Corner Office: WellSpan CEO Roxanna Gapstur on finding a better way to cut healthcare disparities

As president and CEO of York, Pa.-based WellSpan Health, Roxanna Gapstur, PhD, RN, is able to make a difference in improving healthcare access and reducing health disparities, which she is passionate about.

Dr. Gapstur, who joined WellSpan in January 2019, brings more than 25 years of healthcare leadership experience to her role. Before taking the helm of WellSpan, she was a senior vice president and president at HealthPartners, a Bloomington, Minn.-based health insurer and hospital operator. She earned a bachelor's degree from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., and her master's degree and doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

Here, Dr. Gapstur answers Becker's Corner Office questions: 

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Question: What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?  

Dr. Roxanna Gapstur: In high school, I had a defining moment with science when a new biology teacher arrived. This individual was charismatic and engaged students in advanced concepts which went beyond general scientific learning in most high schools at the time. He eventually went on to be the director of the Minnesota Zoo. The content he shared spurred my own interest in science, including immunology, genetics and the scientific method. I eventually attended nursing school and connected to the intellectual and relationship challenges inherent in healthcare. After I became a nurse, my first job was on the bone marrow transplant unit at the University of Minnesota, alongside professionals who pioneered stem cell transplants. It was a constant reminder of "finding a better way" to improve the health of populations with certain kinds of diseases. It was also exhilarating to be on the cutting edge of science.

Q: What do you enjoy most about York?

RG: Having grown up on a farm in western Minnesota, I feel very much at home in south central Pennsylvania's picturesque hills and valleys, dotted with tiny farms. On the weekends, my husband and I love exploring the incredible hiking trails tucked in the hills. I also love the generosity of the people in south central Pennsylvania and the connection to philanthropy which is stronger than anywhere else I've lived.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?  

RG: Health equity has been a passion of mine for some time. It's an area where I see so much opportunity for our country and the healthcare industry. I've spent time with our WellSpan care teams during the pandemic, and as I was leaving one of our hospitals recently, I saw a care team member with boxes of food. When I asked her where she was going, she said she was taking food to one of our patients who was awaiting COVID-19 test results and was quarantined in a nearby hotel because this person didn’t have a place to call home. No one asked her to do this. She did it because it was the right thing to do. All of our friends and neighbors deserve high quality care, dignity and respect, so I would eliminate the inequities in access to care. The disparities we see in this country are significant, and it will take all of us working in the same direction to impact change in our communities. A close second and third would be affordability and quality — key ingredients to providing higher value. We know consumers demand more from us, and they demand it at a lower cost with better consistency and a more personalized experience.

Q: What is your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?  

RG: I remember numbers. I remember every phone number from my childhood — not just my own but those of my neighbors, family members and friends. I enjoy data and analytics, and I'm always on the hunt for updated stats. For example, during the pandemic, we've seen a tremendous increase in remote visits which now make up 50 percent of our volumes. Last week's total: 19,436, including 8,075 phone visits and 11,102 video visits (close to our highest week of 20,031 total visits). Not that I'm counting …

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?  

RG: When I was in my doctorate program, my adviser shared her research on mindfulness with patients experiencing pancreas transplants. It's a very practical way to center yourself, no matter your surroundings. I try to practice every day, even if it's just 10 minutes over lunch. In addition to mindfulness, I start and end my day playing with our miniature pinscher, Jack. He looks like a tough guy, but all 8 pounds of him love to snuggle. I am sure it lowers my blood pressure and definitely improves my mood. 

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

RG: Since this is the year of the nurse and midwife, one of the things which has stuck with me over the years is attributed to the pioneer of hand hygiene, Florence Nightingale, whose 200th birthday was just celebrated: "Wash your hands." As we've seen with the pandemic, it's never been more important. By washing our hands, we can save lives and improve the health of our families and our communities.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at WellSpan Health?  

RG: When I joined WellSpan 18 months ago, our board, senior leaders and teams set a new vision: A trusted partner. Reimagining healthcare. Inspiring health. Together, we developed a long-term strategy aligned to this vision, and we've implemented new partnerships with Capital BlueCross, Highmark, CVS and others to deliver better care at a lower cost. We're making a difference in our communities which none of us could make alone — providing easier access and higher quality health care at an affordable price. 


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