VHA Area Senior VP and Executive Officer Renee S. Frazier--
Supporting Local Hospitals During a Tenuous Time
Written by John Fries
When she was growing up in Baltimore, it seemed for a time that Renee
Frazier might someday become a professional athlete. After all, the
Baltimore-area native was not only active in sports; she excelled
in them. She played basketball, softball and tennis, ran track, and
even held a regional bowling title for a few years.
But for as much as she enjoyed participating in athletic pursuits,
she loved helping people even more. Today, entering her seventh year
as area senior vice president and executive officer for VHA's Pennsylvania
and West Virginia area, she gets to help millions of people through
the work she does with the 42 VHA hospitals that serve them across
VHA is a national network of more than 2,200 community-owned, not-for-profit
hospitals, physicians and integrated health care delivery systems.
Member hospitals' assets belong to the community, and each hospital
is governed locally by its own board of trustees comprised of volunteers.
Frazier is responsible for coordinating national VHA programs and
developing strategies, programs and services to meet the local needs
of VHA members in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
"VHA provides a breadth of support services to ensure each hospital's
success in the marketplace," said Frazier, "including benchmarking,
addressing patient safety issues, and, most popular, group buying,
which accounts for a full 65 percent of the organization's largest
revenue stream. And, although VHA continues to be extremely proactive
in developing new, innovative support services for its members, she
also noted that the hospitals "are currently trying to address very
big issues and challenges."
"Hospitals' bottom lines are eroding, malpractice insurance premiums
are extremely high and Medicare reimbursements don't cover the cost
of providing care. It's important, with all that happening, that hospitals
continue to provide a high level of care and safety. We're doing everything
we can to help them do that."
Frazier is more than up for the challenges with which she's dealing,
and said that she has always played a leadership role, even at the
first job she held during her undergraduate days at the University
of Maryland at Baltimore County. While her fellow students were punching
time cards as waitresses or retail clerks, Frazier was working as
a house parent in a group home for the mentally challenged.
She went on to earn a Master's degree in health administration from
The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Since then, her
career highlights have included serving as chief operating officer
of Lutheran Health Care Corp., a $100 million community health care
system, and as vice president of managed care, operations and projects
for Health Management Resources in Oxon Hill, MD.
In 1997, during her third year as vice president of corporate strategic
planning at CareFirst, a program of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of
Maryland, she got a call that would eventually bring her to Pittsburgh,
and her current position.
"VHA recruited me to serve as executive officer to run the operations
in this region," she said. "As much as I enjoyed working at CareFirst,
I wanted to return to the hospital side of the business."
She relishes the challenge of working with 42 hospitals, especially
at a time when there are so many difficult issues that need to be
addressed and resolved in the health care environment. "There are
work force shortages," she noted. "Issues around work force are of
highest importance to our hospitals right now."
She believes that things will continue to get worse before they get
better, although she's optimistic that they will indeed improve. "Health
care goes in cycles, and many CEOs think the current cycle is one
of the worst we've ever experienced."
Frazier has provided stellar leadership throughout her career, and
her achievements have not gone unnoticed. She has been recognized
for her health care leadership and community service with a Governor's
Citation from the State of Maryland, House of Representatives of Maryland,
three mayoral citations, and two Baltimore City Council citations.
In addition, she received several awards for her community involvement
So far this year, Frazier has received three very impressive honors:
she was one of only two VHA executives selected for the VHA National
Managerial Excellence Award; Governor Rendell and the Pennsylvania
Office of Economic Development named her as one of the Top 50 Women
in Business in Pennsylvania; and the Pittsburgh Courier recognized
her as one of Pittsburgh's Women of Influence. She's proud of all
of these honors, noting that she's the only African-American to run
a VHA area office.
As you would expect, Frazier's position keeps her very busy. Away
from the office, she serves on the Alumni Board for The George Washington
University. She's also very committed to the local community; her
many local activities include serving on boards for such organizations
as Lemington in East Liberty and the Corporate Board of Highmark.
also is a member of the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative
and actively participates in the activities of the African American
Corporate Executive Leadership Alliance. She also serves on the Pennsylvania
Medical Society's Task Force for Malpractice Reform, and participates
in the International Women's Forum with such local notables as Elsie
Hillman, Ann McGuinn and the late Frieda Shapira.
What changes has she seen in Pittsburgh during the past six years?
"I think Pittsburgh struggles with a lack of racial and gender diversity,"
she said, "but I've also seen an attempt to improve that over the
past two years."
She named Ronnie Bryant of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, Karen
Feinstein of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, and Patricia Liebman
of the UPMC Health Plan as among those who are leading the change
and making the playing field a bit more level.
The most important role she believes anyone can play, though, is setting
a positive example for youth. "I appreciate every opportunity I have
to help young people. They're our future."