By Norah Machia
When the clock struck midnight this past New Year’s Eve, Steven D. Hanks officially became the new president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph’s Health, Syracuse and St. Peter’s Health Partners, Albany.
In those early morning hours, however, he wasn’t in the office.
As he had done many times in the past, Hanks had taken a shift at the St. Peter’s Hospital, Albany, to work side-by-side with other physicians and nursing staff caring for patients in the emergency department.
Since he started the transition to physician executive in 1998, Hanks has held various healthcare leadership positions throughout the country, most recently at St. Peter’s Health Partners. He joined the organization in 2016 as vice president and chief medical officer, and has served as chief clinical officer, chief operating officer and for five months last year, as interim president and CEO.
While Hanks has been primarily focused on the administrative side of medicine, he doesn’t shy away from donning his scrubs to work per diem hospital shifts, often in short-staffed emergency departments.
“It keeps my clinical skills sharp and intact, and I love doing it,” he said. “I enjoy spending that time with my colleagues and the patients.”
Hanks’ skills as a physician became even more in demand when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, causing large numbers of sick patients to flood hospital emergency departments. During the crisis, he worked many hours as a hospitalist in the special COVID-19 units set up at St. Peter’s Hospital.
When cases began to decline in New York state, he traveled to a hospital in Boise, Idaho, to help out there after COVID-19 began surging in the West.
Trinity Health, which owns both St. Joseph’s Health and St. Peter’s Health Partners, consolidated the two healthcare systems into a single regional operation last year in response to the financial challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The newly integrated health care organization was established to create a more efficient and cost-effective system with one management team (St. Peter’s Health Partners) overseeing the operation.
St. Peter’s Health Partners primarily operates in the Capital Region. It has five hospitals: St. Peter’s in Albany, three Samaritan Hospital campuses (two in Troy and one in Albany), and the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady. Hanks maintains offices in both Albany and Syracuse, spending about one week each month at the St. Joseph’s Hospital.
As one of the largest, nonprofit Catholic healthcare systems in the United States, Trinity Health operates hospitals and other healthcare facilities in 26 states. St. Joseph’s had been acquired by Trinity Health in 2015.
While it’s been three years since the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the United States, “all hospitals are still struggling,” including large medical centers throughout the country, said Hanks.
“I don’t think we were anticipating how severe it would still be post pandemic,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Hanks, who worked with management to bring the Albany and Syracuse operations together, noted that staffing shortages, a shift in patient volumes and the increasing cost of medical supplies have contributed to the unprecedented financial challenges being faced by hospitals nationwide.
“Last July we brought together the two healthcare systems under Trinity Health New York to consolidate administrative expenses and reduce costs, without impacting patient care,” Hanks said.
Many of the “back-office functions” such as legal services, human resources, information systems and compliance have been consolidated within the larger Trinity Health network. “A single executive team running the Trinity Health operations in New York state will result in significant savings,” he added.
In many ways, the arrangement will also enhance patient care. Because Trinity Health is a nationwide system, “we have the ability to leverage shared electronic health records, and to share the most current science-based and evidence-based care, which will lead to innovative and best practices for all patients,” Hanks explained.
Patients will benefit from the latest health care research and information shared in the larger system of care, regardless of which Trinity Health building they enter, he said.
“We are a regional network, integrated with hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living, rehabilitation centers, and home health care services,” he said.
The shared electronic medical records system allows patients to get their test results and treatment sooner and opens the doors to refer more patients for specialized care throughout the network.
The consolidation of St. Joseph’s Health and St. Peter’s Health Partners puts both organizations in a better position to adapt to the changing health care landscape, Hanks said. Many hospitals nationwide have needed to temporarily close some of their operating rooms because of staff shortages, while keeping the remaining ones open for emergency procedures.
“We see the future of hospitals in outpatient spaces,” Hanks said.
It’s expected the demand for acute inpatient-level care will become the main focus of hospitals, while less intensive types of medical care will continue to shift toward outpatient settings, such as clinics and ambulatory surgery centers.
For example, there is already a trend nationwide for total joint surgeries, such as knee and hip replacements, to be done on an outpatient basis. In the past, these types of surgeries were routinely done as inpatient procedures, but “orthopedic surgeons have worked to advance the science of care, so the majority of these procedures can be safely done” at ambulatory surgery centers, Hanks said.
A major advantage of outpatient surgeries is that medical staff “don’t have to worry about operating room schedules being interrupted in emergency cases. They are working in a safer, more controlled environment,” he noted.
Patients undergoing outpatient surgeries don’t typically require an overnight hospital stay because much of the preparation for a successful outcome is done in advance, Hanks said. Most physicians will discuss with their patients the important steps they should take to ensure a successful recovery, such as managing weight and blood pressure, and stopping smoking, in a month or two prior to the scheduled procedure.
“These steps have been shown to improve outcomes of surgical procedures and the patients recover more quickly,” while the overall medical expenses are less than an inpatient stay, he said.
Prior to joining St. Peter’s Health Partners, Hanks served as physician executive with the Cerner Corporation, a global health care information technology company in Kansas City, Missouri. He had earlier spent more than a decade with Hartford HealthCare in Connecticut. During his tenure in Hartford, he also held the position of assistant dean for graduate medical education at the University of Connecticut.
Hanks holds a Bachelor of Science in neurosciences from the University of Rochester, where he also received his medical degree with distinction in research. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital.
During his early years in practice, he earned a certificate in medical management from the American College of Physician Executives before completing his master’s in medical management from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School of Public Policy in Pittsburgh. He is board certified in internal medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards.’
Top image: Physician Steven Hanks next to a DaVinci robotic surgery equipment. He became the CEO of St. Joseph Health in Syracuse Jan. 1.