Lauren O’Dwyer, CFO at Anvoi Hospice and Anvoi Management, LLC, has been named a 2022 Future Leader by Hospice News.
Future Leaders are individuals nominated by their peers. Candidates must be a high-performing employee who is 40-years-old or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put vision into action, and an advocate for seniors and the committed professionals who ensure their well-being.
The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with PointClickCare. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of senior housing, skilled nursing, home health, and hospice care.
Anvoi Management is a health care consulting firm and managing company of Lousianna-based providers such as Bridge Hospice, LLC, and New Mexico-based TLC Hospice (doing business as Anvoi Palliative & Hospice Care), among others. Before stepping into the CFO role, O’Dwyer previously served as controller and provided accounting oversight for these hospices and others to help ensure accurate financial representation of each entity.
O’Dwyer recently sat down with Hospice News to discuss how her career took flight into the world of hospice and palliative care accounting and finances, and what is evolving in the industries that will shape the future of financial practices for providers.
What drew you to the hospice industry?
I started my career right out of college in public accounting. I knew that I wanted to make a career change eventually, and saw how the health care industry was evolving, especially here in New Orleans. There was just a lot of opportunity that I really wanted to get involved in here. I thought health care would be an exciting future with where it’s headed and opportunities in improvements of care.
I gravitated towards going into hospice specifically. Care at end of the life is about making things more comfortable for the patient. My grandmother was on hospice, and I saw what that experience did for myself and my family.
The way that it’s evolving and improving is just exceptional. In the hospice industry, you’re making a direct impact on patients and their families, and that is very close to my heart. The patient’s stories are something I wanted to put my experience and knowledge towards and contribute to enhancements in their care and in the future development of hospice.
How have you gotten to the position you’re in now, as a hospice controller?
When I was getting into health care out of public accounting, I knew specifically that hospice was a field that I was interested in.
I can attribute my success to the people in my personal and professional life. I definitely would not be where I’m at today without my family. They’re the biggest supporters who believe in me and my goals each and every day. I’ve also been very blessed to work with such great people in my career thus far. I really have learned, and continue to learn, from the best. I believe that my work ethic, my experience, and my motivation are also very pivotal in my current role as a controller.
Being an assistant controller previously, I was only overseeing certain areas such as accounts payable or cash management and things like that. But I wasn’t as heavily involved in the day-to-day aspect of care, or being able to communicate and help make decisions with nurses or hospice administrators.
Being a controller now, I feel like I have a wider range of the whole scale of the services and I’m more involved in helping companies to follow regulations from agencies like the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). With everything that’s changing in the industry right now, I’m more heavily involved in the decision-making with our hospices and how their care plans handle specific situations as they arise each and every day. As a controller, I have my hands in nearly everything to impact the hospice company as a whole, not as just a specific department or area.
What’s your biggest lesson learned since starting to work in this industry?
Health care was always changing and evolving, but the COVID pandemic has definitely been a huge change that has happened over the last few years. This led to an exacerbation of the nursing shortage, and some changes in reimbursement rates or funding that we’ve had to deal with too, which has obviously been a very new challenge we’ve had to overcome.
These situations that we’ve had to face have definitely been opportunities and learning experiences for leaders in the hospice industry. We had to adjust to a ‘new normal’ with the pandemic. We’ve had to determine and redefine processes and procedures with new regulations from this public health emergency. We’ve had to adjust to employees working from home and what that meant for hospice. This all affects patient care, and the support to administrators, nurses and everyone that’s part of caring for patients.
My personal biggest lesson learned is that you can’t always think that you’re on the right path. COVID has allowed us to basically not be in control of anything and deal with what comes our way. You can have this plan, and then it’s just thrown right out the window with things that you can’t control. You have to shift your thinking and constantly be redeveloping processes and procedures to make the business of things run smoothly and to ensure that patient care is exceptional.
It’s all in how to handle different situations. At the end of it, you can look back and realize what you’ve been through and how much you’ve grown from it. I feel like in this controller role, the amount that I’ve learned is astronomical. The pandemic definitely allowed me to see things and grow personally and professionally with what we’ve all had to deal with.
If you could give advice to yourself looking back to your first day in the industry, what would it be and why?
I would say to just roll with the punches of what you get dealt and how you handle it. The advice I would give is to always be forward-looking and optimistic in how you handle situations and make decisions. You never know what situations you’ll have to go through in this controller role.
You don’t always realize what situations you’ll be handed. It’s figuring out the best way to handle a specific situation and how your decisions today will affect the future outcomes tomorrow.
What has changed the most since you came into the hospice industry?
COVID pandemic has been one of the biggest obstacles any hospice company has had to face. But also, it’s the number of mergers and acquisitions that you see in the industry. These have really increased due to the constant change in the hospice market. Some of these bigger companies are seeing the opportunity with the industry right now, and really looking to the smaller companies as a way to improve and expand on patient care. The most important part of this M&A activity is that it can ultimately benefit the bottom line, which is the hospice patients and their families.
Anvoi Hospice is a smaller to midsize company, and this has really given us the opportunity to not only have the resources that a larger company has, but we also offer growing training in patient care that’s needed. The nature of these mergers and acquisitions are allowing the industry to create economies of scale and utilize each company’s assets in their processes and procedures to improve on certain things and offer a wider range of services to patients and their families.
What do you foresee as being different about hospice looking ahead to 2023? What are you most optimistic about, as well as your biggest concerns?
I see the popularity of home hospice care really increasing compared to facility-based care. The pandemic has shifted this as patients and their families wanted their family members to be with them in the comfort of their home. Hospices are shifting their focus to patients at home as a result. Also, hospices’ marketing will be different as more care is delivered in the home. It’s more word of mouth and you’re in the community more having to pivot where to hold those conversations.
What I’m most optimistic about is the expansion and improvement of patients care plans that allow patients to be comforted sooner in their final stages to combat an increased demand for hospice and palliative care. It’s still such an underserved market, and there’s so much opportunity out there to provide this necessary care to a wider range of individuals. The amount of patients that apply for hospice care, rather than get actually approved for it, is such a huge difference.
I’m also optimistic that mergers and acquisitions, and regulations may be shifting a little bit around how hospice services can be provided to a wider range of individuals. It’s a necessary and very beneficial service.
A big concern is the continued shortage of health care workers, and how this plays a part in the hospice industry. With the pandemic, it’s definitely gotten worse. Hospices have had to be creative in not only using contracted workers, but also having to market their benefits and compensation plans a little bit differently, which sometimes takes a toll on their bottom line, depending upon what their census is. The shortage is a major concern playing a large role in the industry, because we need adequate nurses to care for patients.
If you could change one thing about hospice, what would it be?
A lot of times hospice has a negative connotation to it. Even in the medical community, hospice is often thought of when patients have a few days left to live. But it’s really not the case. It could be years, months, or days. It’s about making these patients comfortable with whatever illness that they have in their last stages of life. The benefits hospice services can provide to people — future development of education and learning about that in the community is really needed.
What is a quality that you think all Future Leaders in hospice must possess?
As a leader in this industry, you really must possess the skill of empathy in order to build and retain a great team who cares for patients and their families in their final stages. Hospice is such a personal service, so having a strong team to do this is very crucial. Caretaker teams can set hospices apart from competitors in their markets.
Strong communication skills also play a huge role in leadership. Keeping all the staff onboard, engaged and educated in properly caring for these patients is critical. Employees who meet together to discuss each patient and their care plans, that’s really up to leaders to facilitate and have staff communicate on what’s needed. It’s working together to provide the most comfort and the best care plan.
Another quality is having a big heart for this work. Leaders really need to have the patient’s wishes at the heart of their plan. That’s very important to have who you care for in mind, that they are there with a great work ethic and not just collecting a paycheck.