If you are one who believes that entrepreneurial business skills are not required in the nonprofit world, Cynthia Roy’s attitude and accomplishments will quickly change your mind.
Roy is the president and CEO of Regional Hospice and Palliative Care in Danbury and her story – along with her long resume of work with nonprofits, the inspiration to change people’s lives, and an opportunity to do something never before achieved in Connecticut – will convince anyone that the skills and drive expressed by business entrepreneurs are the same needed to make nonprofits successful.
As part of Western Connecticut State University’s Macricostas Lecture Series, Roy will present “Entrepreneurship in the Nonprofit World,” in two talks on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. The first will be at 1:30 p.m. in Room 122 of White Hall on the WCSU Midtown campus, 181 White St., in Danbury and the second will be at 5:30 p.m. in Room 218 of the Classroom Building on the university’s Westside campus, 43 Lake Ave. Extension in Danbury.
Roy had been the executive director of another hospice in Connecticut for nine years when, in 2007, the board of directors at the Regional Hospice offered her the president and CEO job at Regional Hospice.
“I told the board, ‘I will come to work for you if you let me build a hospice inpatient center!’” Roy recounted. She had learned that not all hospice care was suitable in hospitals or home. For some people at the end of life, a center that could assess and handle their special needs, and help family members cope with emotional and spiritual issues all at the same time was the best solution. Connecticut had almost no options for patients and Roy knew from her travels around Connecticut and other states that no other facility met the best-practice standards she could build.
The Regional Hospice board of directors agreed and Roy set about her task. First, she had to change state hospice inpatient regulations, which didn’t represent best practice in end-of-life care. The original law from 1977 required a drinking fountain and a phone booth to be within a short distance of every hospice patient’s room and didn’t include any best-practice, evidence-based research within the regulations.
Roy had to find a location and raise money as well. “We didn’t have a $10 million donor,” she said. “Our average gifts were $400 each.” She identified a piece of land that was wooded and quiet, but is within half-a-mile of Exit 2 on Interstate-84 for easy access.
Operators of another hospice in the state lobbied against the change in regulations in order to blunt Roy’s attempt to construct a building. She spent several years engaging state and federal legislators before Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the reworked law in 2012.
Finally, Roy was able to hire an architect to design the building.
“I knew exactly what I wanted and I knew no one had done it before. We could do something really different,” Roy said. “I didn’t want it to look like a hospital. I wanted it to feel like home. It is the last home for most of the people who come here. We created an experience that is unforgettable.”
Roy has grown the organization from a small business to an $18 million corporation. The 36,000-square-foot building, which cost $14 million, offers 12 patient suites, each with space for family members to sleep, gourmet catering service from the kitchen, a library, chapel, a spa and a play scape for children, as well as administrative offices. It is a fully licensed specialty care hospital and the only facility of its kind in Connecticut. It is getting state and national recognition from other health care providers. In addition to the center, Regional Hospice and Palliative Care also provides hospice care in four counties to people in homes, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities.
People who work in hospice care generally have a personal connection that makes them passionate about the calling. As a teenager, Roy lost a best friend to leukemia. The experience of losing and caring for someone who was terminally ill changed her life.
The difficult experience nonetheless gave Roy a personal understanding about end-of-life care and decisions the patient and family must consider. At the same time, Roy said, she approaches her position as a job that involves many of the same tasks as any corporate, for profit, business.
“Our business culture is very important because we are working with families and patients at very difficult times in their lives while juggling the expenses of health care,” Roy said. “If you make a mistake at the end of life, people never forget that memory.”
Roy expects everyone who works at the hospice facility to have the same commitment to service that she does.
“The expectations of care are high here” Roy said. “People have to believe wholeheartedly in our mission, or they won’t work here. People have to bring positive energy, love and compassion to our care.”
At the same time, she concentrates on nourishing the staff. A Reiki specialist and aromatherapist are brought in regularly, and employees are treated to social events.
Roy previously worked with the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Roy completed her clinical internship training at St. Vincent’s Psychiatric Hospital. While at Columbia University, she also worked with a United Nations non-government organization, International Committee on Aging.
Roy received a master’s degree in science majoring in social work from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in science from Boston University. She holds an accreditation as both a home care manager and hospice administrator. In September 2013, Roy was appointed to the governor’s Palliative Care Advisory Council.
Last year, she was invited to join the prestigious Young Professionals Organization (YPO), an organization for CEOs younger than 45 with companies larger than $18 million. Her fellow members, nearly all of whom are men, discuss and look for solutions to most of the same issues Roy faces every day: questions about payroll, staffing, capital projects, short- and long-term investments and profit and loss statements.
None of the rest of them, however, come face-to-face with death as part of the job.
“I’m on a different path, spiritually and professionally, to do this work,” Roy said. “People think running a nonprofit is easy, not like a regular business. But it is a health care business, with tremendous meaning and profound privilege.”