By: Martha Conway
Mike Humphrey, CEO, Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists
Mike Humphrey, CEO, Pamela Hilliar, Director of Customer Service and Patient Access, Jessica Woodruff (standing), CFO, Kim Murray, CCO
Mike Humphrey, CEO confers with Kim Murray, CCO
From Humble Beginnings
In the late 1990s, several individual orthopedic surgeons in the Syracuse area began seeking an opportunity to provide great quality patient care while expanding orthopedic services to the community, but not increasing overhead and administrative costs. After much dialog they decided combining their talents and resources would allow them to provide patients the best medical technology and facilities for care.
It was then that Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists was born.
Dr. Stephen Bogosian, a joint replacement specialist and founding physician of SOS, recalls that the practice originally had some growing pains. “A couple of physicians left around the time we formed the practice, and it was difficult in the beginning, with increased stress involved in the expansion,” he recalls, adding that the newly formed business needed a deft hand to guide its future.
The practice found that Michael Humphrey, was the right man for the right job at the right time, joining the team in 2004 as chief executive officer. “Mike was pivotal during SOS’ early days,” Bogosian said. “The founding surgeons had a framework, but not exactly the right staff. His unique skill set was a great addition for us. He has a good knowledge of the business of healthcare, an organizational sense and analytical mind ideal for the position.” Putting a non-surgical CEO at the helm allowed the surgeons to focus on quality patient care while ensuring the practice was successful.
“Mike has great relationships with everyone at SOS,” Bogosian adds. “He’s quiet but talks when something needs to be said. We are a big team with many personalities and Mike is strong in both group and one-on-one conversations, making sure everyone is heard. Orthopedic surgeons are a competitive bunch and he’s quite adept at working with us all!”
Bogosian credits Humphrey with leading SOS’ growth over nearly two decades. “He has an excellent knowledge of operations and has surrounded himself with top-notch administrators and managers. Mike has proven to be a great CEO for us – building a community organization, recruiting excellent surgical talent to central New York, and most recently, he navigated us through the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Taking the Lead
Humphrey was born and raised in Utica, NY, and earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting at Utica College of Syracuse University. He also earned his CPA and joined a public accounting firm in Syracuse, specializing in healthcare with hospital and nursing home clients. “I have always been intrigued by healthcare,” Humphrey comments. “It is ever-changing and ever-present.”
During long stints in the finance department at both Crouse Health and St. Joseph’s Health, Humphrey learned the ins and outs of healthcare operations and honed his financial acumen. While getting to know many SOS physicians and staff during his tenure at St. Joseph’s he simultaneously observed how strong leadership that supports medical practitioners greatly benefits patients. Then SOS had an opening for a CEO.
“Working within large hospitals which are multi-faceted organizations with a variety of personalities and professionals, I learned the importance of teamwork and especially of employee satisfaction,” Humphrey said. “It is critical in a healthcare setting to support the people caring for others. It really can impact patient satisfaction.”
Chief Clinical Officer Kimberley Murray was a longtime St. Joseph’s employee who worked in a variety of capacities there before joining SOS seven years ago. At St. Joseph’s, she worked with Humphrey and SOS’s orthopedic surgeons across subspecialties, so it was a smooth transition to SOS. “I had already worked with Mike and the surgeons,” Murray said. “I felt very welcomed here.”
Murray said Humphrey is a warm, personable, fun-loving kind of guy. “I was very fortunate to come work directly for him,” she said. “He’s running a multi-million-dollar company as if it’s a small business. He has an open-door policy and knows employees by name. He eats lunch with them, jokes around and talks sports.” She also adds that Humphrey is extraordinarily family-oriented and that carries through to how he manages employees and the practice. “Family comes first,” she says.
Humphrey, along with other key staff members at SOS, instituted the SOS CARES initiative which outlines the practice’s commitment to care which is practiced from the top-level down throughout the entire organization. Every employee is primed to exhibit compassion, accountability, respect, excellence, and service in whatever function they perform. Humphrey knows that such an initiative will only be successful if an organization’s leaders embrace it. “You have to show up, show dedication and foster an environment of family, open communication and celebration of work successes,” he said.
Humphrey said it is humbling to consider how many employees and how many types of employees it takes to do what SOS sets out to do. “They are the core of what we do – from schedulers, nurses and x-ray technicians to billing, insurance and surgeons – all of them face different challenges and are a part of the many components necessary to successfully provide first-class orthopedic care,” he said. “Physical therapy also is a big component, a service we added seven years ago – that added nearly 100 more employees – and now they are an integral part of the team providing the next level of care.”
“We focus on customer service and patient experience, and Mike always wants to know what more patients want and need,” Murray said. By objective measurements, SOS has thrived under the SOS CARES philosophy. It was named a 2020 Best Places to Work by the CNY Business Journal and in 2015 it was given a Best Companies to Work for in New York State Award, which is a partnership of NYS-SHRM, The Business Council of New York, Best Companies Group and Journal Multimedia Corporation. Additionally, during the period between January 2019 – May 2021, SOS earned a 4.84 out of 5 score in overall patient satisfaction.
“I like to know at the end of the day that I made a difference to someone or contributed to an important aspect of some process,” Humphrey said, explaining he tries to include people to define outcomes and change things to drive or adjust what SOS is reaching for. “Inclusion is vital to controlling costs. Our culture is not one of looking over your shoulder. We use positive reinforcement of achievements, provide feedback as we move forward and examine important processes and procedures to achieve goals.”
Humphrey said it’s important to learn to work with a diverse group of people, respect their skills and experiences. “Different organizations need different things, but working hard and leading by example are key,” Humphrey said. “It shows staff you are there and willing to put in the time and effort; others will follow suit.”
Among Humphrey’s goals have been making SOS a better place to serve patients while helping physicians meet their goals.
Dr. Michael Fitzgerald, a surgeon specializing in hand and wrist care, joined SOS in 2016. He and his wife being from New York, he looked for a practice in upstate New York. “I’ve been here five years now, and it’s been a great experience,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a great company to work for and great people to work with. Mike was the first to reach out when I interviewed. He gave me a tour and showed me the great aspects of coming here.”
Fitzgerald said Humphrey is integral in keeping staff and the business on track. “I wanted to learn how the business runs,” he said. “They don’t teach you that in med school. From the public-facing staff to the physicians, Mike incorporates best practices and makes sure employees know they are important members of the team.”
Fitzgerald said Humphrey’s understanding of all points of view, making sure the ship is heading to its destination and his management helps uphold SOS’s ideals. “Any field where there are a lot of physicians in one group is going to be difficult to manage because there are a lot of personalities,” he said. “Mike knows all current aspects of SOS, and he’s always one or two steps ahead, so he’s never playing catch-up. He’s always ready for the next hurdle.”
Fitzgerald also admires Humphrey’s focus on people. “Money is not the primary goal: Patients and the community are. SOS is a great orthopedic practice because positive patient outcomes are our primary goal. Mike’s management style is to be on top of keeping in touch with subspecialties and all areas, not just physicians.”
“To be successful in this position, you have to know the medical side and business side,” Fitzgerald said. “Mike gets both and understands his people, helps us achieve goals, makes sure all sides communicate well to meet objectives. He’s able to see how numbers relate to the work being done in real life situations.”
Humphrey aims to solidify SOS as the industry standard for private orthopedic practice in the country and bring talented, top-notch physicians to the practice. “We’ve had much success recruiting gifted young physicians,” he said. Since he joined SOS, 13 new surgeons have joined the practice. Although there is a wealth of talent from Upstate Medical University, SOS has gained a national reputation as a desired orthopedic practice to work, and some physicians joined the practice having no former ties to central New York.
Navigating Unsteady Waters
Murray and Fitzgerald talked about how tough things were during COVID when elective surgeries were stopped. “I think with the 18 months we just went through, we’re all humbled and grateful to have Mike at the helm. He enabled us to continue to treat patients and serve the community,” remarked Fitzgerald. “He made sure the ship remained focused on its destination and his management helped uphold SOS’s ideals. His leadership through COVID helped us take care of patients and ourselves.”
“He was a real cheerleader during that time,” Murray said. “He said it was a temporary blip on the radar, and that we were going to get through it as a family.” As the pandemic emerged in 2020, SOS quickly had to transition its operations to reflect public health needs and requirements. Elective surgeries were postponed, resources diverted to the medical centers caring for Covid patients, and many employees became remote workers.
Murray likened Humphrey to a seasoned soldier. “If you were surrounded in combat, he’ll always find a way out…like COVID. We are pretty much back to where we were pre-COVID, thanks to his leadership.”
Commitment to Community
From the start, Bogosian said SOS has been committed to the community. Through volunteerism, board service, and financial contributions, individuals at SOS and the organization as a whole continue working to meet the needs of and reflect the diversity of the community. SOS has built strong relationships with local schools, sports organizations, not-for-profits, and other humanitarian projects. The group is proud of its affiliation with Operation Walk New York, the United Way of CNY, the MOST, and many other civic groups.
Personally, Humphrey has served four years on the board of directors for On Point for College, a program that helps underserved populations achieve their higher education goals. This year he is chairman of the development board and is coordinating a golf tournament for the initiative in honor of his parents, both dedicated educators.
Recognizing that surgeons needed the full support of a strong organization, Humphrey helped build an outstanding practice that encompasses surgeons and a wide array of other orthopedic services and totals about 700 staff, up from only 300 when he joined.
“We have a one-day surgery center, multiple office locations, and orthopedic and sports therapy. Humphrey said. “We are more than just an ortho office; we are a network.” The network also includes SOS Plus, an after-hours orthopedic clinic, the SOS Shop providing products that boost orthopedic health, medical imaging, and even clinical research.
Additionally, in 2007, SOS and the New York Spine & Wellness Center, (NYS&WC), the leading provider of pain management services in central New York, agreed to a contractual arrangement which allows Humphrey and other key managers to provide oversight and management services. The SOS team works with NYS&WC‘s talented and committed physicians and their clinical management team to create a model and culture in their practice similar to SOS. “This integration of care and sharing of knowledge and best practices has allowed both practices to grow and to enhance the level of care provided to the patients they serve,” comments Humphrey.
Key to the success of the SOS network is engaging patients in their orthopedic care. “Patient experience is paramount at SOS, and staff try to be open and amiable, with a lot of patients being seen over a span of time. It’s a professional atmosphere, and we explain all diagnostic and treatment options, lots of which are non-operative. Patients are part of the treatment decision-making process; we explain all options and don’t dictate to them. We often see whole families and multiple generations in a family.”
Fitzgerald agrees SOS strives to be the best they can be to meet patients’ expectations. “Pathology can be very different from patient to patient,” Fitzgerald said. “We excel at individualizing treatment to each patient. Everyone’s experience is unique to them. We have a great team dedicated to getting patients back to where they want to be.”
“We believe patients should be well-informed from engagement to discharge,” Murray said, explaining that patient referrals come from urgent care services, hospital emergency departments and primary care physicians. “Patients are given all the information they need from getting to their first appointment through treatment. We make sure we’re accessible in a meaningful way. We answer all medical and insurance questions, field Workers’ Compensation and disability-related issues, and the departments work together to handle any claims.”
Murray said Humphrey has been a power source for SOS. He has been recognized by peers as well, being named the 2017 National Practice Executive of the Year by the American Alliance of Orthopaedic Executives. “There’s no limit to how his mind works,” she said. “His greatest strength is strategy. The rest of us can achieve great outcomes with enthusiasm because of his strategies. He exudes mission, vision, and value, establishing the groundwork for the team to provide exceptional orthopedic care to everyone in central New York, without exception.”
“He’s a robust person in a humble shell,” says Murray.
Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists is central New York’s regional leader in providing quality, total orthopedic care to patients. Founded in 1999, its team of experienced orthopedic physicians and support staff offer state-of-the-art medical care, from diagnosis and treatment to rehabilitation and recovery. SOS has more than 25 physicians and employs approximately 600 additional staff. Its corporate headquarters are in East Syracuse, and it has several locations serving Camillus, Dewitt, Fayetteville, Liverpool, and North Syracuse. Additionally, SOS operates the Specialists’ One-Day Surgery Center in Syracuse; SOS Orthopedic & Sports Therapy with multiple locations; and SOS Plus, an after-hours care center in Dewitt.
For more information on Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists, visit sosbones.com.