Waiting to exhale: Cancer hospital CEO wonders what's next with Obamacare

Nancy Hesse, 58, the new CEO of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia at 1331 E Wyoming Ave, Philadelphia, in a radiation oncology treatment room May 1, 2017. Hesse started her career as a nurse. Each treatment room has a panoramic mural to soften the mood for patients. This mural is of the beach at Cape May. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

NANCY HESSE:

  • Home: Glenside, on the same street where she grew up.
  • Family: Children, Zachary, 30, Emily, 29;
  • Diplomas: Abington High School, nursing degrees from Widener University, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Pro perfume tip: Allure by Chanel; for added impact, spray a little on the back of your hair.
  • CANCER TREATMENT CENTERS OF AMERICA:
  • What: Five-hospital for-profit chain specializing in cancer, based in Florida.
  • In Philadelphia: Primarily outpatient, with 26,232 clinic visits projected for fiscal year 2017. The hospital has 74 beds; typical occupancy is 20 beds with 859 discharges projected this year. Employs 700.
  • Quick read: Luxe amenities lead to high patient satisfaction.

Registered nurse Nancy Hesse, 58, the new chief executive of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Eastern Regional Center in Philadelphia, began her answer to the interview's first question with a big sigh.

How would the potential dismantling of the Affordable Care Act affect health care, cancer research, and her hospital?

"I think the Affordable Care Act has given health care to so many, and that’s a right thing to do,” said Hesse, the former chief nursing officer for Abington-Lansdale Hospital, who took a similar post at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in 2014. She became CEO late last year. 

“It’s helped patients be seen by us. We’ve been able to work with those patients who have insurances covered by the ACA. What’s ahead, I don’t know. Preexisting conditions might matter. It’s going to really hit Medicare, Medicaid. It’s going to hit pharma. It’s going to hit research. It’s going to hit the National Cancer Institute. You hear the academic medical centers are going to be hit with their research. I don’t want to see any of that happen. 

“I hope that the fine-tuning of this protects the gains we’ve made in oncology care. We’re seeing research come to fruition. We’re seeing drugs come to market that are making an impact on patients living longer.”  

You're a nurse, but aren’t many hospital CEOs male doctors?

Nurses know how to develop relationships, and that really keys you up for the CEO role. Also, my emergency room background gave me the ability to make decisions and not waste time.

Your for-profit company has excellent survival statistics, but it has been accused of cherry-picking patients, turning away the sickest and the poorest to improve results.

That was the reputation CTCA had, but I did my homework before I came here to disprove that, because I have such an allegiance to quality, safety, and assuring that I’m offering my patients the best possible options. 

We always want to take care of more patients. Every hospital has that stance. Some patients’ insurance companies don’t work with us. Cherry picking? If I don’t cover that insurance, I’ll try to get that patient into CTCA's Chicago hospital or into the Atlanta hospital. Or, our oncology information specialists will try to get them into a hospital nearby. I’m a specialty hospital. It’s a for-profit specialty hospital just treating cancer, which is different from an academic medical center. We are working with insurers to have better contracts. 

Do you accept all the standard insurers?

We’re in active negotiations with Independence Blue Cross. That would make a big difference in Philadelphia.

CTCA offers patients a chance to include yoga and reiki in their care plans. It has also been criticized for that.   

Patients find it works for nausea or different pain points. Chiropractic medicine is the same. We offer those services. We don’t mandate them. Our brand is one of seven well-known brands in the country. It’s up there with Apple. But, our reputation isn’t the same because years ago I think the company probably did have some missteps as it was opening. A lot of that reputation [dates back] to 20 years ago, [that we didn't offer] true oncology care. Where it is today is not where it was 20 years ago. This is true oncology care. Clinical research is done here.  

Has cancer impacted your life?

I lost my mother to cancer. She had colon cancer and passed away when I was 28. I lost my father to cancer. I’ve lost two sisters-in-law to cancer and I have a brother who is a cancer survivor. I take it very seriously, and I wouldn’t be with a business that was anything but aboveboard.

They were lucky to have a nurse in the family.

I was the nurse in the family, and there were times I didn’t know who to call. It was so complicated. I think that’s part of the reason I’m here today.

You’re taking ballroom dancing lessons. Why?

I don’t have to lead. I can just enjoy it.

Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.