March 18, 2019
Women in Business Awards 2019

Women's Health President Bernstein helps doctors keep focus on patients

Photo | J. Fiereck Photography
Photo | J. Fiereck Photography

Nancy Bernstein

President and Chief Operating Officer
Women's Health USA

President and Chief Executive Officer
Women's Health Connecticut

Last April, Nancy Bernstein, president and chief operating officer of Avon-based Women's Health USA, led the company to complete a partnership with Women's Health Texas, and the association is already paying dividends.

"We're leveraging her expertise, her success, to provide some continuity … for the future," said Women's Health Texas CEO Jim Spaulding.

Women's Health USA (Whusa) oversees business-management practices for women's health, OB-GYN and in vitro fertilization practices with about 12 partners in Connecticut, Texas, California, Arizona, New Jersey and New York. In managing business services for partners, Whusa helps ensure healthcare experts can focus on what they do best: tend to their patients.

Women's Health Texas gives patients access to skilled OB-GYNs at 11 locations in the Austin area, through a network of more than 60 providers.

Spaulding said the partnership has helped his organization increase its reimbursements from insurance companies, while also providing expertise related to business development and managed-care contracting.

"That's huge," he said. "That's one of the things we went in it for."

Bernstein also is president and CEO of Avon-based Women's Health CT, a group of more than 200 doctors, midwives, and nurse practitioners dedicated to women's health care across 80 Connecticut locations. Women's Health CT operates as a joint venture partnership with Physicians for Women's Health, one of the largest single specialty OB-GYN groups in the country.

Women's Health CT and Whusa both launched in 1997, and Bernstein joined them in 1999. By May of 2000, she was promoted from COO to president and CEO of Women's Health CT. In 2017, she became Whusa's president and COO.

Adhering to the motto, "Devoted to women and committed to excellence," Bernstein is "good at helping physicians understand they're running a business," said Andrea Balogh, Whusa's senior vice president of legal and human resources.

Besides enabling physicians to focus on patients, other benefits Spaulding says he is seeing include preserving the autonomy of physicians' practices, and access to affordable malpractice insurance, creative payer contracting and back-office technology that streamlines business operations.

Calling her business acumen "innate" and patient-centered, Spaulding said Bernstein has a knack for "understanding the perspective of all the people at the table." He talks to her weekly.

The Women's Health Texas partnership, which was facilitated by Boston-based private equity firm Sverica Capital, is the first such model for Whusa, Bernstein and Spaulding said, and gives the Austin partner greater access to capital.

"That's something physicians' practices usually don't have — an internal capital base for growth," Spaulding said.

According to Whusa, its partners have experienced 30 percent average compensation growth during the last five years with a compound annual growth rate that is 2.5 times the national average.

Bernstein also is credited with forming Ark Indemnity Inc., a captive insurance company, in 2003, a year after malpractice premiums went from $15,000 to $130,000 and physicians were thinking about leaving the profession and Connecticut.

As a result of the self-insurance program, malpractice costs and the cost of premiums for the group have declined "significantly," they said, declining to say by how much.

Meantime, they said the number of OBGYN physicians working in the Connecticut group has climbed from 130 to 200 and remained steady, with virtually no turnover or exodus.

Bernstein also is adept at working with insurance companies without alienating them, Balogh said. The pressure for the carrier is to keep costs low, while the Women's Health mission statewide and nationally is to ensure physicians are well compensated through insurance carriers.

"We have very constructive, collegial, relationships with every major carrier in the state," Balogh said. "Nobody wants to have an adversarial conversation every time your contract comes up for renewal."

A difficult transition

Bernstein also recently took the initiative to train doctors in how to screen for domestic violence and make appropriate referrals. The initiative led to a Crusader award from the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 2017.

"Through Nancy Bernstein's leadership, Women's Health CT made a deliberate decision to conduct screening in every healthcare visit to identify whether someone is a victim of domestic violence," said Coalition CEO Karen Jarmoc. "They're the only medical provider statewide [to do so]."

Twenty years ago Bernstein was actively recruited to lead Women's Health CT and the transition wasn't easy, she recalled, because she loved her work in planning, marketing and managed-care strategy at the UConn Health Center in Farmington. But the move was worth it.

"I've just grown so much," she said. "It's been exciting to be part of something that makes a difference every day."

Bernstein, who actively mentors other employees, cared for but lost her husband to illness several years ago.

"We've had employees struggle with their own illnesses or a family member becomes ill," Bernstein said. "I went through that and worse, and it makes you realize there are days you care for others and days someone cares for you."


What legacy do you want to leave after your career is over?

Having seen the play 'Hamilton' recently, I've given more thought to leaving a legacy — whether it is planting seeds in a garden you never get to see, or whether it is built on kindness and a genuine concern for the welfare of others. I hope that what I have done in women's health is consistent with Women's Health CT's tag line of 'devoted to women, committed to excellence.'

But more than anything, I hope I made the right choices when I had them. I hope that I raised my daughters right, I hope that I am remembered for the love and care I showed to my husband as he was ill and dying, that I treated my colleagues with respect, and even when I had to do hard things, that no one felt that they were losing their dignity. I hope I have lived an honorable life and helped to make the world and my community a better place.

Return to HBJ's 2019 Women in Business landing page

Most Popular on Facebook
Copyright 2017 New England Business Media