Like many who choose medical professions, for new BayCare Health Systems chief executive officer Stephanie Conners, the occupation is the calling.
Conners began her career as a nurse, keeping her licenses updated even after moving into administration. In fact, one of the first things Conners did, while shadowing her BayCare predecessor, Tommy Inzina, last fall to prepare for a smooth transition was to secure her Florida nursing license.
“Nursing, for me, is not what I did, it’s who I am. I believe in paying it forward and making a difference in the lives of others and my personal mission has always been to make a difference, one person at a time,” Conners says.
From its founding in 1997, Baycare has shared a similar ethos and has grown to become West Central Florida’s largest nonprofit health care provider as it prepares to open its 16th hospital in 2023, employing more than 30,000 team members across the Tampa Bay area.
Conners most recently served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health. To Conners, BayCare fits her vision and the values of health care she’s spent a lifetime upholding.
“I never forget the core of what we’re here to do and that is to serve our communities, our patients and their families,” Conners says. “I’m connected to those core values, which I often say are not just words on a wall but an active part of health care. If you walk through BayCare, you feel that everyone lives those values. While our clinical teams provide life-saving care, our community benefit team offers life-changing services, with programs that address needs like food insecurities. We’re really being innovative to consistently think through how we impact our communities even further.”
One way is through BaCare’s partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay, the Bay area’s leading nonprofit organization targeting a lack of access to food .
“Nutrition is necessary to promote health. We recognize that so many families don’t know where they will get their next meal,” Conners says. “And we understand that and so we’re bigger than just providers of health care. I love that this area is so deeply involved in this work. And I love how BayCare is leading the way with innovative programs and engaging partnerships. We really are looking to not only be a pioneer in this work, but also to partner with others to ensure that they are equally as invested is in improving the health of our communities.”
In partnership since 2019, BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay have established food pantries in 42 schools throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco counties as part of the “Feeding Minds” program. The pantries are stocked with healthy groceries, and snacks, to provide both sustenance for families and education on good nutrition for parents. Every BayCare hospital also screens patients before discharge and for anyone asking for or needing assistance, offers “Healing Bags” full of resources and nonperishable nutritional food items from Feeding Tampa Bay.
“Good nutrition is needed for healing and we start the process by giving food and supporting our patients as they leave the hospital, making sure that they’re connected to the right resources,” she says.
It perfectly aligns with Conner’s belief in “healing the whole person,” one person at a time.
Conners admits there was never one moment that crystallized her decision to become a nurse. Caregiving was simply a part of her upbringing. One challenge she’s set for herself, as she leads BayCare into the future, is to make sure the rewards of the medical profession outweigh the stressors.
“Taking care of others is an honor and a privilege,” Conners says. “Yet, we are faced with immense challenges in health care, with those willing to work in this complex environment. It affects everyone on our multidisciplinary teams. It is housekeeping and food service. It’s physicians, it’s nurses, it’s back office. It’s everyone who touches our environment. We must do things differently to ensure that we engage those necessary team members to continue to want to serve our communities in health care, because health is the foundation of life.”
Conners also cites BayCare’s long-standing commitment to its communities, donating 10% of its revenue, every year, directly back into the communities it serves. For Conners, it’s an exciting time to be leading BayCare.
“Health care services have undergone dramatic changes recently in how we’re using our iPhones to connect with patients in their homes with remote patient monitoring. There’s a really big space, now, for innovation and to think about the hospital to home care and everything in between. I want BayCare to be the best place to practice medicine, the best place to work and the best place to receive care at the right location.”
All this and the welcoming warmth of Florida, too. Conners, a graduate of Villanova University, has spent much of her career in the Northeast. Joining BayCare, in 2022, as it celebrated its 25th anniversary and was ranked, for the fourth straight year, among the top 20% of large health systems in the United States. Conners has also been impressed by the hospitality of the Bay area.
“I’ve been touched by the kindness of people throughout the Tampa Bay area. It’s just so pure anywhere I go. It’s such a kind environment,” Conners says. “I am thrilled and excited to be a member of this community, working collaboratively to define and adjust to the needs of our residents. Because in the Tampa Bay area, nothing is ignored.” ♦