AHA board member Susan Fox, president and CEO of White Plains (N.Y.) Hospital, a member of Montefiore Health System, says her background as a pediatric nurse in the intensive care unit has shaped her career.
Fox began her health care career as a pediatric ICU nurse at New York-Presbyterian Hospital before earning a master’s degree in business and health care administration, followed by 10 years at Ernst & Young in its health care consulting practice. She then went to work for one of her clients, Long Island Jewish Health System, which was on the verge of merging with another large tertiary care institution, now Northwell Health. Fox spent more than a dozen years at the health system, where she oversaw the creation and expansion of the physician and ambulatory network, aligning physicians with the network from both a clinical and business perspective as senior vice president of clinical services and faculty practice.
Somewhere along the way, and in the midst of unprecedented change in the industry, Fox realized she wanted a leadership position as a hospital CEO. “I wanted to see how an organization could transform,” she says. She was made aware of an opportunity at White Plains Hospital, the community hospital where she lived and where the CEO was thinking about succession planning. “He had been there for 35 years and needed a partner,” Fox said. ”He was looking for someone who could help him think about the future strategy of the hospital and work with physicians differently.”
After a few years of working closely together, Fox took over as president and CEO of White Plains Hospital. “I’ve been very fortunate to have had the clinical and business experience through each of my roles — and then take all of that and apply it to improving the health of a community,” she said.
As a leader, Fox underscores the importance of open communications. “Leadership means a lot of things, but at its most basic level, it means keeping your door open and having the ability to converse with everyone from doctors to housekeepers to valets,” Fox said. “I always try to convey that every employee is important and that I’m listening. They each have a key role in the patient experience, and they can help inform me on what’s working and what isn’t and offer new ideas.”
Fox has stayed grounded in her nursing roots, always looking to improve the patient experience by motivating and equipping staff with the resources they need to succeed. A critical factor for her: the workplace culture. “It was important to me in leading my own organization to focus on how culture enables an organizations success,” Fox said. “A culture of working together, teamwork, purpose, focus and respect makes all the difference.”
Redefining the community hospital to serve more patients where they are
Prior to being named CEO in 2015, Fox was instrumental in the process of selecting the system partner for White Plains Hospital — one that would enable the hospital to realize its full potential as a regional leader in advanced care. White Plains Hospital partnered with the Montefiore Health System, becoming the tertiary hub in their network and bringing highly specialized, advanced programs to Westchester and the Hudson Valley.
Since her arrival in 2010, the hospital has undergone the most significant facility renovation and expansion in its 126-year history, including a new lobby, patient tower, operating suites and cancer center, and recently broke ground on an outpatient pavilion. During the growth, the employee commitment to providing an optimal patient experience “regardless of whether you work at the bedside or in the kitchen has been paramount,” Fox says.
Under Fox’s watch, the hospital also twice earned Magnet designation by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
“As a tertiary hub in a major health system, we’ve been following a plan that redefines us and what we need to be in the future,” she says. In addition to bringing higher-level services closer to home, this includes “providing new services in the community, creating a strong ambulatory strategy, and partnering with local physicians and other organizations, such as schools and churches, to promote good health,” Fox said. As CEO, she has prioritized the growing focus on preventive care, upstream interventions and keeping people healthy.
Fox serves as chair of AHA’s Regional Policy Board 2. In January, she joined the AHA Board of Trustees, where she hopes to keep the patient at the forefront, a focus rooted in her nursing days.
In a framed photograph in her office, she holds in her arms a baby girl, Gladys, who was born with HIV during the 1980s rise of the AIDS epidemic.
“The privilege of caring for patients is something you don’t forget,” Fox says. “You realize how much of a difference you can make. The courage you get from wanting so strongly to help your patients — that has carried me and kept me moving forward.”