Syracuse Community Health: Providing High-Quality Care for All

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By: Elizabeth Landry

When Mark Hall was a child living in Mulberry Square housing along with his parents and several siblings, his family often came to the nearby Syracuse Community Health Center at 819 South Salina Street in Syracuse for their medical needs. He remembers coming to the center for dental services, pediatrics and related care. In March 2018, Hall returned to the health center he used to visit as a child, but this time he took on the role of interim President and CEO, roles which he eventually took over full time in 2019.

“My commitment to the health center and my relationship with the health center go back to when I was a child. It didn’t take much for me to decide that I wanted to come back to Syracuse Community Health. Ever since I was a child, the health center has been part of my life and part of my family, and that’s when my passion for its mission began. I know first-hand what the health center means to families who might not otherwise have access to health care,” said Hall.

Today, the health center in the heart of Syracuse is known as Syracuse Community Health, and Hall has been leading an initiative to expand, improve and revitalize the center’s buildings that are spread throughout Onondaga County. The health center’s locations include the original building at 819 South Salina Street, additional buildings on East Fayette Street and Oswego Street, care centers within several schools in Syracuse and a brand-new building opening soon at 930 South Salina Street, which is kitty-corner to the original building. Through each of these locations, Syracuse Community Health serves as a “one-stop shop” for patients, providing everything from primary care, pediatrics, dentistry, OB/gyn,

 podiatry and eye care/eye wear to women’s health, radiology, lab, urgent care, psychiatric and addiction services, pharmacy and care management services.

Serving Patients as a Federally Qualified Health Center

Originating in the 1960s as the Neighborhood Health Center, Syracuse Community Health has evolved over many decades to continue to meet the needs of patients in the central New York community. In 1978, the health

 center was designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, a status that remains at the center of its functions today.

FQHCs are different from other health care centers because they receive federal funding in order to meet the needs of under-served populations in economically depressed areas.

“The intention of the FQHC legislation was to address many of the problems that were brought to the surface during the 1960s. There was a lot of social unrest within the black community specifically, intertwined with violence and a lot of unemployment.

“These issues were spread throughout the country, and they also affected Syracuse. FQHCs were born out of the desire to address many of these social and economic issues,” Hall explained.

It’s important to note that Syracuse Community Health, like all other FQHCs, is not a free clinic. Syracuse Community Health has an obligation to provide services for any patient who seeks health care within its facilities, and there is a sliding fee scale for all patients based on income. However, care could be provided for free if a patient has no or very low income. Additionally, although Syracuse Community Health traditionally treats an inner-city patient population that is low-income, under-insured and under-employed, the health center also has a segment of more commercial patients who receive Medicaid.

Since Syracuse Community Health receives patients from many walks of life within central New York, it will not turn any patient away, Hall emphasized how the health center has become an important pillar within the community.

“We serve all of Onondaga County, and anybody can come to Syracuse Community Health. There’s a common misconception that poverty only exists in the city, but we have the same problem in the suburbs and rural areas. Poverty is not limited to a race of people or a segment of people, but rather it’s a problem that our country must deal with. The mission of the health center has always been to ensure that everyone has access to care as we address the many social determinants of health, from lack of food and unemployment to transportation, childcare needs and even violence,” said Hall.

Revitalizing Through State-of-the-Art Design

A major way the leadership at Syracuse Community Health is continuing to fulfill the mission of the organization is by revitalizing and modernizing the health center’s buildings, including the brand-new construction located at 930 South Salina Street. Deemed the “930 Project,” the new $25 million site includes 56,000 square feet and will open to patients in September. Located within convenient walking distance to the original building, Hall emphasized how this new location offers ample space for patient exam rooms, provides an open, inviting atmosphere and maintains a more seamless patient experience.
“When I came on board at Syracuse Community Health, a renovation of the original building at 819 South Salina Street was being planned, but I changed that immediately,” he said. “New construction was the best decision simply based on the flexibility of designing a new layout.

“We’re able to see more patients in the new building, which has 38,000 square feet of patient-seen space versus the original building, which has 78,000 square feet. Additionally, if we were to renovate the original building, it would have caused a lot of problems. If you’re renovating existing space and having patients come in daily, parts of the building would be sealed off and wayfinding could change daily and sometimes hourly, making it difficult for patients.”

Along with a layout that makes the best use of the space, the new building features a state-of-the-art design that focuses on energy efficiency. Forty geo-thermal wells that run 200 feet beneath the parking lot will be used to heat and cool the premises year-round. The building is also net-zero-ready, with accommodations for future installation of solar panels that would produce a net-zero carbon footprint.

More than anything else, however, the construction of the new building is aimed at providing a calming, healing atmosphere for the patients who come through the doors. Numerous windows and sky lights flood the space with natural light and artwork by local artists will hang on the walls, creating a beautiful, aesthetic experience for patients that Hall likens to that of a spa.

“We’re really excited about the design – it’s a very inviting space,” Hall said. “There’s so much natural light coming to all four sides of the building. This will create a healing atmosphere within the health center, and the crown jewel will be our women’s mammography center. It’s an absolutely beautiful space that literally looks like a spa. There has been much talk within the healthcare industry on healthcare equity and social determinants of health. At Syracuse Community Health, we’re really taking the steps to make health care available to patients who would not normally have the economic means to take advantage of a high-end spa. The space in the women’s mammography center does exactly that, and we’re really proud of how it all turned out. When considering the design for the new building, we really wanted to drive home the point that people who come to the health center are deserving of quality health care within a quality setting.”

Planning for the Future with New Leadership

Looking beyond the new building and into the future for Syracuse Community Health, additional changes will be coming to further enhance the ability of the health center to serve more patients.

Plans to begin a family medicine residency program in July 2024 will allow the organization to become a teaching health center. With many practitioners choosing to specialize in specific areas of medicine, a high demand for primary care providers has developed. The planned “4-4-4” residency program will bring a new group of four primary care practitioners to Syracuse Community Health each year over a period of three years, opening the health center up to many learning opportunities and resources that will benefit both the providers and the patients.

Perhaps the most significant change coming to Syracuse Community Health in the near-term, however, is new leadership to continue the mission of the health center. Over the next few months, Mark Hall will be passing the baton to Keith Cuttler, who will be taking over as Interim President and CEO of Syracuse Community Health. With more than 34 years of experience in health care, Cuttler came to Syracuse Community Health two years ago as both the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Business Development Officer. He took over these roles after serving as the President and CEO of the East Hill Medical Center in Auburn for several years, a health care center that also shares the designation of being an FQHC.

One of the main reasons Cuttler decided to come to Syracuse Community Health is because of the exciting new construction taking place. “The new building is a bright, extremely well-laid-out, open-concept, state-of-the-art medical center. One of my frustrations with the health care system that I’ve witnessed over my three-plus decades involved is that those who are of a lower socio-economic class than others are often relegated to less than desirable environments and medical equipment. To me, this project is a tremendous opportunity to shake that off and provide our population with access to a new, clean facility that offers updated equipment and the same great staff in a beautiful facility that has light pouring into it. I think folks who start receiving care in this facility are going to be blown away when they walk in. Many, I would imagine, are going to quietly feel that they don’t deserve this, but in fact, they absolutely do. Taking over the build of this project from Mark has been one of the most fulfilling projects of my entire career,” he said.

As he steps into this new role, Cuttler also plans to advance the efforts that Hall has begun to expand the reach of Syracuse Community Health beyond its immediate urban site and out into suburban and even rural areas, where patients are also in need of affordable, accessible, quality healthcare.

“FQHCs like Syracuse Community Health have a first and foremost mission to provide access to the under-served populations in their communities, but they aren’t limited to treating only that population. We have patients that come from other counties to see us,” Cuttler said.

“I think we’re really going to shed a new light on what Syracuse Community Health is and what it’s becoming, and that is a state-of-the-art health center for everyone, not just the adjacent communities that we will always be committed to serving.

“We’re looking forward to providing anyone who comes to Syracuse Community Health with outstanding care in a really great environment for many years to come.”

New York State’s Empire State DevelopmentConducting MWBE Disparity Study

By: Earl Hall, Executive Director, Syracuse Builders Exchange

New York State’s Empire State Development (ESD) is conducting a Disparity Study (study) to determine whether there is disparity between the use of minority and women-owned businesses (MWBE) and the availability of those firms throughout upstate New York (state).  Through the collection of qualit ative or anecdotal data, the Study seeks to determine if there is evidence of discrimination in the various geographic regions of upstate New York in which the State is the construction project owner.

In addition, the Study will look to determine the effects of race, ethnicity, and gender on businesses’ ability to do business with the State, acquire capital or bonding and win contracts or subcontracts in the markets in which the State does business. The Study will determine if there are barriers preventing diverse businesses from working with the State or the State’s prime vendors and identify how processes could be more accessible and inclusive for all businesses.

ESD conducted a similar Study in 2015, which was released in 2016. ESD’s 2015 Request for Proposal stated in part that its purpose was, “increasing participation of MWBEs on State’s contracts” among others, although the Study did not identify any New York State procurement discrimination during the 5-year period examined. Consistent with the 2015 RFP, some construction industry leaders concluded the Study assumed discrimination, and did not attempt to evaluate whether:

• Discrimination connected with any specific contract/subcontractor award had occurred;

• The actions of any agency, state employee or contractor were discriminatory;

• Lenders, sureties or insurers engaged in discrimination.

The 2016 Study concluded that a disparity in fact existed throughout upstate New York, which may lead one to conclude that the State had been discriminatory in their contract awards on public projects. The Study also concluded that 53.05% of available prime construction contractors, and 53.48% of available subcontractors, were certified MWBE employers. As a result, the State subsequently adopted a 30% MWBE goal on public work projects throughout upstate New York.

Today, ESD is conducting another Study for the construction industry. During my September 2023 interview with Brian Ansari & Associates, Inc., regarding ESD’s new Study, I challenged the interviewer to consider the questionable outcomes of the 2016 Study and those factors used by the 2015 vendor to reach those conclusions.

Additionally, I shared with the interviewer my opinion on the uniform 30% MWBE goals throughout upstate New York, as such a disparity throughout the region is not possible. While one may argue a 30% disparity exists in Monroe County and/or Onondaga County, the same disparity percentage may not exist in Lewis County or St. Lawrence County. To determine whether a disparity exists, such needs to be studied individually by region for the reason above.

MWBE capacity varies by region, and while the Syracuse Builders Exchange continues our efforts to build MWBE capacity in the central New York region via our Construction Company Growth Accelerator program, MWBE Showcase, and new mentorship program, there still remains challenges with the availability of certified contractors to bid and self-perform on public work projects.

Discrimination of any form has no place in society and is strongly opposed by industry leaders and others engaged in the construction industry. Fair, ethical, responsible and competitive bidding on private and public projects is vital to upholding the integrity of the bidding process and the contract awards thereof.

Upstate New York construction industry associations, industry leaders, contractors and elected officials should work collaboratively to address any disparities that may exist in particular regions of New York and develop solutions to address such disparities. Simply applying a uniform percentage for public projects is doing a disservice to all legitimate contractors.

I am excited to see the results of the 2023 Study and remain hopeful the disparities identified in the 2016 Study have decreased significantly or have been eliminated. While I am not optimistic elected officials will see the benefits of performing individual disparity studies in regions of New York, I remain optimistic that efforts to eliminate disparities in all industries will continue until such time none exist.


Structured Routines for Operational Excellence and Daily Continuous Improvement

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

In an era of rapid technological advancement, the manufacturing industry is undergoing a transformation that is changing the way businesses operate. One of the key drivers of this transformation is automation. Manufacturers who invest in automation are not only staying competitive but also reaping numerous benefits that can have a profound impact on their bottom line and long-term success. In addition to enhanced productivity and efficiency, there are a number of compelling reasons why manufacturers should embrace automation as an essential component of their operations.

Skilled Workforce Augmentation: Contrary to the misconception that automation eliminates jobs, it can enhance the roles of human workers. Automation can take over repetitive and physically demanding tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more valuable and creative aspects of their jobs, such as problem-solving, innovation, and process optimization. This augmentation of the workforce can lead to higher job satisfaction and a more skilled and adaptable workforce. Also, with the ongoing workforce shortage, automation can help to fill critical resource gaps.

Cost Reduction: While the initial investment in automation technology may seem substantial, the long-term savings are significant. Automation leads to productivity improvements, optimized resource usage, minimized material waste, and lower energy consumption, all of which contribute to impactful cost reductions over time. Also, as we have discussed in recent articles, there are lucrative sources of funding for capital equipment.

Global Competitiveness: In an increasingly globalized marketplace, staying competitive is a constant challenge. Manufacturers that invest in automation are better positioned to compete on a global scale. Automated processes can sometimes operate 24/7, providing the capacity to meet international demand and scale production as needed. This scalability is a crucial advantage when competing with companies from around the world.

Flexibility and Adaptability: Modern automation systems are highly flexible and adaptable to changing production needs. Unlike fixed assembly lines that require extensive reconfiguration to accommodate new products or processes, automated systems can be reprogrammed or reconfigured relatively easily. This flexibility allows manufacturers to respond quickly to market shifts and customer demands, enabling them to stay relevant and competitive in a dynamic business environment.

Data-Driven Insights: Automation generates a wealth of data about production processes, product quality, and equipment performance. This data can be captured for real-time monitoring and analysis. Manufacturers can use this information to identify bottlenecks, optimize processes, and make data-driven decisions to improve overall efficiency and productivity. Furthermore, predictive maintenance can be employed to prevent equipment breakdowns, reducing downtime and associated costs.

Improved Quality Control: Quality control is paramount in manufacturing. Automation can contribute significantly to achieving consistent product quality. Automated systems are programmed to adhere to strict quality standards, ensuring that each product meets the required specifications. By reducing human errors and variability, manufacturers can minimize defects and the associated costs of rework or recalls.

Enhanced Safety: Safety is critical, and automation can be used to handle tasks that are dangerous or pose health risks to employees. By automating such tasks, manufacturers can create a safer work environment, reduce workplace accidents, and minimize workers’ compensation claims.

Environmental Benefits: Automation can contribute to a more sustainable manufacturing industry. By optimizing resource use, minimizing waste, and reducing energy consumption, automated processes have a smaller environmental footprint compared to traditional manufacturing methods. This not only benefits the planet but also aligns with the growing demand for eco-friendly products and practices among consumers.

Manufacturers who invest in automation can unlock a plethora of benefits that can transform their operations. From increased productivity and quality control to cost savings and environmental sustainability, the advantages of automation are compelling. Embracing automation is not a matter of if, but when, for manufacturers looking to thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of modern manufacturing. Those who hesitate risk falling behind in an industry that is moving forward at an unprecedented pace.

If you are a small or mid-size manufacturer and would like to further the discussion, TDO’s team is fully certified to help. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.

The Best Practices of Financial Planning …And Why They Aren’t as Complex as You Think They Are.

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

We have all heard of the KISS acronym; “Keep It Simple Smarty Pants!” as Ted Lasso so eloquently put it.  You see, the world only continues to grow more complex, and managing our personal finances is no exception;  however, at the root, there are many basic foundations we can apply that stand the test of time.  This is not to suggest that all things in our planning are simple, but if you remember some simple core concepts, you can do pretty well. We all have heard the Financial Talking Heads talk about things like “save more, spend less,” “create a budget,” “invest,” blah, blah, blah.  They all seem to say the same thing.  These might hit a little differently: 
• Use debt as an asset, but smartly:  If you have a good credit score, it may be in part because you have already done this.  Do not be afraid to use debt as an asset.  My favorite example is buying a home.  You can certainly go overboard and make yourself house poor;  however, before you make it your goal to pay off your house, ask why that is your goal.  Using debt to finance your home allows you to leverage free cash flow and other assets for investments to hopefully, over time, outperform the interest you are paying the bank.  Other financial professionals can be anti-debt.  I say use it smartly; it is okay.
• Start saving early: We have all probably seen or heard this and have even seen it illustrated.  If you start saving today for the next ten years and then stopped, you will have the same or more 30 years from now as if you started saving 10 years from now and saved the same amount for the next 20 years after that.  Compound earnings are one of the most powerful financial forces in the universe.
• Invest with a purpose, and it is usually not to maximize returns: The investing world has only become more accessible to the everyday person.  And it seems that we are all chasing the big win.  I implore you to have a different approach.  When you hear of everyone’s big wins, notice what you are not hearing about are their big losses.  So please, invest with a purpose in mind.  This means having a plan and your plan should not be maximizing returns.  You should be investing for adequate returns to support the achievement of a goal.  If you constantly aim for the highest return, you will likely take more risk than you should and likely end up with some big losses along the way, some that you may never be able to recover from. 
• Save more than you think: I am telling you that you need to save more for your future than you think you do.  This is pretty common advice, but people are living longer, and they want flexibility earlier in life.  Saving earlier will allow for that flexibility.
• Live for today, plan for tomorrow: A mentor taught me this early in my career and it has stuck with me.  We can get overly consumed with saving for a future that may never come.  Make sure you enjoy today, while still adequately planning for tomorrow.  It is all about balance.
Coming from someone who makes a living helping people in this area, it would seem I am writing myself out of a job.  That is not the case.  These are just some basics that everyone can use to get started and fall back on when things get more complex.  When the moment is right, seek help from a qualified professional, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t… 
Keep It Simple Smarty Pants! 

Tetris Anyone?

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

We are entering an exciting time of the year with emphasis on family, holidays and camaraderie with friends and coworkers. At the same time, it can be a very stressful time as we approach year-end results and forward planning. Additionally, most of us are feeling bombarded with a steady stream of negative news and social discourse that at times make the world feel upside-down. The perfect time to change our thinking about how we define and achieve happiness.

Last quarter, I shared some valuable insight I had gained from several sources, particularly from Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, about the effects of happiness on one’s self as well as on an entire enterprise. I also shared some startling statistics about how few employees feel happy and fulfilled at their jobs. The solution, it turns out, is changing our view of “the chicken or the egg.” By that I mean most business leaders and productivity pundits advise us that if we just work harder, we will achieve happiness. That is, thinking of happiness as a goal. In fact, the science of positive psychology has proven that it’s the other way around: Happiness is actually the catalyst that allows our brains to achieve goals—often incredible goals. This was eye-opening. Consider the various results of scientific studies of achieving a “positive brain”:

• Students do better on tests
• Employees do better at work
• Improves brain health
• Increases energy by up to 31%
• Decreases heart disease by up to 30%
• Decreases fatigue-related symptoms by up to 23%
• Reduces the chance of depression by up to 31%

This isn’t about irrational optimism. It turns out that we are not born with a predetermined positive or negative mindset. Neuroscience has shown us that our brain can change at any age. This was underscored by reading about Tetris. For those unfamiliar with Tetris, it is a game where four kinds of shapes fall from the top of the screen and the player works to arrange the shapes in a way to create an unbroken horizon line. And it’s addictive.

In a Harvard Medical School study, Tetris players played for multiple hours a day for three days in a row. Even after they stopped, their minds continued to see shapes everywhere—in the supermarket, sidewalks, skylines—that they could not stop trying to assemble to fill in the “gaps.” This was dubbed the “Tetris Effect.”

What I learned was that the brain can be rewired in just a few days to achieve a positive mindset. Where we typically operate with a two-option view: Maintain the status quo (safety), or fail and lose (vulnerability), there is a third option: Embrace failing knowing it will help catapult us to success (positivity). The latter is what Achor calls “falling up.” He defines it this way: “In the midst of defeat, stress and crisis, our brains map different paths to help us cope and succeed. If our Tetris Effect is to view all that has or could go wrong, then that is all we see. If, on the other hand, our Tetris Effect is to see the opportunity in it, then suddenly we see many other options to fall upward. Our mindset can create blind spots, or it can expand our vision.

This led to my epiphany that if I and others could train our brains to continually see things through a positive lens and continually share our positivity and enthusiasm with others, we could create our own version of the Tetris Effect leading to better success, better employee engagement and better mental health. The great news is this is contagious, and you can leverage one of the most important elements; creating a strong social support network in your workplace.

We are just at the beginning of this journey but excited about how well people are attracted to this approach. We are clearly better together. As we build more champions of positivity, we individually and collectively become better—and happier—every day. That’s the goal.

As always, I am most interested in learning about what others are doing to solve business challenges.
I would love to hear your thoughts!