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Western Pennsylvania Hospital News, May 2003

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 both states.

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 in Baltimore.

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.

Frazier 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."

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Copyright © 2003 by John Fries, Pittsburgh, PA.
Please direct all correspondence to JohnFries@aol.com.