From Pharm Boy to Hospital CEO

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out how Greenwich Hospital President/CEO Frank Corvino lures Westchester patients to Connecticut.

Photo by Phil Mansfield

There once was a 14-year-old boy who worked at the corner pharmacy, blocks from his Bronx home, so he could pay his own way through high school, college, and beyond. This ambitious youngster started off as the shop’s stock boy, and, two years later, under the watchful eye of the pharmacist, was already filling prescriptions. The lad was a customer favorite because he was mature, amiable, and always seemed to have their best interests in mind; he did whatever was necessary, including learning Italian, which he picked up from the customers and folks in the neighborhood, to ensure the patrons’ and shop owner’s happiness. All the while, his close-knit neighborhood was teaching him the importance of treating people with respect and dignity, and to give back where he could.

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Cut to today. Frank Corvino, that nice, hard-working kid from Arthur Avenue, lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, and is still trying to make everyone happy—but now, it’s as the president and CEO of Greenwich Hospital (GH), a sparkling facility with 174 patient beds, 32 bassinets, 1,910 employees, and a $324 million operating budget.

Situated on nearly 10 acres, GH (along with Yale-New Haven and Bridgeport Hospitals) is in the Yale New Haven Health System. In the year ending in September 2009, GH provided 50,149 patient days of care, had 12,931 admissions, and 43,285 visits to its ER. It also performed 13,789 ambulatory (7,250 surgical, 6,539 medical) procedures and 8,706 OR procedures.

Though it’s headquartered in Greenwich, 42 percent of its patients are from Westchester—and more than 100 GH doctors have offices here. A large building in Rye Brook houses its financial services, public relations, and development departments, as well as some of its information systems and medical records.

So why does Corvino, today 62, believe that some people choose his hospital over those in our own county, such as Northern Westchester, White Plains, and Sound Shore Medical? “It’s our patient atmosphere, the environment, and the amount of caring—they’re very hard to duplicate,” says Corvino, sitting in his office, whose décor reveals his ardor for the Yankees and Nantucket. Framed family photos—his son is an ER doctor, his daughter is an occupational therapist, and his wife is an administrator at a New Jersey hospital—adorn his office. “And if you look at our ambience, it doesn’t feel like a hospital.”

Indeed, the three-storied atrium lobby belies a world-class high-tech medical facility. With its upscale decorations, a black baby grand Steinway on autopilot, and plush seating, it looks more like the Greenwich Hyatt than Greenwich Hospital. In the hospital, patients can expect spacious rooms (most are private and overlook lawns or trees); large, sunlit waiting areas; and a friendly, hands-on staff.

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Jack Barry is the New England regional executive of the American Hospital Association (AHA), a Chicago-based organization that’s the advocacy voice for all American hospitals. He visits countless hospitals for his job and says that he can always tell within the first 30 seconds if it’s a place where someone would feel at-ease as a patient. “GH always goes out of its way to make people feel comfortable and at home,” he says.

It’s because of GH’s uniqueness that it required a huge effort to transform it from, so to speak, dump to Trump. In 1988, President and CEO Edward Kenny, who was planning to retire in three years, brought Corvino on board as senior vice president and COO with the intent of grooming him for the top position.

Corvino graduated from Fordham’s College of Pharmacy in 1971. Unlike pharmacology, which is about the science of pharmaceuticals, pharmacy deals more with the business and marketing side. After earning his master’s in hospital pharmacy administration at St. John’s University, he spent 17 years at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in the Bronx (now Montefiore North Division), eventually becoming the executive vice president.

In 1988, when Corvino was looking for different challenges, he applied to be GH’s chief operating officer. Once he arrived, though, “I thought, ‘Boy, did I make a mistake.’ I was used to that fast-paced New York City atmosphere and that wasn’t the case here. We were a good hospital but had a lot of work to do.”

One of his first missions was to create a marketing and planning department, which most hospitals didn’t have at the time. The hospital’s other obvious flaws included worn mechanical systems, inadequate parking, wobbly bricks on the façade, operating rooms and labs that needed replacing, and the inefficient “X” shape of the building. GH was an in-patient hospital in an out-patient world. With managed care coming on the scene, there would be decreases in patients’ lengths of stay and the number of admissions.

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Sitting in that catbird seat right behind Kenny allowed Corvino to be in front in the renovation’s planning and execution. When Kenny retired in 1991, Corvino stepped in. In the early ’90s, he and the other administrative executives realized that, in order to be ready for healthcare in the 21st century, they had to build an entirely new facility—and everything had to be done through the eyes of the patient. The result? Last year, Press Ganey Associates gave GH a Summit Award, the healthcare industry’s most coveted symbol of achievement in the area of patient satisfaction. GH is one of just four U.S. hospitals to receive the Summit five times in a row.

The overhaul of the campus began in 1995 and was completed in 2007. And during those dozen years, Corvino says, the hospital kept patient satisfaction high. The results were the Helmsley Medical Building and the Olive and Thomas J. Watson Pavilion, state-of-the-art structures that replaced the GH of 1995 and have been hailed as models for future hospital designs. The cost: $250 million. “Fortunately, we got it done when prices weren’t so outrageous,” he says. “It would run about seven-hundred million dollars today.”

Much of the funds came from grateful former patients. No single donation exceeded the $23 million from Harry and Leona Helmsley, the now-deceased billionaire New York City hotel operators and one-time Greenwich residents. Among patient services: free wireless Internet throughout the facility, private beauticians who go to patients’ rooms, artwork that patients can hand-pick for their rooms, and free cable TV. Oh yes, the hospital’s website lets friends and family buy presents that will be hand-delivered to their checked-in loved ones. And, the Emergency Department provides 24/7 valet parking.

Given the many swanky amenities, could some think that GH is more of a country club or spa than a serious hospital? Perhaps, Corvino admits, “but nothing could be further from the truth. The brain surgery in our operating rooms is as complex as you can get; we have a hyperbaric chamber for wound care; our ICUs are outfitted with the latest technology; our radiology services are cutting-edge.” And the hospital’s reputation for patient safety, enhanced care, and customer service landed it on the list of the 100 most wired hospitals in Hospitals & Health Networks magazine, the AHA’s flagship publication.

By nearly all measurements, GH has prospered under Corvino’s leadership. “Frank is one of the longest-serving and most highly respected CEOs in the state,” says Jennifer Jackson, president and CEO of the Connecticut Hospital Association.

Corvino isn’t at the finish line yet, though. Over the next three to five years, the entire Yale New Haven Health System is moving to one computer system, not only to provide Greenwich, Yale-New Haven, and Bridgeport with a superior flow of intra-hospital information, but to allow patients to e-mail their physicians, look up their own health records, get test results, and book appointments online.

Corvino is not planning to leave GH any time soon. But if he did need to be replaced—“if I walk out the door and get hit by a truck” —GH, he says, would be just fine. “We’ve got a couple of people here who in time would be able to take over for me. That’s an important part of what a CEO does: make sure that the organization is covered.”

So that kid who began as a humble stock boy in a shop on Arthur Avenue ended up doing well—really well—for himself and making a career of easing the lives of others. He says, “I go to work every day enjoying making decisions that will ultimately help people.”Besides, he says, “everybody needs healthcare, so I’m a pretty popular person.”

Longtime journalist Jenny Higgons lives in Hastings-on-Hudson. When our youth-obsessed society forces her to get cosmetic surgery, she will likely choose Greenwich Hospital.

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