CEO OF NORTHERN ARIZONA HEALTHCARE
President and CEO of Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH) Flo Spyrow’s career advice is simple: Follow your heart. And her heart has led her to many different places. She started her career as a nurse working in the neonatal intensive care unit, went to law school and then worked her way up the managerial ladder. Learn more about what the calls the most “rewarding job anyone could have” in our Q&A.
Sedona Monthly: How did you first become interested in health care?
Flo Spyrow: I came from a very traditional family of which service to the community and service to others was a value held strictly within our family. And so I always knew that I would do something to help others, and health care was a natural fit.
Was there a moment when you knew you would go into health care?
I can remember the first Christmas when I got my nurse’s uniform. I was probably eight years old. At that point in time, I never really wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. And really towards the decision-making time of what I was going to do with the rest of my life, I actually wanted to be a physician. My family is very traditional. My mother did not have a career outside the house. They were aghast at that. And so I decided I wanted to be a nurse practitioner instead, but I don’t think there was any real defining moment. It was just something about where my heart was and kept leading back to in multiple opportunities in my life.
Was it hard for you to not have your family supporting your career goals?
No. I think at that point in time, and this probably dates me, I didn’t have friends, for the most part, who were going to have careers. Believe it or not. That wasn’t how we were raised. I have very few friends I went to high school with that have careers. I think I can think of one. It wasn’t probably all of that shocking to me. And I trusted their opinion. I would never now raise my daughter to ever think like that.
Did you struggle with being a woman who wanted a career? Was that something you felt discouraged from?
I think “discouraged” might be the right word. I was encouraged to go to college. It was very important to my family that I go to college. That I worked was not important to them. And they have not always been supportive of my career. Particularly when I had children. When I had a son, they were not supportive of me continuing to work. It’s just something, as I tell many people who come to me for career advice: follow your heart. If you follow your heart, you’ll be very successful because you’ll do something that you love doing. And then it won’t be work. You’ll be OK. And that’s the philosophy that I follow in my life.
Any other career advice you’d like to give?
You have to care deeply for the people that work for you. I think in a leadership role, leadership is all about building relationships. And so you have to be authentic, and you have to care deeply for those who work for you and with you and build strong teams and develop others. One of my most important roles in this job is not to build more services, build more hospitals, but it is to build the future leaders of Northern Arizona Healthcare. So that drives me as a leader.
You’ve worked and lived all over the country. Tell us what you love about this area. How is it different than others you’ve been in?
We love the mountains, the ponderosas. All the different things you can do and see and participate in in Arizona. And the sun shines 300 days versus the Midwest, which is probably about half of that. We appreciate that and the people that are here and being outdoors a lot of the time. What’s the most rewarding part of working in health care? Helping people. When I was a NICU nurse, the gratitude and joy of families, to hand over to them a healthy baby at the end. It’s so rewarding. You have impacted people’s lives in an immeasurable sense. And in administration, I feel like now, my task is to take care of and to serve the leaders and employees here also so they can take care of the patients. And so seeing leaders develop. Seeing people have successes and grow and be successful in their own careers and be able to meet their own personal goals, that’s rewarding to me.
Do you have any advice for people who have been working in an industry for a long time?
I think that we as leaders, and no matter where we are, we cannot accept the status quo. We always have to be the raising the bar, finding new and better ways of doing things. And only be satisfied with perfection, excellence, the very best. And that’s how you keep yourself moving forward and motivated and continuing to grow.
What are the biggest challenges of your job?
Really engaging colleagues and employees and creating work environments where staff and colleagues can find joy in the work that they do. I think that’s a key for all of us in health care. Because if we can do that as leaders, we can provide great care to patients. And I think that’s my biggest challenge. Second of all, the diversity of care requirements in Northern Arizona. From the reservation, which we are committed to caring for—the distance travel and the needs of multiple populations. From college students to retirees within our communities. I think there are more than enough challenges in health care to keep anybody busy. But with the challenges, also come huge rewards and being able to provide high-quality, affordable health care to people throughout Arizona. This is probably the most rewarding job and career anybody can have. We use the best medical billing company so we can focus on high quality care and not on money!
What’s it like being a woman in your field?
I can tell you that many times in my career, I came up against the good old boy network of which women executives were excluded from and not always mentored to take on more and more roles. So I have felt that, and I have experienced that. You have to be a great leader. And being a woman doesn’t make it any more challenging for me than a male counterpart. From a leader’s perspective, you still have to be a great leader to be successful in this business. I don’t think men have any advantage over that than women do.
Were there any significant turning points in your life?
Going to law school and working as in-house counsel in a health care system where I really got to be part of the top two or three leaders there developing strategy and implement key infinitives. That was a really great experience for me because it was really different for me coming up through the clinical ranks. And so for about eight years when I did that, I really learned another view and another skill set of leading that I brought back into administration … But it gave me a much broader perspective about strategy implementation …We did all of these things that as a CNO, or in many other roles in the organization, I would not have had a significant role in. So I would say that that was a turning point. And then with a point in my career that I resigned from an organization that I had worked for for probably 20 years because it was no longer an ethical or value stint for me as a health care leader. And that taught me a lot about what’s important to us, about following your heart and about how success, for a large degree, is dependent on fit. Not people. And that was a really, really hard decision … If you can’t support the leader you’re working for and the organization you’re with, then it’s time to go. There’s no amount of money that can make you do that and do that sincerely. And you have to be sincere in your leadership.
BOARD MEMBER WITH NAH
President and CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau, Jennifer Wesselhoff, has a brand-new role: she’s now a board member for Northern Arizona Healthcare. She was asked to join the board back in May 2019, and she, in her words, “humbly accepted.” In her role as a board member, she serves as a member of the governing body of the hospital. Keep in mind that this is in addition to overseeing all aspects of Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau, Visitor Center, Film Office and the RunSedona events. Discover how she juggles so much, her best tips on staying healthy and her favorite Sedona trails.
Sedona Monthly: Why did you decide to join the board of Northern Arizona Healthcare?
Jennifer Wesselhoff: Mostly because I was asked to serve. I most likely wouldn’t have volunteered myself. The board felt that I could be a valued voice, so I humbly accepted. Northern Arizona Healthcare keeps Northern Arizona and the entire Verde Valley healthy. I can’t think of a more critical institution. Who wouldn’t want to be involved? I’m honored to be among such a distinguished group of health care practitioners and executive talent, as well as people prominent in business and government leadership in Northern Arizona. It is an excellent and well-balanced board. Access to quality care is critical to the quality of life of everyone in the region as well as to our visitors and our economy. In terms of economic development, among the top considerations for potential businesses considering the region is health care for their families and employees. It is absolutely critical to our economic health that NAH continues to grow and improve.
With Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff and so much more, our region is a nationally known destination and our visitors expect top quality health care – and they use it. The Sedona Fire District reported last year that about 25 percent of their resources were needed to respond to visitors. Many of them received treatment or lab services at the NAH Sedona or Cottonwood clinics. So again, it goes back to offering services our residents and customers need – and access to excellent health is critical for sustainable, balanced quality of life and economic growth. I’m learning how I can contribute most effectively. Flo and the board have been very welcoming. I think the perspective I bring from a business management, tourism and economic development perspective will add value to the board’s strategic considerations.
How do you find the time?
I always find time to be involved in work that has value to the community and where I can make a difference.
Why did you feel like it was the right time for you to join the board of Northern Arizona Healthcare?
I had just finished leading two major planning initiatives in both Sedona (the Sustainable Tourism Plan) and the Long Range Strategic Plan for the Verde Valley. The City of Sedona is also finalizing their economic diversification plan. Medical services and access to professional, high level care were identified in all of these initiatives. So, I felt that my role on the board might be able to advance – or at least provide a voice for the desired visions of Sedona and the Verde Valley. I also feel that access to health care is a critical part of a strong community, and I wanted to be part of making it a vital force in the area.
Can you tell me about you do specifically as a board member?
The role of a board member is to serve as the governing body of the hospital. The board is responsible for oversight of the hospital. Board responsibilities include: making strategic decisions for the hospital, hiring and monitoring an effective CEO, ensuring the hospital is providing quality care, overseeing the hospital’s financial well-being, staying educated in health care industry news and best practices, being a representative of the hospital in the community. Part of this responsibility is making major strategic decisions on behalf of the hospital in this ever-changing health care industry. Setting this overall tone will impact the policies, procedures and decisions made by management. The board is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the hospital.
What you have learned since joining the board?
I learned that healthcare is extremely complex, quickly changing and evolving. From advances in technology and quality measurements, patient care, to insurance and payer mix to dealing with crisis management – like Covid-19. I learned that the team at NAH is dedicated, passionate, professional and very qualified to lead the community into a new era of health care excellence. I learned that I have a lot to learn.
Have you always been interested in health?
Yes, I learned long ago that professional and personal development requires you to take care of mental and physical health and well-being. I’m a hiker, runner, swimmer, cyclist, yoga practitioner, and meditation is very important to my daily practice. A large segment of our Chamber partners are in the fields of outdoor activity, health and wellness – so being healthconscious is in the air in Sedona. Our transition to sustainable tourism includes improved water quality, reduced energy use, and keeping our air and environment pollution free – which will have a long-range positive impact on public health. I’m excited to work with the board on this and so many other issues.
You’re obviously a very busy person who juggles plenty of professional responsibility. What would you suggest to others who want to maintain a work/life balance?
Be deliberate with your life. Focus on what’s important to you. Make goals – and review them daily. Be present.
What are your best and easy tips on staying healthy?
- Have passion and purpose. They will keep you focused, energized and engaged, which creates satisfaction that’s good for your mental and physical health.
- Do not deprive yourself of sleep. Drink lots of water.
- Do not deprive yourself of exercise – any is better than none. Walk where you’re going, whenever possible.
- Learn the value of even a few minutes of downtime during the day and breathe.
- Use your vacation time.
Are there any women you admire or look up to? Why?
This might be a cop out, but I’d have to say my mom, Barbara Combs. She is absolutely the strongest person I know. She raised five kids (I’m the baby.), endured grave losses and hardships, and she still manages to be positive, thoughtful and generous. She was an entrepreneur, owned her own business and instilled strong values in her children. She raised me to be hard working, kind, caring and generous. She is my rock, my sounding board and my true inspiration.
Do you have any favorite hiking trails?
I love to hike near my home in Uptown Sedona. My favorite after-work run is from Jordan Trail to Devil’s Kitchen to Ant Hill via Grand Central Trail back home. It’s a nice 5-mile loop that helps me clear my mind and my heart. It reminds me of the great big world we live in, and what a small part of it I am.
BETH DUPREE, M.D.
BOARD-CERTIFIED GENERAL SURGEON
Beth DuPree, M.D., is a busy woman. During our interview, Beth is taking phone calls from one of her three cell phones during a break in our interview at her West Sedona office. She’s a board-certified general surgeon who specializes in diseases of the breast, and she has more than two decades of experience. Her approach to treatment includes a mix of Eastern and Western medicine. A box of rose quartz sits on her desk for her patients. She started medical school in Philadelphia in 1983, worked at hospitals in the area and left in 2017 to move to Sedona – a place she felt called to. But she took time out of her packed schedule to discuss being a woman in medicine, what she hopes the breast cancer program she’s creating will accomplish and her devotion to her patients.
Sedona Monthly: How did you become interested in health care?
Beth DuPree: According to my mama, I started talking about becoming a doctor in second grade. And what that coincided with was my brother, who was 10 years older than me, was diagnosed with Chron’s disease … Watching him be in and out of the hospital with a chronic illness like Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It just kind of gave me perspective for how important health is. Our health is our greatest of wealth. Steve Jobs had all the money in the world. But you can’t buy health. So many people don’t recognize how precious their life is until they’re confronted with a health issue. And so I knew I wanted to be a doctor from a young age. My niece, Jen, was born with a cleft lip. So I always thought I was going to be a plastic surgeon. And then I played sports in high school and in college, and I was going be an orthopedic surgeon. And then I flipped back and was going to be a plastic surgeon. Wherever I was, I fell in love with what I was doing because there’s good parts of all of it. And, and in the end, in my surgical residency, my chief resident had a drug problem and ended up going off to drug rehab so I became chief of the breast cancer services as a third year. And I knew then that that was what I wanted to do. Becoming a general surgeon that cares for breast disease allowed me to not just do the reconstructions of a plastic surgeon, but actually walk on that journey with women and men who had breast cancer. We outsourced our billing to PCS Revenue Cycle Management so we were able to focus on quality patient care and not have to worry about the finances.
Why specialize in treating breast cancer patients?
Because I often say to patients: the surgery that I do to you or with you or on you is the least important thing that I will do for you. And they look at me kind of funny. I’m a really good surgeon. I have good hands. I have great surgical skills. I did general surgery for 14 years, so I can give you any kind of operation. I knew that I could do any aspect of surgery that I wanted to. But that with breast cancer, it’s the fear that paralyzes someone at the diagnosis. And so I can cut out the cancer, but the only way to cut out the fears is through education and integrative therapies and nutrition and education and walking with someone along that journey. And so that was a really, really big important piece of what I needed to do.
How did you end up in Sedona?
I was called to Sedona. Sedona pulled me. The vortex sucked me in. I was very happy in my job. I loved my partners. I surprised me that I came here when I did.
Tell us about your past trips to Sedona.
We came to Sedona every year for 17 years. Because my kids loved it. But today for the first time, I was thinking, I wonder if my kids picked this place, too, because they knew that the minute my feet touched the red rocks. I changed. I was just calmer. And I was present. And we hiked. And I wasn’t on the phone all the time. And I wasn’t checking back at the hospital. And so Sedona kind of became that place for me.
Why did you move to Sedona?
I was very happy at Holy Redeemer Hospital. I loved my partners. I loved my practice. And it was easy because it I had been doing it for so long. But in Philadelphia, there’s lots of options, lots of breast surgeons. We had three at our hospital. There were two at the hospital down the street. And there was nobody here. And there was a lot of opportunity to elevate the level of care, just provide higher quality care in our own community. And I had the conversation with myself and said, “If you ever really want to retire here someday, you need to change the way care is provided. You need to be the change. You need to be that person.” It’s the Gandhi moment. You need to be that person to get in there and dig your heels in and say, “I want this to be a program that will live far beyond me.” Which is what my program at Redeemer did. The goal wasn’t to make Beth DuPree Breast Cancer. The goal is to make NAH Breast Health Program so that this program lives. So that when I’m an old lady and I’m climbing Bear Mountain – God willing – and I’m not working, everybody in this community is going to get the kind of care that we’ll be proud of. And getting accredited as a center of excellence, it’s a big deal. It’s a lot of work. But now, patients in our community can, instead of saying “Well, I need to go to Phoenix for…” It’s, “You’re welcome to go to Phoenix if you want to, but we’re here to take care of you as well.”
Any career highlights you’d like to share with us?
The patients are the best because they’re the constant source of my “why.” You make a difference in their life. This morning going into surgery, they feel safe with me being there with them. And you know, it’s corny, but it’s the physician’s love that heals not the scalpel. It’s the connection that you make with another human being. Why combine both approaches of both Eastern and Western medicine? Because they both have great gifts.
What’s it like being a female surgeon?
When I went into surgery, it was not really a field that women were welcomed in. It’s the old boy’s club. And I love being accepted as a skilled surgeon. It should have nothing to do with whether I’m a man or woman. I have good hands. I can operate. I had my chairman at where I went to med school, who told me when I told him I wanted to be a surgeon, I rotated on the service. He would ask us all after our first week: “What do you want to do?” “Dr. Matsumoto, I want to be a surgeon.” He goes, “Why do you want do that?” I said, “That’s who I am. I want to be a surgeon.” He goes, “You’ve got nice legs. You’re cute. You can be a pediatrician, and make babies. And I said, “Well, Dr. Matsumoto. That’s lovely.” It was kind of sexist and inappropriate and human resource red flags. I said, “Here’s the deal. I’m going to be a surgeon, whether you give me a letter of recommendation or not. But at the end of 12 weeks, if you don’t believe that I have what it takes to be a surgeon, and you’re honest with me, I’m not going to ask you for a letter of recommendation. But that’s not going to stop me from doing this.” I said, “This is who I am. This is who I’m going to be. I’m going to be a surgeon, whether you believe I can do it or not.” And he did write me a letter. And then I stole his chief of research, which is my husband.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I feel very blessed. This has probably been the toughest two-and-a-half years coming out here. To start from scratch is hard. To be the outsider is hard. Every patient, every day … My humanitarian work, my foundation, the things that I’m trying to do is to help patients heal. That’s my real passion. I’m a surgeon because it’s a lot easier to be a healer as a doctor than it is to be a Reiki practitioner. But helping people healing on their journeys, whether it’s from depression or anxiety or cancer, or a tragic loss or change of career. Healing is what it’s all about.