capacity — such as the recent project to improve patient logistics by streamlining cross-campus transportation. His work supports the goal to provide the most immediate access to care at one of the busiest transfer centers in the state.

Matthew Glidden, MD, (left) Associate Chief Medical Officer, works to expand care at Upstate’s community campus. The Upstate Birth Center completed a $9.2 expansion and renovation; upcoming projects upcoming include dialysis and an expansion of the ICU at the Broad Road location.

Greg Conners, MD, MPH, MBA, Chair of Pediatrics and Executive Director of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, notes that the recent 10th year celebration was crowned with a special announcement. A new $3 million gift from benefactor Thomas B. Golisano will establish the Golisano Center for Special Needs. The center will allow Upstate to serve 7,600 children per year, a 167% increase compared to 2018. Conners also states that improving access to mental health care for teens is a pressing concern for the region, and one that will be helped by new adolescent psychiatric beds coming online. The inpatient unit will directly connect with outpatient services. Upstate departments are working with Hutchings and the Office of Mental Health to provide a continuum of care for these patients ages 12–17.

Lawrence Chin, MD, FAANS, FACS

Dr. Chin is the Interim Dean of the College of Medicine and Robert B. and Molly G. King Professor of Neurosurgery at Upstate Medical University. In the eight years since he arrived as Chair of Neurosurgery at Upstate University Hospital, Dr. Chin has been an integral part of a surge of growth and innovation that established the Upstate Brain and Spine Center and has produced a variety of programs and services found nowhere else in Central New York. These include a pediatric neurosurgery program, epilepsy surgery program, the Gamma Knife center, an intraoperative MRI suite for brain surgery, among others. The department’s surgeons also support the Upstate Comprehensive Stroke Center and its Level I trauma center.

In October, Dr. Chin witnessed the opening of a facility that is especially significant to him: Upstate’s new multispecialty outpatient building at the Township 5 mixed-use development in Camillus. A collaboration between the hospital and Upstate University Medical Associates at Syracuse (UUMAS) — Upstate’s faculty practice plan — the Township 5 building includes family medicine, cardiology,orthopedic surgery, pulmonology, rheumatology,neurosurgery, neurology, pain medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, urology, otolaryngology, vascular surgery, and psychiatry and behavioral health clinics, as well as a laboratory, radiology services and a physical therapy suite.

Dr. Chin credits Dr. Corona for spearheading the Township 5 project during his time as head of UUMAS, a role that rotates among department chairs. Dr. Chin continued the effort when he assumed leadership of the faculty practice plan.

“We’ve never had a collaboration on this scale between the physician practices and the hospital, but it was easy because everyone bought in to the importance of this project,” Dr. Chin says. “Working together to accomplish this goal in less than two years — from planning to opening — shows a great degree of integration between the physicians and hospital leadership.”

The support of leadership played an integral role in the establishment of a new neurosurgery outpatient clinic at Upstate Community Hospital (recently known as the Community Campus.) The clinic is scheduled to open January 2020.

“Upstate is about people,” Dr. Chin says. “It’s about treating our patients and staff with respect, and using the best technology available to deliver treatment.”

Innovation and Leadership for Education

Neurosurgeon Lawrence Chin, MD, recently transitioned from two roles — Department Chair and Head of the Medical Faculty Practice — to take on the Interim Dean role for Upstate’s College of Medicine. As a dean engaging in clinical practice, early exposure to patient interactions, increasing diversity and career mentoring are among his aims for students.

Danielle Katz, MD, is the Associate Dean of Graduate Medical Education. Each year, her office oversees more than 600 medical residents and fellows in 49 accredited GME programs. The newest residency program in Family Medicine, a collaboration with the Syracuse VA Medical Center, drew more than 400 applicants for six spots.

Geriatrics Chair Sharon Brangman, MD, launched the ACE (Acute Care of the Elderly) team approach for older adults in the hospital, where she also conducts ACE rounds and related education. She leads the state-designated Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease (CEAD) that provides comprehensive services for the diagnosis and management of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

G. Randall Green, MD, JD, MBA

The Director of the Upstate Heart Institute, Dr. Green joined Upstate University Hospital in 2017 and was determined to do nothing less than change how patients receive heart care in Central New York.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to create a regional academic center of excellence in heart care,” Dr. Green says. “Upstate has the resources, and now, under the direction of Upstate Medical University Interim President Mantosh Dewan, MD, and Drs. Corona and Chin, we have the highest level of leadership aligned to create what I came here to achieve, which is to transform Upstate into an academic heart care program that has the highest quality and most patient-focused care in the area.”

Dr. Green and his colleagues are well on their way to realizing his vision. Previously, Upstate performed approximately 50 cardiac surgeries per year, and it is now on track to perform 400 annually — a 700% increase. The Division of Cardiology has doubled in size, thanks to an influx of new providers, and is looking to add new techniques and treatments for heart failure and structural heart disease. In the research realm, Upstate is studying a prosthetic bypass conduit as part of a $3 million grant with Cornell University, and leaders are investigating the possibility of creating a clinical database for aortic disease.

“It is time for Upstate to achieve something big in heart care, which is a high strategic priority,” Dr. Green says. “All credit for the growth we’re experiencing goes to the management team we have in place now. Our leaders are aligned in how they think about heart care, and we have the right personalities on the team to build an academic center of excellence in heart care.”

Innovation and Leadership for Care

Upstate Heart Institute Director G. Randall Green, MD, MBA, JD, continues his work as a leading cardiac surgeon while building on existing strengths toward the vision of an institute that reflects the full scope of the interrelated mission — patient care, medical education, research and community service.

Cardiologist Mark Charlamb, MD, recently brought an eight-physcian practice to Upstate, essentially doubling the number of cardiology faculty and increasing the number of outpatient sites to six. Patients will have streamlined care with greater access to other experts and treatments, as needed. The expansion also secures the safety net services for vulnerable patients.

Surgeon Ranjna Sharma, MD, Medical Director of the Breast Cancer Program, was recruited from Beth Israel Deaconess and Harvard to grow and develop an academic breast cancer program. Her arrival expanded the team to four dedicated breast surgeons, with reach to underserved areas. Her aims include to increase investigator-initiated research and promote community outreach.

Mark Charlamb, MD, FACC

A cardiologist and alumnus of and former chief resident at Upstate, Dr. Charlamb joined the university’s faculty on Sept. 1 with his colleagues — seven physicians and five nurse practitioners — from the Cardiovascular Group of Syracuse. That move doubled the number of cardiologists at the Upstate Heart Institute and increased the number of Upstate’s outpatient cardiology clinics to six. For Dr. Charlamb, joining the faculty was a homecoming after 21 years in practice.

“My colleagues and I are now part of Syracuse’s only academic medical center, which allows us to work with residents and fellows in a teaching program,” Dr. Charlamb says. “We’re excited to grow our practice by working in an academic setting and collaborating with a variety of specialists across the institution.”

Dr. Charlamb points to the leadership renewal that has taken place at Upstate as playing an instrumental role in his group’s decision to join the university faculty.

“Dr. Corona is a people person. He is easy to work with and brings a physician’s perspective to the CEO role,” Dr. Charlamb says. “He made our transition seamless and welcomed us with open arms. The technology at Upstate is of the highest caliber. The connectivity is great — EHRs are available across all campuses and practices, so we can read and review patients’ studies from anywhere. Technology is constantly growing and changing, and it’s important to keep up with it to stay efficient and produce the best outcomes for patients.”

Innovation and Leadership for Future

Urology Chair Gennady Bratslavsky, MD, (center) leads a large robotic surgery team for prostate, kidney and bladder cancers, as well as other complex urological surgeries. In addition, he has overseen many clinical trials to evaluate new therapies for urologic cancers and introduced novel technologies such as Uronav fusion platform for prostate cancer and blue light cystoscopy for bladder cancer.

Michel Nasr, MD, Interim Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine oversees the region’s most specialized pathology department with 36 faculty members. The department aims to provide world-class services to patients and clinicians using cutting- edge technologies. Up next: The department is looking to further develop both digital pathology services and next generation sequencing technology to offer the most advanced laboratory diagnostics throughout Central and Northern New York.

Sri Narsipur, MD, Interim Chair of Medicine, guides the largest clinical, research, and education department at Upstate. The 11 divisions that comprise medicine have made advances that help with both common and rare conditions, as well as reach underserved communities across 17 counties in Central New York. New services in development include a center for lupus research and tele-consulting for regional physicians and providers.

To learn more, visit upstate.edu/hospital.