By Jason D. Nickerson

The topic for this article came through a request that focused on Medicaid. However, I decided to expand the topic to include Long Term Care Planning because this is an extremely robust topic, as you will see.  The question that serves as the title of this piece illustrates how much confusion lies in this area of Wealth Management.

Let’s start with the ominous “They”.  Who are “They” and why are they taking people’s homes?  How does this link to me getting older and not having the ability to take care of myself?  While this is a very common concern, no one is in fact going to come and take your home.  This is a myth – that when you are unable to care for yourself, someone will show up, kick you out, and take ownership as payment.  This does not happen.

Instead, Long-Term Care generally happens in 3 phases:

  1. In-Home Care: Most people prefer to stay in their own home if they can by hiring people to come in part-time and help with daily activities.  There are two ways to pay for this: out of pocket or insurance. 

2.      Assisted Living: A location that people rent that includes some level of help with daily activities and onsite medical treatment.  Again, paid for out of pocket or with insurance.

3.      Nursing Home:  This is the level of care needed when you cannot be alone or need help with just about any daily activities.  There are three ways to pay for this: out of pocket, insurance, or Medicaid (also a form of insurance).

Medicaid pays for nursing home care when people cannot pay for it themselves or don’t have long term care insurance.  As stated earlier, they do not come to take your home.  Medicaid is not looking to be a real estate investor.  Rather, the value of your home can be factored into the assessment of your ability to pay for your care through assets and income.

Before we go much further, this is not an article about how to make yourself look “poor” to qualify for Medicaid.  There is a great debate over the ethics of these efforts and we will leave that discussion for another article.

The common questions we get asked are “What can I do to protect my house from the nursing home?” or “Do I need Long Term Care Insurance?”  At John G. Ullman and Associates, we enter these conversations with clients by asking one simple question (after preparing a detailed personal net worth statement); “Do you want to protect any of your assets for your heirs?”  If the answer is yes, then we need to discuss the different forms of insurance that may be available.  If the answer is no, then that is usually the answer for whether insurance is needed.

We then go on to one of the great philosophical statements: In order to get something, you have to give something up.  I believe the root of this should be credited to author David Levithan, different words, same meaning.

If you want to protect your assets, you can either spend money on insurance, or give it away to your heirs now (with no future benefit coming back to you).  If you give it away now, it’s not yours.  The protection you seek may not deliver what you would want for yourself for care going forward.  If you want top-notch care, you will need to give up some level of protection of assets for heirs and use it instead to pay for insurance and/or your care.

As this topic is extremely robust, my goal was to present a mental model for approaching it with your advisor, be it financial or legal, rather than lay out specific strategies.  That could take up a single volume of this publication all its own.  If you do not have a professional you are working with and need to on this topic, please contact us for a non-commercial (meaning free and we won’t sell you anything) discussion and we can get you started down a good path. 

So will “They” take your home? No, but you should still be preparing for future health care costs. It is not an enjoyable topic to consider or discuss, but you should not just table it for the future because the future might arrive sooner than you expect. You have options; take the time to explore them. In the end, whether you want to protect assets by using long-term care insurance or prefer to spend your own money is a choice entirely up to you. 

David’s Refuge, Pierre Morrisseau, and the Pineview Run Celebrity Challenge

By Christine Corbett, Director of Philanthropy, David’s Refuge

David’s Refuge is a growing local non-profit with a unique mission to provide respite, resources and support to parents and guardians of children with special needs or life-threatening illnesses in an effort to combat caregiver burnout.  They do this through an array of Respite, Wellness and Community programs which remind caregivers they are not alone, what they do matters, and that God and this community loves them.

In 2021, when planning for a unique event at Pineview Run & Country Club, Pierre Morrisseau, CEO of OneGroup wanted to include a charity component, and reached out to the team at David’s Refuge to explore the idea. When asked where the idea came from Pierre shared “I joined Pineview and realized quickly how great it is to have this right in our backyard.  The club really focuses on family fun and I think more people need to enjoy the sport of driving on a track. I’ve supported David’s Refuge for a long time and knew David personally.  It’s an organization that is focused on supporting families, so I thought why not put the two together?”

At that point, The Pineview Run Celebrity Challenge was born, with local friends signing up to be trained on driving the 1.1-mile racetrack, with a light-hearted race day scheduled for 1 month later.  During that month, drivers would raise at least $1,000 to support the mission of David’s Refuge.  As a competitive advantage, for every $1,000 that drivers raise, one tenth of a second is taken off their final track time. This means that the slowest drivers still have a great chance of winning the race and claiming bragging rights for the year.

Pierre is not just the brainchild of this event, but he is also a celebrity driver.  When asked why he chose to drive in the Pineview Run Celebrity Challenge, Pierre shared “It is a tremendous organization.  I have witnessed firsthand the relief, joy and satisfaction this mission brings to caregivers.  The rejuvenation it gives so that parents can bring that energy back to those they care for. It’s a gift that’s so important to give.” Pierre has succeeded in raising more than $14,000 for his races, all while introducing new friends to the mission of David’s Refuge.

The last two years have featured 24 amazing local “celebrities” in total and generated more than $75,000 in support of caregivers.

The 2023 Pineview Run Celebrity Challenge will take place in the Spring, if you are interested in joining as a celebrity driver, please contact Christine Corbett, Director of Philanthropy at David’s Refuge, at christinecorbett@davidsrefuge.org

Who Advocates for the Construction Industry?

Earl R. Hall, Executive Director – Syracuse Builders Exchange

Politicians.  Lobbyists.  Elected officials.  Legislation.  Laws.  Regulations.  Do those words generate a positive or negative connotation?  While answers will vary depending on individual circumstances or experiences, one thing is for sure:  They all impact how the construction industry functions and influence decisions of construction industry employers. The Syracuse Builders Exchange chooses to advocate and educate in an effort to support a position which is most advantageous to the industry.

Advocacy efforts happen every day, either by special interest groups, lobbyists or the general public, in an effort to influence politicians or policy makers.  But who is representing the interest of the construction industry in both Washington, D.C. and in Albany?  The answer depends on the position of subject matter and how much money one has to hire lobbyists to deliver a persuasive argument as to why legislation should be supported or opposed. 

Although some construction industry Associations have lobbyists, many local construction industry Associations and state-wide Associations do not.  In both cases, however, there is a coalition of industry Associations which generally work collaboratively in an effort to identify items of mutual importance to the industry, and then develop a strategy to advocate a position that the various organizations can agree with. 

Examples of advocacy provided by construction industry Associations may include:

  • Meeting with local and state elected officials in an effort to directly deliver a position of support or opposition, (example – Assemblyman Al Stirpe in central New York).
  • Meeting with appointed officials to mitigate or resolve issues impacting employers and/or the industry (example – Shaun McCready, NYS Department of Labor Director of Public Work).
  • Collaborating with like-minded Associations to deliver a “strength in numbers” campaign, supporting or opposing pending legislation, or urging the Governor to veto potential legislation (example – Associated General Contractors of NYS, Builders Exchange of Buffalo & Western NY, Eastern Contractors Association, Building Industry Employers of NYS, etc.).
  • Working with lobbyists to create positions of strength in an effort to effectuate change or educate (example -Hill, Gosdeck & McGraw, LLC).
  • Working with staff of elected officials to resolve industry issues or advocate for a position (example – Senator Charles Schumer).

While the Syracuse Builders Exchange does not have a lobbyist, nor do we pay for lobbying services, the Association does advocate for construction industry employers and the industry in general.  Representing the interests of the industry is critical in defending our industry from poor legislation, governance or regulations derived in Washington, D.C. or Albany.  And while many Associations do not have the financial resources to compete with special interest groups, the Syracuse Builders Exchange will continue to partner with like-minded construction industries Associations in an effort to educate elected officials on issues of importance and to advocate for our employers and the industry in general.

Loretto’s Innovations in Leadership Strategy Maximizing Clinic and Operational Expertise in Today’s Changing Healthcare Environment

By: Becca Taurisano

L-R Lori Sakalas, COO and Dr. Joelle Margery, CNO

In response to the evolving and complex changes in a post-COVID healthcare world, Loretto Health and Rehabilitation installed two members of its leadership team in new roles to guide the future of eldercare in Central New York. Dr. Joelle Margery has been promoted to Chief Nursing Officer of Skilled Nursing, bringing her experience as the former Vice President of Skilled Nursing and newly achieved Doctorate of Nursing Practice to the role. Lori Sakalas was hired in February 2022 as Chief Operations Officer, bringing her extensive healthcare administration and operations expertise as the former Vice President of Operations for Guardian Healthcare in Pennsylvania. Together, Margery and Sakalas will work collaboratively to ensure seamless operations and efficient care, while maximizing their clinical and operational expertise in today’s changing environment.

Sustaining Healthcare in Challenging Times

The healthcare industry is facing a significant staffing shortage, thanks to the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Margery and Sakalas are prepared to meet the challenge in new ways. Part of that is keeping recruitment and retention plans at the forefront of their focus and empowering Loretto employees to be part of the solution. “Our employees are vital to running a successful referral program,” says Sakalas, ”potential employees are more likely to respond to someone they know.” Loretto is seeing an increase of applicant flows when their employees are fully engaged in the recruiting process, such as higher numbers of employee referral submissions and an increase in candidates attending hiring events. In May, Loretto launched the “Amazing Race” program which asks employees to give leadership 4 or 5 names of potential employees they know personally who would be interested in hearing about Loretto’s services and benefits. Reaching out to the community for potential employees is part of the plan as well. Loretto recruiters go on college campuses, work with nursing programs for clinical rotations, seek out high school students and reach out to local refugee centers. “We try to work with individuals who have that heart for healthcare and want to work in our industry,” says Sakalas.

“The critical workforce shortage is the biggest challenge we are facing today,” says Margery. To combat this, Margery and Sakalas are looking at growing and promoting Loretto employees from within, mentoring them for success in their current role and assisting them to advance into other roles. Loretto offers mentoring programs for employees to pass their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) exams and leaders encourage employees to seek out opportunities in other areas like social work, dietician, operations, and administration. “We recognize that individuals want to be part of a career path,” says Margery, “we guide them on how to move forward in their career.”

Many of Loretto’s 2,500 employees are single mothers or support extended families and are unable to attend school full-time without an income. To meet their needs Loretto, offers a Licensed Professional Nurse (LPN) apprentice program, the first in New York State to be approved. While attending the program, employees attend classes as well as receiving on-the-job training at the Loretto facility while earning a paycheck. “Our program gives them support while they are in school so they can be successful, we incorporate emotional intelligence and leadership traits which are not taught in schools,” says Margery, “they can support their families while advancing their career goals.”

Supporting the Community

Loretto is always looking to support Central New York and surrounding communities with innovative ways to provide care, including a recent expansion of their sub-acute care units. Having found a need to care for a more clinically complex patient than they have in the past, Loretto has opened their Restorative Care Unit (RCU). “Hospitals are under duress with a shortage of beds and staff ”, explains Margery. If Loretto can take those patients and provide a hospital-level of care, hospital community partners benefit. “We are working to ensure those individuals can get a hospital bed in the community where they live,” says Margery, “when we can step in, it helps the community, it helps the hospital partners, and it helps healthcare in general especially with cost.”

Loretto’s 19 locations offer a continuum of care to their nearly 10,000 residential and home-based patients, whether that is skilled nursing, assisted living, independent living, or in-home care through their PACE program. “Our services allow patients to stay in their home if they so choose, while receiving the community-based care they need,” says Sakalas.

In December 2020, Loretto opened a COVID-only building that served many surrounding communities with a little over 300 admissions. “When there is a need in the community, we are often the first reach. If we are able, we will provide the support,” says Margery.

In December 2021, the Department of Health asked Loretto to take short-term rehabilitation patients because the hospitals needed to free up beds to take additional COVID patients. Based on Loretto’s proven track record to be able to implement plans effectively with positive outcomes, the Department of Health allotted 18 National Guardsmen to serve as Certified Nursing Assistants at Loretto during this time. “I am always open to initiatives to promote the well-being of the communities we serve,” says Margery, “as a nurse it’s about the patient, the community and the employees.”

Recently, Loretto evaluated the need in surrounding communities to provide care for patients with both dementia and a psychiatric diagnosis. “This is a very specific population of patients to care for,” says Margery, “and no center of this kind currently exists in our area.” Margery says Loretto is planning to open a center to care for those patients in 2023.

Leading By Example

Sakalas began her healthcare career 25 years ago as a nursing assistant working her way through King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She grew up in a close-knit family and seeing the challenges her grandparents faced, inspired her to help make the last years of their life as enjoyable as possible. After working her way through various administrative and operational roles with Genesis Healthcare, Guardian Healthcare, and Golden Living, she never lost sight that care for the patient comes first. Sakalas says Loretto’s history in the community, starting in 1926, and mission to provide exceptional care to families, aligned with her personal and professional values. Sakalas says, “We cannot expect from our team what we do not expect from each other. Our team needs to feel we are right there with them, that we believe in them and respect their opinion. At the end of the day, we know we can get through anything.”

Margery came to Loretto 15 years ago as Assistant Director of Nursing. She holds an Associate’s in Applied Nursing from St. Elizabeth College of Nursing in Utica, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Southern New

Hampshire University, a Master of Science in Nursing – Clinical Nurse Leader from Southern New Hampshire University, and in March 2022, awarded the Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) from Capella University. “I’ve always been a caretaker,” says Margery, “the ability for us to provide care that is not typically done in the post-acute care world, that’s empowering. I want to push the limits and do at Loretto what nobody else in the community does. We are afforded the ability to think outside the box here.”

Both Margery and Sakalas are hands-on leaders, stepping in whenever their team needs their help. Leaning on their experience in the healthcare industry, they can relate to the challenges their employees face. “As leaders, we respect everyone no matter position or title,” says Sakalas, “we are motivators and inspirational leaders to our team because we have done what they do and we are right there with them.”

When New York State Department of Health regulatory requirements required employees to be COVID-tested twice a week, Margery stepped in to help with testing. “Knowing my team had their own fears, I couldn’t have my team test staff without me being there,” she says, “I was part of the team doing testing for a year. If your employees see you alongside them, they are more likely to do it also.”

Adapting to Change in Creative Ways

Creativity and thinking outside the box are critical to sustaining the healthcare industry during these challenging times.
Part of that is being flexible with their workforce, says Sakalas, working with the unions on scheduling and listening to their employees on what work-life balance they need. Loretto is embarking on a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative after surveying employees at the end of 2021. Earlier this year, senior leaders engaged in a 10-week comprehensive DEI training program. Next, training will be delivered to managers and they will initiate learning circles with frontline employees. Once education is complete, Loretto leadership will formulate action plans to improve employee experience with regards to DEI.

In order to provide leaders with the skills they need to lead teams during this time of tremendous change, Loretto is providing a manager training program, as well as investing in certification programs for frontline workers to develop specialized skills in areas like dementia care and food service to create career paths to improve retention.

Margery and Sakalas are dedicated to continuous improvement and look forward to collaborating on initiatives to support patients and employees. With four decades of experience between them in the healthcare industry, their combined operations and clinical experience gives them a solid foundation for building a bright future at Loretto. 

“This partnership between our clinicians and operations will be the key to operating smarter, innovating faster, and creating a cohesive care environment that grows our staff while providing the highest quality of care.” Lori Sakalas, COO

Retirement Income Planning: When Should You Start Taking Social Security?

By: Jason D. Nickerson, CFP®, EA, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, John G. Ullman & Associates

When should we start thinking of retirement income planning? Given the change to the definition of retirement over time, the answer to that is very individualized. Our parents’ definition of retirement may have been different from what we are experiencing now. A growing number of people decide to retire from a primary career but are worried that they will be bored, so they take up another job/career. However, some still hold to the pure definition of retirement and postpone activities and hobbies to enjoy when they have time capacity to pursue them.

Regardless of your definition, whether you live it now or are postponing to the future, we need to fund it somehow. For some, continued work provides a portion of their cost of living. Hopefully, their diligent savings over many years has been managed smartly to provide income to their chosen way of life. Maybe there are pensions, annuities, or other forms of income that will support them. As you can see, this is a very robust area; each option or potential funding source comes with its choices and the need to make decisions.

So let us start with one piece of the income puzzle that continues to raise questions; Social Security. When should we claim our retirement benefits and how should we consider Social Security as a part of our retirement income plan? The answer to these questions are as individualized as our retirement plans themselves, but let’s look at some universal considerations that perhaps people have thought about already.

What we know:

– The math says to wait as long as possible to claim your benefits. This is because each year you wait past 62 (the earliest claiming age) you will see an 8% average annual increase in your benefit, up to age 70. That is a nice rate of return!

– If you expect to live past your late 70’s, the math works out that you will have benefited by waiting to claim at age 70 versus age 62.

– If you expect to work past age 62 and expect to claim social security at the earliest age, the maximum you can earn (in 2022) is $19,560 before your benefits are reduced.

– If you have a spouse whose benefit is lower, waiting until age 70 to claim will maximize their survivor benefit if you die first.

Now let’s look at other considerations that many overlook about social security planning inside the bigger discussion of retirement income planning.

Some alternative thoughts:

1. No one else will benefit from your Social Security upon your death other than a spouse. They will only benefit if your benefits are higher than theirs are. Your accumulated savings can be left to more than just your spouse. You can leave it to children, other family, friends, charities, etc. Also, there is flexibility of when you give it away.

2. Claiming sooner can help insulate your accumulated savings. Social Security benefits can offset the need to take untimely withdrawals from your portfolio. Leaving your portfolio intact longer means it is there for more flexible and/or lumpy spending like cars, trips, house expenditures and more.

3. Leaving your portfolio intact also gives you the opportunity to earn more than not claiming your retirement benefit. We know your Social Security benefit will grow by 8%, maybe your portfolio can do better, but it could also do worse.

4. Most states do not tax social security and it is not 100% taxed by the IRS. It may be more tax beneficial than your other choices for retirement income.

5. Maybe you have health issues and don’t expect to live long enough to hit the crossover point of your late 70’s. Also, just because you decide to delay taking benefits at age 62 doesn’t mean you have to wait until your full retirement age to claim them. You can change your mind the next day if you would like.

Many of the unique planning and claiming strategies have been eliminated from Social Security over the years, but that does not mean the approach to claiming Social Security has gotten any easier. As we often tell our clients and those that are exploring our services, we are going to challenge the standard thinking and bring as many considerations to the conversation as possible. This ultimately leads to a more robust and individualized solution.

Kata: Your Approach to Daily Continuous Improvement

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

In last quarter’s edition, I wrote about Kata and its ability to transform organizations through the development of a culture of daily continuous improvement. With the continued headwinds that we’re all facing on multiple fronts, we need systematic, scientific ways of thinking and acting to achieve our goals and sustain improvements. This quarter, I want to expand more on Kata’s four-step scientific pattern and discuss its relationship with Lean.

As previously discussed, the four-step scientific pattern is as follows: 1- Set the direction or challenge for the organization. 2- Grasp the current conditions. 3- Establish your next target condition that represents a step toward the direction or challenge. 4- Conduct experiments to achieve that next target condition. When you successfully reach the next target condition, you establish another incremental target condition that represents yet another step toward the direction or challenge for the organization. Here are some additional key points about each step within the four-step scientific pattern:

Step-1: We often face challenges in life. But there’s no need to stress, because you don’t need to get all of the way there right away. A challenge often even gives us a useful sense of direction.

Step-2: It’s important to understand where you currently are before you set your next goal. Don’t pull goals randomly out of the air. A team should feel like its goals are meaningful.

Step-3: Break a big challenge down into smaller goals. Set an easier and closer goal that’s on the way to your challenge. When you get there, then you can set the next goal.

Step-4: You never know in advance exactly how you’ll achieve a goal. We need to test the ideas that we have, and a good way to reach a goal is through rapid experimentation. Try something, see what happens, and then adjust based upon what you learn. To learn from an experiment, you should write down what you expect and what actually happens so you can compare those two things.

So how do traditional Lean tools fit in with Kata and this scientific pattern? The great news is that Lean and Kata play well together. The obstacles that organizations identify through the effective use of the scientific pattern are overcome by the use of traditional Lean tools such as 5S, Kanban, TPM, Standardized Work, and others. However, when the scientific pattern is followed properly, the Lean tools are utilized only when they are needed. This scientific pattern of continuous improvement eliminates “recreational” activities that may, or may not, be an obstacle standing in between you and your challenge or direction. It also shifts an organization from a mindset of “what can we do today” to “what do we need to do today” to get closer to realizing their challenge or direction.

Once this routine is practiced enough, it becomes second nature. When employees at all levels of an organization are performing in this systemic manner, it quickly transforms into a high-performance culture able to tackle any obstacle it encounters. Scientific thinking is a basis for successfully pursuing seemingly unattainable goals in complex systems. This type of thinking also enables teams to make decisions close to the action and maneuver effectively and efficiently. These are all valuable skills in today’s hectic world.

A team that is pursuing continuous improvement will do well with Kata for developing new behaviors, habits, and culture, especially at the beginning of their journey. Kata is an incredibly powerful and transformative approach to daily continuous improvement. TDO’s team is fully certified to help manufacturers learn and implement these skills and develop the necessary coaches to sustain the habits. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.


Where Has All the Talent Gone?

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

Organizations around the globe are struggling with a talent shortage. It is a serious topic
for CEOs looking not only to grow their businesses coming out of the pandemic, but to ensure they can continue to offer their customers the highest degree of products and services.

According to a recent ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage survey, globally, 70% of employers report challenges hiring in high-demand areas, particularly in logistics, manufacturing, IT, sales and marketing. Our area of specialty—risk management and insurance—is also facing a talent drain as our most knowledgeable workforce retires and new talent is hard to find.

To manage the talent shortage challenge, organizations need to think differently about how they source, acquire and retain top talent. For both short- and long-term success, we need to continually be building a pipeline of qualified, desirable candidates albeit from a smaller pool, and increasing our agility in matching candidate’s personal goals and speed to hire.

As our firm, like most, was hunkered down as we entered the pandemic, I recognized the need to find innovative ways to source candidates even as they retreated to their homes or moved to new locations. What I came to realize was the paradigm shift in the employer-employee relationship had opened more doors than it closed. We now had ready access to the best talent wherever they wanted to work and in the ways that better fit their lifestyles. The rapid advancement in technologies also gave me access to global resources that could tap into that talent pool.

In a recent conversation with Nick Hoadley, managing director of UK-based Insurance Search, industry recruiters as well as founder and host of the Insurance Coffee House podcast, the #1 Insurance Leadership and Career Development Podcast on iTunes and Spotify, we discussed new ways to find and retain talent.

I asked Nick what he sees as the most important things a candidate wants from working with a company. I asked if it was having job security, great pay or something else that we should be aware of. Nick, through his broad global experience defined today’s younger candidate as caring far less about job security or money. He found that the best candidates were those whose personal values best aligned with the company both in terms of their personal growth and fulfillment, but also in terms of social and community values. He pointed out that today’s generation is more about continually learning and progressing in multiple varied positions. This is the secret sauce to retaining the best talent.
This led me to thinking about how successful startups happen, which in turn led me to letting go of past norms and rethinking how we could be more flexible and innovative when it comes to growing talent. I realized if the typical young person fresh out of college was going to have 6-8 job changes, why couldn’t we create a process that let them do that inside of our company? We have seen great success with encouraging our employees to look around the company and if they think they would like to make a change, to try it. We have had people who were highly analytical but had not realized their passion until they tried their hand in a new area of our business. Furthermore, we continue to evolve our business model to foster “startups” within our larger business. We want our people to experiment and to feel they “own” it, that their investment is valuable and appreciated. A major part of this new thinking is providing flexible rewards that better match an employee’s personal goals. We have seen this not only empowers and invigorates the employee, it brings many new ideas to our firm and is boosting our productivity and profitability.

Another important point made by Nick was employers must continue to build a database of desirable candidates and to invest in building relationships with these candidates. He espouses using social media, advertising, media, website, blogs, and other means to share stories about your company. Storytelling is the best way to share our true values, how we treat each other, our culture and our commitment to community. Through consistent messaging, candidates come to know us and become familiar with us, leaving us to place our full focus on the candidate and what is important to them in their career choice. It allows us to speed their decision-making process, so we are less apt to lose great candidates in this highly competitive environment.

Where has all the talent gone? The answer is talent is all around us and we all must work a little harder and a lot smarter to find, attract and retain them.

I would love to hear what you are doing to build your workforce and always happy to share what we are doing to grow our business.

Your Construction Employers Association of Central New York (CEA CNY)

By: Earl Hall, Executive Director, Syracuse Builders Exchange

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction industry and the skilled crafts men and women who continued to work have been deemed a key component of New York State’s essential workforce. Contractors and their employees, while not immune from contracting or spreading COVID-19, have been able to complete vital projects, while limiting the spread of COVID-19 by following the latest health and safety recommendations from the New York State Health Department, New York State HERO Act, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unfortunately, with the rise of COVID-19 variants, such as Delta, the construction industry is now subject to some of the same rules and regulations from 2020. Construction industry leaders believe that responding to the COVID-19 virus is of critical importance for the health and safety of construction workers throughout New York State, their families, and communities.

As a result, most industry leaders remain committed to encouraging all construction workers to get vaccinated unless there are underlying circumstances that would not permit one to receive the vaccine. Many believe a vaccinated workforce is vital protection for the employee and their fellow workers. A vaccinated workforce is also important for the industry and the contractors who have contracts in place to perform for a General Contractor or project owner.

Penalties for non-performance or an untimely completion of a scope of work is real and can be devastating to any business owner who failed to anticipate labor issues on a particular project.

On September 9, 2021, OSHA announced that it is developing a new workplace safety rule through an Emergency Temporary Standard. This new OSHA requirement covers all employers with federal contracts, as well as those employers with more than 100 employees. Covered employers will have to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. Additionally, many project owners, both public and private, are mandating all contractors and employees performing work on their site must be fully vaccinated or produce a negative COVID test result. These requirements are mandatory for all employers regardless of the number of employees employed.

At a time where there remains a significant labor shortage, losing valuable employees from an employer’s workforce due to some or many employees choosing to not being vaccinated poses unimaginable challenges for construction industry employers.
Without workforce compliance, construction industry employees will miss out on valuable work hours, while many employers may choose not to bid projects for fear of not being able to supply the appropriate work force to complete the project on time.

It is anticipated the industry will have a significant increase in building and infrastructure work over the next 5-7 years, in particular upstate New York. This construction work is expected to last for many years, but to bid on and secure these projects will require that all associated with the employer meet the OSHA, New York State and/or project owner rules for mandated vaccination or weekly testing. To ignore these rules means losing out on the billions of dollars in future projects and job opportunities. 

Additionally, ignoring such requirements exposes construction contractors to increased pressure to supply skilled labor to their projects, thus potentially jeopardizing the long-term viability of an employer.

While respecting personal opinions of whether vaccines should be mandated as a condition of employment, one being vaccinated addresses a government identified safety issue for employees and their coworkers while not limiting potential employment opportunities. And, equally as important, not causing undue pressure on employers who may not be able to supply enough skilled labor during an historic labor shortage era.

This is the new reality during the COVID-19 pandemic – governmental and project owner mandates on employees, all while employers endure a labor shortage crisis. The industry cannot afford to lose any more employees from the workforce for any reason.

Contractors rely upon a skilled and available work force. Each employee leaving the construction workforce poses great risks to contractors and project owners alike.

In the end, the COVID-19 vaccine will be the antidote that will attack a pandemic which has limited our freedoms, and may threaten our future.
Regardless of where one’s position is on vaccine mandates, personal freedoms, freedom of choice, etc., construction industry leaders must address this issue as an unvaccinated workforce impacts more than just the unvaccinated employee. It impacts others on the job site and the very contractors who employ them.

During an unprecedented era of significant labor shortages in the construction industry, employers today cannot afford to lose employees from their workforce. The project owners and governmental mandates may get more demanding over the next few months before such may be relaxed in 2022. While learning to live with COVID-19 in our day to day lives will someday be the new norm, it is evident project owners and government officials today are not ready to address this.

Lovell Safety Management Co., LLC logo

Using Drones and Robots to Improve Health Care

By: Robert J. Corona DO, MBA, CEO, Upstate University Hospital

For several years we have been exploring the use of robots and drones in delivering health care. We created a new department, Autonomous Machines, to focus on this vision and to explore the potential. The use of drones and robots for critical deliveries relieves skilled personnel from chasing supplies or spending time on a task that takes them from the patient’s bedside.

The recent pandemic enlightened everyone in healthcare to the vulnerabilities that these technologies can address, including:

• providing support to address staffing challenges, 

• supporting a robust and resilient supply chain,

• minimizing in-person contact, 

• creating convenience for patients.

Internationally, drones have been used to deliver medical products to people who live in remote areas or where doctors are scarce. Across the U.S., drones are being used — mostly still in trial situations — to model how medical supplies could be distributed safely and securely to people who are in remote settings, or to save time over traditional delivery.

While the numbers would need to be calculated at scale, drone delivery for medicine and lab work is proving to be potentially faster and less costly than drivers for certain applications. The movement of material is currently a very labor-intensive and costly operation, and our hospital has a lot of situations where supplies must be in the right place at the right time. For the delivery of lab samples, we currently use a pneumatic tube system or a car courier, both of which have limitations: the tubes have a set footprint and the drivers have multiple delivery priorities. Drones have the potential to get critical samples to an offsite lab directly, within minutes.

For patients and the public there are additional advantages to develop drone applications. For example, future “hospital at home” patients can have drones deliver needed supplies. For patients who are in quarantine or contagious, drones can deliver medications without face-to-face contact or a trip to the pharmacy. For a patient who has transportation issues or limited mobility, a drone can bring medicine or supplies. For a person suffering a heart attack, a drone can deliver an AED to a bystander before the ambulance arrives.

Within our hospital, our use of new robots has become official and is happening now. We have invested in a fleet of 14 TUGs, an autonomous mobile hauling robot designed specifically for hospitals.

With the current staffing shortage that is likely to last for several years, these robots will allow our staff to work at the top of their skill set as the TUGs take over some of the more routine tasks.

Hospitals across the country are turning to robots to help with staff and nursing shortages and the medical robot market is projected to grow into a $43 billion industry in the next five years. Currently, 37 VA Hospitals use the same TUGs as we do, as does Stanford Hospital and University of California San Francisco Medical Center.

Beginning with the transport of critical drugs from our pharmacy within the hospital to our Upstate Cancer Center, we plan to use the new fleet to also transport medical supplies, drugs, linen, meals, and, potentially, clinical equipment.

The TUG robot is about four feet high and uses lidar, laser, sonar, and infrared sensors to navigate. It can get on and off an elevator. When it arrives at its destination it can let itself in. And each of its seven drawers can only be unlocked at the destination it was programmed for and by the person receiving the delivery.

As a level 1 trauma center, teaching hospital, and research center serving Central New York, Upstate serves a diverse population in both rural and urban settings. Developing more uses of technologies — to use within the hospital and outside it — has great potential, especially to reach patients who are traditionally underserved. We are dedicated to building a platform so that we are better prepared for future events, as well as for the future of healthcare.

Plan, Train, Repeat; Belle’s AmeriCU aims to be the Employer of Choice

By Martha Conway

As AmeriCU’s Ron Belle approaches his fifth anniversary with the financial institution, there’s even more to celebrate than the milestone. In his second year as president and chief executive officer, Belle has had the honor of overseeing robust industry-leading growth in membership, assets, loans and more since he began.

He says it’s a continued trajectory that started before him, thanks to the foresight of past leaders who implemented a mission and vision that embraced a set of core values that would culminate unprecedented growth for more than 10 years…a foundation and trend AmeriCU continues to build upon as it rapidly approaches its 75th birthday.

When we spoke to Belle in April last year, AmeriCU was fine-tuning its strategic plan to better support that mission and vision.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the opportunity to take a look at the credit union from the inside out,” Belle said. “We started to reevaluate and reassess our organization and really, our culture itself, to determine what is best for teammates and members. We took a look at everything from our hiring practices and training to our promotions and products and services, all with the aim to create a better member experience.”

Belle said it was important to lay the groundwork for that change as AmeriCU looked to continue growing responsibly and sustainably, and since becoming CEO, Belle said AmeriCU has expanded on the financial institution’s plan for continued success.

Belle said organizations need to realize that a strategic plan is never complete – it’s a fluid concept that AmeriCU continually reviews and revises to provide the best possible member experience and team environment, and he said the buy-in has been tremendous.

“People like to have a plan,” Belle said. “The strategic plan is the basis of where we want to go. It lays out our focus and direction for teammates and members, and it’s something we expand on every year. When you can articulate that plan and your vision to your teammates, and tie that back to how it benefits our members and our communities, it’s easy to get everyone on board.”

Taking care of its teammates is key to the success of AmeriCU’s overall vision. At AmeriCU, a happy team makes for happy members, so they have placed intense focus on the team environment.

“Our vision is to be the most admired organization in every community we serve,” Belle said. “To be a good citizen in those communities, to give back, to be an organization whose people are sitting on boards, committees and providing community service through a host of volunteer efforts, that directly supports that vision.”

“Our mission to provide our members the right financial services to live life, dream big and achieve financial success means that every day, for every member walking into one of our financial centers or calling or visiting us online, we are making sure they have all they need in every interaction.”

The strategic plan, vision, mission, and organizational culture are four areas AmeriCU teammates talk about, practice, and train in every day.

Digital-first business model

Belle said member demand in recent years for more online services encouraged AmeriCU to adopt a digital-first business model.

“Digital-first is not digital-exclusive,” he said, explaining that technology is very important as AmeriCU looks to the future and what may be coming down the pike in three to five years that may ultimately benefit the member banking experience. “Tech is very important, but it has to be the right tech, and we have to have an idea of how it might evolve with the next generation of that technology.

“Not only must it make sense logistically and for the future, but it also has to make life easier for members and teammates. We’re always going to balance personal interactions with member conveniences, so the value of any technology must be evaluated by the impact it will have. It has to be fast, easy and convenient – it has to be beneficial to all involved.”

A growing footprint

AmeriCU is enjoying its position above the industry standard for credit unions, and Belle said he credits executing the strategic plan to recruit, hire and train the right teammates and provide them with the right tools for success.

“The increased growth across all measures is building upon all past years’ successes,” he said. “Making sure that you’re executing on your strategic plan and the necessary training involved for all teammates to support that. I have to credit our team for embracing the strategic plan, mission, vision, and reflecting the culture we’ve built.”

AmeriCU boasts 19 financial centers in nine counties in Upstate New York. Based in Rome, Oneida County, AmeriCU is also accessible across the globe through a number of other membership avenues, including military affiliations. They recently surpassed an impressive 155,000 members.

The employer of choice

Belle graduated from Utica College of Syracuse University and earned executive management certifications from University of Wisconsin at Madison and Case Western Reserve University. After graduation, he entered the world of financial services before accepting a job at a Syracuse-area bank as a branch manager. From there, he worked his way up, securing increasingly responsible positions and managing greater numbers of people and teams.

That experience has taught him what works and what doesn’t.

Added to the strategic plan for 2022 is the goal of being the employer of choice. Execution of the mission and vision are pivotal to recruiting and training excellent teammates. Interviewing is the place to begin with strong articulation of those concepts and the importance of contributing to the organizational culture for all teammates.

From the first job interview, AmeriCU starts underscoring its passion for its mission, vision, and team culture.

“We don’t want to just be a great place to work,” Belle said. “We want to be the employer of choice. When people come in for interviews, they don’t know about our culture, and when we first talk about it, they might not fully understand it, but they always become interested and start asking a lot of questions about it.”

He said it sets the tone even before they are hired.

“It’s not just something AmeriCU covers at a new hire orientation,” he said. “Teammates are constantly trained in our strategic plan, mission, vision, and culture.”

The employer of choice goal has AmeriCU now asking themselves how they can improve other areas of teammates’ lives, too.

“Some of the questions we’re asking are, ‘How can we improve the lives of our teammates?’ ‘What external trainings and wellness can we provide outside the building and during non-work hours?’” Belle said.

AmeriCU is committed to taking a holistic approach to culture and seeing teammates not just as part of the organization but seeing each of them as a whole person with individual goals and needs.

“It’s been one of AmeriCU’s best retention measures,” Belle said. “The culture of the organization is its heartbeat. If the culture is strong you’re going to see strong retention, and a commitment to the organization and the AmeriCU brand. This really helps us recruit and retain teammates.”

And the efforts have built a team that provides excellent member service.

Aligning team members to improve efficiency

Belle has also been working to restructure the leadership team to better support the evolving needs of the organization, creating new promotional opportunities for teammates that expand their roles, and improving efficiency and decision-making that supports the strategic plan and the entire credit union.

“These expanded assistant vice president and vice president positions provide promotional opportunities for teammates and better align with the strategic plan,” Belle said. “All of these things – the strategic plan, vision and mission statements – support AmeriCU’s core values. The strategic plan asks who we are and who we want to be – all of these pieces align nicely.”

Responsible neighbors

Each year, AmeriCU increases its community giveback efforts. Not only fiscally, but also through volunteer hours and participating on volunteer boards and committees. Among those causes are the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Miracle Network, the Baldwin Fund for Breast Cancer Research, and the American Heart Association, where Belle has been selected as the Chairman for the Syracuse Heart Run and Walk in 2023.

AmeriCU has also bolstered its support of veteran and military organizations through efforts like Military Saves Month and Wreaths Across America, finding new ways to give back to U.S. army members and their families.

“We are always looking to expand our community outreach efforts, our community support, and we want to make sure we are giving back to our communities what they have given to us,” Belle said.

What’s next?

AmeriCU will continue to shape its strategic plan to continue its unprecedented growth and plans to expand financial wellness and training opportunities for its teammates and members.

“We’re really planning for continued growth in all areas,” Belle said.

“We are a fantastic financial institution, yes, but we want people to know we are so much more than that. Of course, we want you to become a member of AmeriCU, but we also are passionate about being a positive presence in your community beyond being just another financial institution. We want to help our communities, and you, to flourish and grow, and that’s part of our strategic direction.

“I hope people see us as more than a credit union; I hope they see us as a neighbor.”

For more information on AmeriCU, visit AmeriCU.org or call 800.388.2000.