Structured Routines for Operational Excellence and Daily Continuous Improvement

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

In recent articles, I have written extensively about the need for manufacturers to invest more heavily in technology, innovation, automation, and workforce development to counter the issues they continue to face due to the pandemic. Even when manufacturers find the raw materials they need for their operations, and they invest in their equipment and people, and successfully perform all the other daily “blocking and tackling” of manufacturing operations management.  Many companies still find themselves stuck in neutral and searching for answers to move the proverbial needle. How do these types of manufacturers find growth in productivity and sales? How do they sustain their continuous improvement efforts? Today I will share an incredibly impactful approach to operational excellence and daily continuous improvement that progressive manufacturers are using to reach that next level of performance.

When problems are visible, manufacturers can utilize well-established lean tools and techniques to solve them. However, when the issues are less visible and their root causes are not as obvious, a systematic, scientific way of thinking and acting is required to solve them and sustain the improvements. For this, we need managers as the teachers of that system. Scientific thinking is a basis for successfully pursuing seemingly unattainable goals in complex systems. This type of thinking also enables teams to make decisions close to the action and maneuver effectively and efficiently. Scientific thinking is a routine of intentional coordination between what we think will happen (theory), what actually happens (evidence), and adjusting based on what we learn from the difference.

Katas are structured routines that are practiced deliberately so that their patterns become second nature and leave the practitioners with new abilities that are meant to be built upon. The word “Kata” has roots in martial arts, where they are used to train participants in fundamental moves, but the idea of a Kata can be applied in manufacturing operations. Katas are for learning fundamental skills that you can build on.  They are a way of transferring skills and developing shared abilities and mindset in a team or organization. Combining a scientific pattern with structured practice routines contributes to the development of effective problem solvers.  Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata make scientific thinking a skill that anyone can learn by combining a four-step scientific pattern along with simple, structured routines for practicing the pattern.

How does it work in actuality? The four-step scientific pattern is as follows: 1- Set the direction or challenge for the organization. 2- Grasp the current conditions. 3- Establish your next target condition that represents a step toward the direction or challenge. 4- Conduct experiments to achieve that next target condition. And what do you do once you successfully reach that next target condition?  Establish another incremental target condition that represents yet another step toward the direction or challenge. Once this routine is practiced enough, it becomes second nature. When employees at all levels of an organization are performing in this systemic manner, it quickly transforms into a high-performance culture able to tackle any obstacle it encounters.  Some of you reading this might be thinking that this type of an approach is probably best suited for larger manufacturers, but Kata can be practiced in organizations of any size. In reality, some of the most impactful results actually come from small to mid-sized manufacturers.

As mentioned previously, when the issues are less visible, we need a systematic, scientific way of thinking and acting to solve problems and sustain the improvements. Kata is an incredibly powerful approach to daily continuous improvement. TDO’s team is fully certified to help manufacturers learn and implement these skills and develop the necessary coaches to sustain the habits. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.

In Protection of Growth

By: Jason D. Nickerson, CFP®, EA, Executive Vice President &Chief Operating Officer, John G. Ullman & Associates

There is a reason cybersecurity is recognized as one of the critical issues facing businesses today. The security of your personal finances is just as important and this area of financial planning needs much more attention than it is getting in large part because most advisors do not take the time to get a full understanding of their client’s full wealth.  Outside of adjusting your investments when the market seems shaky, when was the last time you really thought about mitigating risk for you and your family?  If you have thought about this recently, did you take any steps to address it?

Below are a number of items that we often overlook, yet in many cases are easy to address.

Umbrella Liability Policy:  You would be surprised at the number of families we come across that either still do not have one or they have one that does not come close to adequately covering their level of risk.  Does your insurance agent know your net worth? Have you discussed ALL the risks of liability in your life with them?  It’s not uncommon for insurance agents to be given enough information to get their policies in place, then move towards a “set it and forget” position and it’s too late when they find out their coverage isn’t adequate.

Credit Freeze:  Recall the 2017 Equifax breach? This is an institution that serves as the gateway to our credit score and therefore has all our precious information.  It is becoming our standard practice to take a hands-on approach with our clients and put credit freezes in place. If left to their own volition to handle, it typically doesn’t get done.  We do this because it has gotten much easier to temporarily “thaw” your credit and re-freeze when you decide to look at new lines of credit.

Credit Card Alerts: Generally, credit card companies will cover you in the case of fraudulent expenditures.  However, if you are not paying close enough attention the process may become onerous when you catch charges months down the road.  As a way to be more proactive, set alerts on your card(s) to receive text messages when they are used.  Consider setting low limits for the alerts as fraudsters tend to test their scalping of card information with some small purchases before they go for the big one.

Footprint: We are often conditioned to think “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  Have you applied that concept to the number of financial institutions with which you have relationships?  You might have, even inadvertently.  You think that if there is a breach with one of those companies, you still have others available to you.  What if you turned your thinking and made yourself harder to find in the first place?  Reducing the spread of your information and financial transactions may be a more secure way to operate.

What else? Our advice and work with clients in this area goes further and is an active part of our relationship. Here are a few other ideas for you to consider:

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) on personal devices: Yes, this can be very beneficial. There are companies both very well-known and lesser known with great subscription options to protect your online dealings through personal devices, including your cell phone and tablet.
  • Credit Monitoring Service: Maybe.  You would be providing a substantial amount of personal information to yet another company.  We have worked with clients to set up simple systems to monitor this on their own, without the use of one of these companies, with a combination of tactics mentioned above in addition to some others not mentioned.
  • Two Factor Authentication whenever available: Yes, and the old advice of changing passwords regularly still applies as well.

I believe this area of financial planning does not get enough attention and it needs to get much more.  You see, we believe in protection planning first, then growth. Why? You cannot grow what is not there.

To learn more about what John G. Ullman & Associates, Inc. can do for you, visit or email

Meeting Patients Where They Are

Robert J. Corona DO, MBA, is CEO of Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, NY

In our health system, we are making an ongoing commitment to meet people “where they are.” This is not just a physical location. It is also where they are in their age, health trajectory and personal lives — as well as what they expect from the care they are receiving.

It is also the basis for our strategic direction. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky made this statement famous: he skated “to where the puck was going.”

For us in healthcare, that will mean anticipating the direction and getting in place to meet our patients where they are now and where they will be.

In particular, we want to treat people sooner — to meet them before they have the acute needs that require a hospital stay. We want to keep people out of the hospital and treated in a less acute care setting so only the most seriously ill are in a hospital bed. Toward that end, we are working on new programs that allow patients to schedule their own follow ups and to have an easier path to a telehealth appointment within our electronic medical record system. The more we can help busy people schedule the type of medical appointment that suits them best, the more likely they are to keep the visit and learn if there is any health issue that needs to be addressed at its earliest point.

This year, we also launched a “hospital at home” initiative that allows a discharge to home while still being cared for as a hospital patient. This is different from a telehealth visit, as the patient has more equipment and monitoring, but the ideas are similar. Changes like these allow care to be delivered — when medically possible — in the manner closest to what a patient wants for his or her care.

At Upstate University Hospital, we have also decided not to talk about the “hospital of the future.” This wording makes the next entity sound remote — as if it is in some far off state, detached from what we are doing today — when, in fact, it is emerging all around us.

These are the components of hospital-based healthcare we are delivering today:

  • Inpatient: patients in the traditional hospital setting
  • Ambulatory: patients seen in a doctor’s office or outpatient center
  • Virtual: telehealth visit using a phone, tablet or computer
  • Hospital-at-home care: where the patient is ill enough to need hospital treatment but stable enough to have it delivered in the home setting.

New directions for where this care takes place are tied to our overall strategic pillars of quality, experience, innovation and sustainability. These pillars have survived the stressors of an intense time in healthcare and will support us in a post-pandemic world as well.

In March, I attended a conference with other academic hospital CEOs. We all face the same issues with staffing and capacity, so solutions are necessary to create a new workforce model that delivers safety and quality. We will support this with more automation for routine jobs (such as using robots instead of staff for deliveries and improving computer-based AI) and enabling staff to use that time gained back to allow them to work to the top of their license. We also realize that these professionals answered the call at a time like no other. I hope every person at our hospital — within its walls or beyond them — realize how extraordinary they are.

I recently read “The Hero Code” by Admiral William H. McRaven.  Our extraordinary people have followed that code with a duty to each other, courage in the face of danger, significant sacrifice, perseverance and compassion in a defining moment in history.

Robert J. Corona DO, MBA, is CEO of Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, NY and is the John B. Henry Professor and Senior Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs in the College of Medicine.  Previous roles at Upstate include Chief Innovation Officer and Associate Dean for Industry and Academic Relations, and the endowed chair for the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. He also served for many years as chief medical officer and vice president of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Welch Allyn Inc.

Chianis + Anderson Architects: Twenty Years of Building Relationships

By Becca Taurisano

Greg A. Chianis and Todd J. Anderson founded the Binghamton-based architectural firm of Chianis + Anderson, on a simple premise: do what you say you will do. The two colleagues had worked together previously and after a brief hiatus, they reconnected at a local fundraising event. In 2001, they opened Chianis + Anderson Architects and in 2006, Jeffery T. Smith became their partner. Now twenty years later, the firm has 19 employees and is housed in the historic Davidge Mansion located at 31 Front Street on Binghamton’s West Side.


Chianis, Anderson, and Smith are actively involved in every project the firm takes on, giving clients confidence that there is continuity in direction from the top down. That hands-on model was important to the partners in determining what the firm culture should look like, as well as wanting to maintain a good reputation with both clients and contractors alike. “It’s important to have a partner involved in every project so the client sees that the project means something to us and it’s being looked after by a comprehensive team,” says Smith.

Having an implicit understanding of construction is important to the partners as well. “You don’t really know how to design something unless you first know how to build it. We are very practical with what and how we design. This has gotten us a long way in our relationships with contractors. Each project should be practically designed and then constructed,” says Chianis.

“Our team understands construction,” says Anderson. “It is always a challenge to communicate from a desk to the guy on site standing knee-deep in mud, but our people are very good at that. If there are questions from the contractors, we are very responsive. We will go onsite and stand in the mud with them. Not every firm subscribes to that idea.”


Chianis + Anderson has an assortment of residential, hospitality, commercial, and senior housing/nursing home clients, but about 80% of their projects are in the healthcare industry. “It means a lot to design a healthcare space that is welcoming and healing, that makes people less afraid and more comfortable. Any time we work on a healthcare facility, we try to make a difference in someone’s experience,” says Chianis.

In 2007, Chianis was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and at the same time was finishing the expansion of the cancer care center for United Health Services in Johnson City. “One day I was the project architect in charge of this renovation and expansion, and the next day I’m sitting in a treatment chair getting chemo in a space that I designed. I saw things from a very different point of view, as a patient. That experience has made me into a stronger person and a better designer,” he says.

From considering how a patient would feel walking in to get a mammogram for the first time, to what sort of items are stored in the cabinets of the nurses’ station, the team at Chianis + Anderson strives to consider every aspect of the experience, down to the artwork on the walls. “Artwork is known to be a healing element in a healthcare setting,” says Chianis. He worked with local artists to commission works for the United Health Services Vestal Primary Care project and even has a few of his own photographs on the walls.


Regardless of if it is a multi-million dollar project or a $200,000 addition on a private residence, delivering quality and providing excellent customer service is the goal. Many of the firm’s clients have been with them since the beginning. “We try to provide the best service possible to every customer no matter the size or scope of the project. Everybody deserves our best,” says Chianis.

Anderson likes to work on the more challenging projects and is well-versed in building codes. “Many of our clients are very code and regulation driven. I can provide better service to them if I am the person they call with a regulatory question or problem. It is not about billing every hour, it’s about building that relationship,” he says.

Balancing the client’s needs and the contractor’s needs is key. “Everyone these days is tight on budget and tight on schedule. We need to be able to respond quickly so we can keep the project moving. The contractors appreciate our responsiveness. We find the solution that will work for everyone,” says Anderson.


Chianis + Anderson is locally owned and locally operated. As a mid-size architectural and interior design firm, they take on projects of all sizes within a three-hour radius, as far away as Philadelphia. With an average of 120 projects per year over the last 20 years, Chianis + Anderson has left its mark on the skyline of Binghamton and surrounding areas. “The impact we’ve left in our immediate community with the number of buildings we’ve designed – healthcare, residential, businesses, restaurants – it’s pretty vast,” says Chianis.

Smith’s passion is historical preservation, and he is currently working with Temple Concord on the Kilmer Mansion including re-building three stone chimneys, four stories in the air. Smith says he enjoys being able to walk to the project site, climb up the scaffolding, meet with the masons, and take pictures of the project. “The local projects are fun. It’s our backyard and we need to take care of our own area,” says Smith.

Chianis + Anderson also gives back to the community through helping non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity, whom they have worked with at no cost for over a decade. “For us,” says Smith, “it’s not just the work you do in the office, it’s how you conduct yourself in the community. We work with local non-profit organizations, and sit on a number of local boards, commissions, and steering committees. You want to put your absolute best foot forward where you live.”


Not every project is a piece of cake, but the firm prides itself on solving their clients’ problems. Anderson says the most challenging projects are some of their rural healthcare clients, because of their budget limitations. “It is a challenge to meet the needs of the community and the regulatory requirements, all while staying within budget.”

Every person at the firm is expected to do what it takes to get the project completed, including the partners themselves. “One of the things we do as partners, is we step up and do what we have to do. We are all in it together and we have to deliver for the client. That’s key to any successful firm,” says Smith.

For Smith, he says it can be uncomfortable talking to clients about issues with a project, but that honesty is essential. “They might not like to hear our advice, but that’s what we are hired for. There can be some bumps along the way and it’s our job to communicate that.”

In the Northeast, architects face challenges with the age of the buildings, environmental issues such as asbestos, and buildings being completely occupied while work is being done, Chianis explains. “It doesn’t get more complex than an invasive hospital renovation project. Part of it is the enjoyment of the challenge.”


Jeffery Smith was looking for a career and not a job when he joined Chianis + Anderson in 2004. The partners want their staff to look at the firm the same way. “Our office has not expanded and contracted based on the economy. If you’re with us, you’re with us. In today’s world, stability is very hard to come by. I want it for myself, and I want it for our staff,” says Smith.

Chianis + Anderson boasts a 65% female workforce and a welcoming, family-like culture. Chianis says he is extremely proud of his employees and the work ethic they bring to every project.  “We are very selective about who we hire because this is a family. We want them to have the right attitude and skillset, but we want them to fit in with the existing employees. We want this to be a career, not just a job,” says Chianis.

The partners create that family atmosphere by hosting team outings like miniature golf, kayaking, and cooking classes. “At our company events we try to change the focus from work to who we are as people. It is important to talk to our employees about things other than business,” says Smith. From picking up bagels in the morning to putting a ping pong table in the back room, the partners try to make the environment fun for employees. Educational development is emphasized as well by providing lunch and learn sessions, encouraging employees to attend professional conferences, and promoting continuing education opportunities.


The future looks bright for Chianis + Anderson, with an eye on creating a legacy the partners can be proud of. While they strive for growth, they hope the small office feel and partner involvement in projects continues. Part of building that legacy will be to nurture some of their younger leadership and mentor them into future owners and partners. “We have a lot of people who have the ability to lead,” Chianis says, “the idea is to take [the firm], build on it, and continue doing what we’re doing.”

Anderson says he is excited to see what the future holds for the architectural industry as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s a new world out there and it will be interesting to see where we go from here. What will the result be from these supply chain issues? In the past we have relied on basic building materials from other countries, so hopefully we will look within our own borders moving forward so we can avoid these interruptions in the future. As we have seen, the world can change in an instant.”

Smith hopes that the work they are doing makes a lasting impression. “There are a lot of historic buildings in the area,” Smith says, “I just hope that in the future people understand that just like every picture has a photographer, every building has an architect. There were design professionals who made that building a possibility and hopefully for that building to be around for a long time to come.”


Chianis + Anderson had planned to move offices when the historic Davidge Mansion at 31 Front Street suddenly became available. A developer was planning to turn the 1903 landmark into student housing, but the City of Binghamton put a stop to those plans. Chianis + Anderson made an offer and was able to purchase the building. “It’s a total gem,” says Chianis, “we could not have designed anything better for ourselves.”

The firm had not moved out of their old office building when COVID 19 happened, so they were unsure about whether to push forward with renovating the Davidge Mansion or pause the work. Ultimately, they decided to continue the renovation and preservation of the building and as soon as it was safe to do so, they brought staff to the new offices. The entire team moved themselves in over a two-day period, including over 300 file boxes, furniture, books, computers, equipment and belongings. Now staff from similar departments are grouped together, changing the flow of the office and allowing employees to interact more easily. “It’s changed the culture for the better and allowed us to share knowledge and information faster,” says Smith.

While they have done considerable work to the mansion, there is more to be done. “It’s not just a storefront,” Anderson says, “we are saving a historic building. The community is thankful for that.” Chianis hopes that the Davidge Mansion is part of the legacy of the firm down the road. Smith says that if Chianis + Anderson had not purchased the building, the Davidge Mansion would have been destroyed. “We are really part of the community now,” Smith says, “the building is not going anywhere, and neither are we.”

For more information, visit

Time to Leverage this Moment and Invest in the Future

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

I was hopeful that by this time in 2021 that we would have put a majority of the supply chain disruptions and COVID issues behind us, but here we are once again. Groundhog Day anyone? Manufacturers are still combatting supply chain issues and raw material sourcing obstacles. Even when they are able to find what they need for their operations, price increases are eroding margins and making life much more difficult. On top of that, significantly increased demand from all of the delayed plans and purchases from last year are now happening as manufacturers are trying to adopt new technologies into their production processes. Lastly, employee recruiting and retention continues to be a major challenge for manufacturers. Companies are trying to figure out how to manage all of these challenges at the same time while warding off a global pandemic.

As we talked about earlier this year, these major challenges also represent massive opportunities. What the leadership of every manufacturer needs to understand immediately is how their organizations can take advantage of these trends in order to grow their business as much as possible while also planning for the future. With the increased interest in reshoring and nearshoring, manufacturers should be looking at ways to invest in future competitiveness and scale to take advantage of the enormous trade shift that is occurring. They should also be looking to create a stronger supplier ecosystem closer to home. This will enable stronger ties and allow them to work more closely with customers and suppliers. The end result of all of this will be a stronger, more agile, and more controllable supply chain. Overall, the supply chain will be much less susceptible to the types of disruptions that we continue to see from the global pandemic.

Manufacturing skills have also been altered dramatically during the ongoing pandemic. There is a much greater need for manufacturers to take a more proactive approach that focuses more heavily on workforce development and future skill needs. This means that manufacturers should be looking to provide increased training opportunities for new workers along with helping existing workers upskill their knowledge and capabilities. Increased automation requires a rethinking of manufacturing roles, especially for employees whose jobs are most affected. Manufacturers should also come to grips with the fact that this will likely not be a temporary condition, but a fundamental shift in overall workforce development needs.

Our country has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reposition itself on the world’s manufacturing stage. Manufacturers should be leveraging this moment to invest in the future and really look at their technology and workforce needs to take that next incremental step forward. In a world that is divided in several ways, there is one thing that most everyone can agree upon: manufacturing will never be the same, and it is clear that the old way of operating is no longer an acceptable strategy. TDO’s skilled team has the perfect blend of industry and technical experience, along with a vast partner network and access to lucrative funding, to assist those manufacturers that are interested in taking that next transformational step. Reach out today for a free consultation.

Return to Work Takes on a New Meaning?

By: Pierre Morrisseau

I thought I would share our recent attempts to bring our employees back together face to face, a topic I think is a priority with most business leaders. I also want to share why we think returning to the office and to some level of “normal” is so important.

First, a look backward: Mere days after the pandemic was announced, we celebrated our success at moving all of our more than 200 employees in 18 locations to work-from-home status. Because of our work over the past decade perfecting remote work and video meetings to better serve our clients anywhere at any time, we were able to have everyone up and running in just days.

Now, as the pandemic drags on—heading towards two years—bringing our employees back into the office continues to present enormous frustration and challenges including:

  • Childcare challenges for parents
  • Caregivers in proximity to vulnerable loved ones
  • Schooling and scheduling through continual change in status
  • Fear of contracting the virus from others in the office
  • Increasing infection rates even amongst the vaccinated
  • Changing employee attitudes towards the flexibility of working at home
  • And not least of which, COVID fatigue

Add to this multiple-variant-related surges in infections, and companies everywhere are facing the very real possibility of a permanently altered workplace.

In a recent Korn Ferry survey, 20% of employers said they did not expect to return employees to work until well into 2022 and 32% said that they would never return to an office. This is highly disturbing for companies like ours that believe strongly that collaborating faced to face is essential to solving clients’ most pressing challenges. It is this belief that is guiding us to try new ways to bring our teams back together safely and in a way that employees will feel good about.

Like many firms, we have experimented with rotating small groups into our offices for one to three days each week. In our largest office in Syracuse, this means about thirty people on any given day. All of the usual sanitary precautions and procedures are in place including mask wearing when not at your desk or when you cannot maintain at least six feet of distance from another. Over time, we have had nearly 100% of our employees back into their offices at least one day per week.

As employees became more comfortable with the idea of coming to work, we began instituting a few events including a carnival-like outdoor event with food trucks, dunk tank, games and more. These events were designed to help ease employees’ fear while helping them to relearn connectedness.

Most recently, we held our first large-scale meeting, inviting employees from all our offices to meet at a large offsite venue for a full day we called
Better Together. Our greater objective was to pull people out of their remote work areas with plenty of good food, fun and safe camaraderie. We also wanted to take the time to reinforce how important working face to face is to achieving our mission of solving problems for our clients, helping people, and supporting our communities.

We invited in organizational excellence and leadership development experts, Daneli Partners, to administer a Gallup®  assessment with all attendees. The assessments outlined each person’s strengths and weaknesses and became the basis of the day’s meeting. With data, we were able to graphically see how diverse our workforce is and begin to imagine teams where those strengths may be paired perfectly to create super teams. We then paired teams to work together to solve puzzles.

At the end of the day, everyone had a great time seeing and being with each other again. They learned new things about themselves and their peers and renewed bonds. More importantly, it was just one more step in what will likely be a long process of returning our employees to the workplace.

I would love to hear what others are doing to bring their employees back, and always willing to share what we are doing at OneGroup.

Building a Workplace That Cares

By Scott Jessie, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, Chief Nursing Officer, Upstate University Hospital

Scott Jessie, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, is the Chief Nursing Officer at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, NY. He has more than 20 years’ experience in the health care field, including 14 years of progressive leadership roles in the ICU, Emergency Services and the COVID-19 response team. He has earned many awards during his career, holds a master’s degree in nursing and is currently pursuing an MBA. 

The healthcare business is not the only one looking to attract and retain the best staff, but it is one of the most publicized — and among the most complicated. At Upstate, like all hospitals, nursing is the largest occupation, so we also have the greatest numbers to attract and retain.

The healthcare workforce shortage is a long-haul situation, not a six-month event. Recovery from this industry-disrupting event will take years to address. Over time, we will bounce back and will have to develop new ways of doing things. The more talent we can retain to begin with, the less we will have to rebuild.

Wellness must be incorporated into the new healthcare workforce paradigm. Nurses are the largest group of employees, but all roles need support and a work environment that cares for them as much as they care for the patients. Improving wellness support and activities will have a fundamental ripple effect for all.

Respect what they have been through, and respect them

Nurses and healthcare staff were the heroes last year. The glow has faded but their core work is the same. Two years into the pandemic no other job has seen the collective death toll of COVID, except perhaps funeral homes. We all know in nursing that you’re going to take care of people who are going to die. I worked in an ICU for almost 20 years and took care of a lot of patients who died, but this outpaces any normal expectations. And it’s across all age spectrums, which is devastating. People have been so emotionally impacted by that. This extreme situation has to be acknowledged. This has caused a never-before-seen amount of distress among all staff and we must find ways to support and help those affected.

Make Wellness more than a buzzword

Nurses and others at the front lines of care are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. The emotional toll is overwhelming for many. We need to provide ways to decompress from work while at work and at home. None of us have lived through a pandemic before, but the experience for healthcare workers has been even more unique. Things aren’t normal at home, and things at work have remained exceptionally challenging as we have now gone through four waves at this point. Nurses and others have had to change so much of their routine: how they function, working very short staffed, and continually face COVID-19 up close.

We have never experienced a crisis of this magnitude, and we need to create new ways to support the frontlines and help them cope. Not every person will need this support, but for the ones that do, it is crucial that we support them and help them recover. Ideally, I would like to be able to build an environment where people could talk to counselors on the spot — having these teams out and about on floors, so if someone has 15 minutes in the break room they might sit down and talk. Very informal. Not stressful. Not “oh my gosh, I need to see a therapist” although that might follow. More of a chance to decompress and be asked, “Hey, how are you doing? Genuinely, how are you doing?” That could be the first layer, so to speak. If they need more, we should make it easier for them to connect with additional services, with no stigma for that option.

Know the true cost of retention

It costs money to keep people. That’s the truth. But it’s not just in salaries. You have to make hard business decisions to make the work environment better, even when the pandemic deck is stacked against you. One way we’re able to make the job better is to aim to keep a tight grip on the ratios — that is the number of patients a nurse has to oversee. Reducing staffed beds and limiting surgeries are effective but extremely costly tools to manage nurse-to-patient ratios. Some may argue that we still have to protect the bottom line, and there is validity in that. At the same time, preserving our workforce — even at a cost today — will better position us for the healthcare challenges of tomorrow. People will always be our most important resource. Lower ratios are a quiet way to show staff that we really do appreciate and value them, and we are trying to do our best to keep them.

We want to do these things for the current workforce and for the next. The impact of the pandemic is staggering but nurses never stopped caring. Nurses — and everyone at the front lines —need care in return as well.

The Critical Role of Apprenticeship and CTE Programs in the Construction Industry

Earl R. Hall, Executive Director; Syracuse Builders Exchange

Labor shortages continue to plague the construction industry both regionally and nationally, with such issues happening long before the COVID-19 pandemic.  Although the pandemic has increased the shortage of workers, the long-term solutions to solving the labor shortage in construction remain complex.  Two such solutions which have proven to be effective are the apprenticeship programs offered via the many local building trade unions and the Career and Technical Education programs offered by local school districts.

There is a renewed focus on apprenticeship and training programs by the trades across upstate New York.  Apprenticeship programs combine classroom and industry-related instruction provided by the union, with on-the-job learning provided by employers.  All apprenticeship programs are registered with the New York State Department of Labor and governed by a Board of Trustees which include both employer and union representation.

Capital investments into new or existing apprenticeship and training centers can be seen right here in central New York.  The North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Local 277 built a state-of-the-art training center in 2018 in Syracuse.  During 2021, the union recruited 250 apprentices and new journeymen/women into the union.  As a result, the union is planning to expand the training center to not only accommodate the new apprentices, but to provide the delivery of additional training and education.

Apprenticeship programs remain attractive to young men and women as they provide a career pathway without having to incur debt to pay for the training and education.  The “learn while you earn” concept is a delicate balance of providing apprentices with required training and on the job work.  As a trustee on many of these Funds, I see firsthand the immediate benefit of this model for both the career-minded apprentices and those employers who hire them.

Pre-apprenticeship programs attract candidates who may explore the construction industry at a very elementary level while deciding if it is a career for them, and if so, what trade is of most interest.  In central New York the Syracuse Builders Exchange has partnered with Syracuse Build’s Executive Director Christopher Montgomery to place those students who graduate from their pre-apprenticeship program.  Graduating students may be placed directly into the workforce with a construction industry employer or may be placed into one of the many union apprenticeship and training programs to further develop their careers.

Career and Technical Education (“CTE”) programs have increased in high schools throughout upstate New York.  As a member of the Syracuse City School District’s CTE advisory board, I witness the impact such programs have on impressionable, young students who see themselves entering their chosen career upon graduation from high school.  Although the Syracuse City School District’s CTE program was the first of its kind in upstate New York, the model developed by the Syracuse City School District is now being reviewed and considered by other school districts. 

While construction, welding and electrical are just a few of the career pathways offered by the CTE program, new offerings such as Construction Management will be delivered to students in September 2023 when the new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) school opens in downtown Syracuse.  The Construction Management curriculum is being developed by a committee of executives of construction management companies from throughout central New York.

While no one solution will solve the labor shortage issues plaguing the construction industry, initiatives such as apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, and CTE programs in high schools provide employers with optimism that the next generation of construction worker is actively being recruited.  The question is, will there be enough workers to fill all the positions anticipated over the next few years?  Most likely not.

Keeping Care Local: Michael Harlovic, President and CEO of Oswego Health

By: Becca Taurisano

Michael Harlovic, President and CEO, Oswego Health

Inpatient Staff, Oswego NY

Oswego Hospital, Oswego NY

Lakeview Center for Mental Health and Wellness, Oswego NY

Patient Room, Oswego Hospital, Oswego NY

Emergency Department Staff, Oswego Hospital, Oswego NY

The Manor at Seneca Hill, Skilled Nursing Facility, Oswego NY

Careers are the intersection of time, place, and opportunity,” says Oswego Health President and CEO, Michael Harlovic. “It’s been a fantastic decisioncoming to Oswego.” A Pittsburgh native, Harlovic received a Bachelor of Nursing in 1985 and a Masters of Psychiatric Nursing in 1989 from the University of Pittsburgh. For 24 years, Harlovic served in various roles from Psychiatric Program Manager, Director of Nursing, Chief Nursing Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and eventually President and CEO for Allegheny General Hospital, the flagship hospital of the Allegheny Health Network, a seven-hospital health system.

Harlovic was the President and CEO of Allegheny Valley Hospital, a 230-bed, community hospital in Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania, when he was asked to serve as the interim President and CEO of Allegheny General Hospital, a 635-bed academic quaternary facility with 5,000 employees. He ran both facilities for nine months while the health system searched for a permanent CEO. “I never wrote interim on my badge, I just worked as if I was the permanent CEO from day one,” Harlovic says. The balancing act of running both the flagship facility and the community hospital prepared him for working in any environment.

Harlovic was named as the permanent President and CEO of Allegheny General Hospital for three years before new corporate management decided all health network hospitals should be physician-led. Management offered him a different position in the organization, but Harlovic decided at 55 years old it was time to retire, and he enjoyed his first summer off in his adult life. That fall, a recruiter called him about an opportunity at Oswego Health.


As Harlovic began to learn more about the community Oswego Health serves, he was surprised by what he found. “I was taken aback at all it had to offer,” he says, “such as the waterfront area, readily available education (SUNY Oswego), city revitalization projects, aluminum and energy industries, and a centralized location between Syracuse and Rochester.” The Oswego Health system impressed Harlovic as well. Oswego Health has 17 different locations offering diverse services, including a 162-bed acute care facility, a 120-bed long-term care facility, a 57-unit retirement home, full-service urgent care with laboratory and radiology services in Fulton and Central Square, primary care physicians, and a home care agency. “Typically, smaller hospitals, or sole community hospitals, do not have these robust offerings.” In addition, Oswego Health offers specialty services like orthopedic, bariatric, wound care, gastroenterology, ENT, general surgery, behavioral health, and obstetrics and gynecological surgery.

Oswego Health serves all of Oswego County, which includes approximately 120,000 people over 1,100 square miles. At 140 years old, the Oswego Health system is one of a handful of independent health systems left in New York State, including over 200 hospitals. Staying independent is very important to Oswego Health. “We are so mobile and fast. We don’t seek approval from anyone to change direction, other than our board of directors. I have worked in both kinds of health systems and being an independent health system is fabulous,” Harlovic says.


Oswego Health’s mission and vision is to provide high-quality, affordable, accessible health care to improve the health of the residents of the community. “It’s important to us to keep care local,” Harlovic says. To this end, Harlovic oversees a focused effort on the modernization of facilities including equipment and structural enhancements, made possible by the Oswego Health Foundation and private contributions from the community, local businesses, and their very own employees. “It’s that kind of help that supports providing local healthcare,” Harlovic says.

Oswego Health recently completed the development of the Lakeview Center for Mental Health and Wellness, a 42,000 sq ft behavioral health facility, made possible by a $13 million transformational grant from the New York State Department of Health as well as $4 million in board pledges and community support. The facility opened in January 2021 and has 20 adult beds and 12 geriatric beds. Currently, all the inpatient general medical surgical beds in the main hospital are being renovated. The dual-occupancy rooms will become private rooms equipped with a new HVAC filtration system purchased through Healthway Family of Brands, that will greatly improve the indoor air quality within the rooms. In addition, Indigo-Clean, a new light technology, will be installed in each patient bathroom to continuously disinfect the surfaces within the bathroom area. Indigo-Clean technology is known to reduce pathogens by nearly 99%, creating a greatly reduced chance of hospital acquired infection and better patient outcome.

Once completed, the 44 inpatient beds will have a hotel feel. The project is estimated to be complete by the end of 2021 at a cost of $8 million.

Fulton is an area of strategic growth for Oswego Health. The health system has been expanding its presence in the community, recently completing a $500,000 renovation to their Fulton North location, which will provide Primary Care services for the community. Oswego Health recently added tomosynthesis, which is 3D imaging for mammograms to the Fulton site. System wide, Oswego Health has state-of-the-art equipment, including robotics for orthopedic surgery.


Harlovic has put together a compassionate, approachable, and accountable senior leadership team. Harlovic looks for individuals that are self-starters and work collaboratively. The senior leadership team sets strategic organizational goals and utilizes defined metrics as part of the Oswego Health “blueprint for success” which includes the pillars of Quality, Strategic Growth, Finance, Service, and People.

“Quality is our core service, we do needs assessments to identify what service lines we need to provide for our community,” Harlovic says. Because of the high diabetes rates in the community, Oswego Health opened the Center for Wound Healing four years ago. When they learned residents were traveling out of the area for orthopedic care, Oswego Health responded by opening the Center for Orthopedic Care. Oswego Health also opened a Center for Weight Loss and Surgery. “You can get the same great care locally and you don’t have to travel,” Harlovic says.

Strategic Growth
“To stay viable, you have to grow your organization and invest from a capital perspective and a service line perspective,” Harlovic says. Without enough primary care providers, residents were leaving to seek care. Building up this network in Oswego County translates into more business for Oswego Health specialists. Oswego Health established Physician Care, P.C. and acquired Oswego Family Physicians to facilitate growth and keep care local.

As a nonprofit healthcare system, Harlovic says the senior leadership team has worked hard to improve their revenue cycle, made the workforce more efficient, worked with insurance companies on contracts, reduced the timeline for patient stays, and controlled the cost of pharmaceuticals. “The saying goes no profit, no mission,” says Harlovic, “we are all fiduciary stewards.” Setting financial goals and being metrics-driven is important to ensuring Oswego Health stays profitable.

“We are a service-oriented culture from the time you walk in the door. Communication is key,” says Harlovic. Offering free valet parking at the main hospital and training employees to help visitors with directions, introduce themselves, and explain care to patients is how Oswego Health does business. “Not only is service important when people are seeking healthcare, but it’s also a really good business model. If people have a good experience here, they will tell others and are likely to return,” Harlovic says.


Employees are Oswego Health’s number one asset and Harlovic makes it a priority to connect frequently with his 1,200 employees. “You have to engage with one another,” Harlovic says, “it is about being visible and knowing people’s names.” He holds a daily debrief with department leaders throughout the health system, meets with the senior leadership team weekly and welcomes all new employees as part of their first day orientation. Harlovic believes in a classic open-door policy and in non-pandemic times travels to all campuses to meet with employees face-to-face. During COVID, he started virtual CEO Talks which are broadcast system-wide so he can keep employees connected. Between holiday gatherings, summer outings, and staff recognition throughout the year, Harlovic says you must “do your best to connect.”


Harlovic calls Oswego Health a “destination workplace: a place where people want to work, doctors want to practice, and patients want to go for care.” About 80% of Oswego Health employees also live in Oswego, so at any time, the hospital is likely caring for an employee’s family member or friend. It is important to Harlovic that his employees are compassionate and that there is a family feel when dealing with patients, all while delivering high-quality clinical services. “We are a very traditional community hospital. It’s a wonderful place,” says Harlovic.


The year 2020 was difficult for healthcare workers, but Harlovic says being recognized helped morale. Oswego Health received the Greater Oswego Fulton Chamber of Commerce Community Investor Award for improving the community through local testing and admitting COVID patients, as well as being ranked #1 in the state for administering COVID vaccinations. Oswego Health was recognized as a Healthcare Hero by CenterState CEO for their performance during the pandemic. Jamie Leszczynski, Senior Director of Communications for Oswego Health says, “Before the pandemic, Oswego Health was already a community partner and collaborator. With the pandemic, that became even more evident. We became a leader, we stood out and stood strong. Those relationships and collaboration with our partners are something we will continue to strengthen as we go forward. When minutes matter, we have the technology and services to help our local families. We are looking to support our partners and this community however we can.”

Right Price Companies / RPC Technology; Role Models For Their Community In The Heart of Syracuse

By: Sarah Hall

Darin Price, CEO (sitting), Paris Price, CFO (Standing) at their Syracuse, NY office.

RPC Technology company climber repairing an antenna in Hartsdale, NY.

Darin and Paris Price in their laydown yard

Darin and Paris Price are looking to create a legacy.

The Syracuse couple, who owns Right Price Companies and RPC Technology, hope to hand their business down to their children someday.

“We want Right Price to be in existence well after we’re gone,” Darin said. “We want it to be a company that is a pillar in Upstate New York for years to come.”

The Prices launched Right Price Companies in 2004. The firm provides commercial furniture to the corporate, education, healthcare, and government sectors. RPC Technology, which launched about seven years ago, made its mark in the industry participating in New York State’s New York State Broadband for All program as a value-added supplier, as well as a logistics material coordinator. The program seeks to bring broadband internet to underserved or unserved areas, where nearly one million New Yorkers, mostly in rural areas, do not have an internet connection (based upon 25/3 bandwidth connection).

Darin maintains that Right Price Companies’ primary goal is to provide solutions and excellent service to its customers.

“Our desire to provide superior service for our customer is what prompted our pivot into the technology industry,” he said. “While working with a client to provide both furniture and a paneling system, the client asked if we could also handle his computer networking and set-up. At the time, our company had a relationship with RMS, a technology service and solutions company, and together, we were able to deliver a complete solution exceeding our customer’s expectation.”

“It went so well that I had an ‘aha moment,’” Darin said. “Our customers need a total solution. That was the birth of RPC Technology.”

Right Price and RMS merged and began working in the industry, bidding on and winning projects. SUNY Oneonta was its first substantial contract with fiber optic cable.

‘This project allowed us to see technology as our next business frontier,” Darin said. RPC Technology strategy began planning to participate in the NYS Broadband for All prior to the announcement of grant awards. The program launched in 2016 with three phases of grant awards to telecom and cable service operators and providers, as well as municipalities, throughout the state over the next three years.

“As one of the few certified minority suppliers of fiber optic cable in the area, RPC became a key supplier of fiberoptic cable to cable service provider in Upstate New York that participated in the broadband program, addressing a vital need in Upstate New York.” Darin said.

“When we think about the personal aspect of high-speed broadband, we have to understand that the program allowed for a higher level of connectivity to the rural areas of New York State, especially now, because computer access is more important than ever before,” Paris said.

“It’s so desperately needed for our children to learn remotely, for hospitals, businesses, not to mention your home. Not only did we see the benefits for our business, but we recognized the desperate need for the opportunity of expansion of fiber optic cable throughout New York State, especially its rural territories that had some level of access.”


Ultimately, the Prices said they are looking to be a full-service wholesale electrical supply distributor as well as an outside plant construction company. This aspect includes fiber cable deployment, antennae/line installation, and maintenance in relation to cell towers.

“As alumni of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program, we have a very clear vision for our future growth,” Darin said.

The Prices also emphasized that RPC is one of the only minority-owned companies in the field. They are certified with New York State and New York City as a Woman/Minority Business Enterprise, as well as the New York Port Authority and the Mass Transit Authority. They are also registered with the National Supplier Development Council as a Minority Business Enterprise and the federal government as a Small Disadvantaged Business.

“We are a company that wants to work with everyone. We are a corporation first that just happens to be owned by a minority,” Darin said. “We’re not a minority first when we walk through the door. We build our reputation on the service and on our products.”
There are some, however, who balk at the MBE label.

“Some people have the stereotypes—the preconceived notions—that because you’re a minority business or a woman-owned business, that there’s going to be something different, they have to do; something different to deal with us,” Darin said. “We go through the many steps of certification to get into the door, to get a fair look-see at a project. Unfortunately, these same old stereotypes never seem to die.”

In reality, being an MBE just means that RPC is looking to make a relatively homogeneous field a little less so.

“RPC is an equal opportunity employer. We hire diverse candidates to go into an industry where there’s not a lot of diversity,” Darin said. “It is our responsibility to give our people a fair opportunity at these jobs.”

As a minority business, RPC is also focused on workforce development and hiring.

“We have a relationship with SUNY EOC, Jubilee Homes, and CNY Works,” Darin said.

In particular, Darin and Paris’ goal is to bring in talented candidates from their neighborhood.

“We intentionally created our business in the heart of Syracuse,” Paris said. “One of our personal goals is to be role models for those in our community, the community that both Darin and I grew up in. It was very important for us to be able to let our community see a business prosper and to let them see themselves in it. They see business owners and people working that look like them.”

RPC is the culmination of Darin’s aspiration to start his own business, something he dreamed about way back when he was mowing lawns as a kid—and told Paris about it back when they started dating in the early 1980s.

“He always came to me with the idea that one day, he would be self-employed,” Paris said. “For a while, I didn’t understand the benefits of being the boss. But I definitely understand the benefits of it now. We are able to have a pride in ownership that, had he not been persistent about reaching his lifelong goal of being self-employed and owning our own business, we would not have the experience today.”

While there have been challenges, Darin said he would not change a thing.

“My worst day being self-employed doesn’t compare to my best day working for someone else,” he said. “[There’s a] sense of accomplishment and knowing that you started a business from the ground up and seeing how it has blossomed into something that is a legacy builder that you can then give to your children. Your children’s children can see the spirit of entrepreneurship within your family, which really encourages your children to do the same thing.”