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Mary Gallagher ’92 helps give hospitals cohesive voice at Ohio Hospital Association

August 16, 2016 | Alumni

While working for the law firm of BakerHostetler after graduation, Mary Gallagher ’92 continually found herself drawn to health care clients.

At the time, many “landmark” health care laws and policies, including HIPAA and policies addressing fraud and abuse, were being enacted, Gallagher said, and she enjoyed helping clients better understand their impact.

Realizing that the health care arena was her passion, Gallagher in 1997 took a job with the Ohio Hospital Association, a trade organization that represents 220 hospitals and 13 health systems. The association—the nation’s oldest state hospital association—advocates for hospitals in the legislature, helps hospitals with economic sustainability, and addresses patient safety issues.

“We help hospitals speak with one voice,” said Gallagher, who currently serves as executive vice president and chief of staff for the Columbus-based association. She previously has served as the chief operating officer, general counsel, and director of health policy for the association.

In her current role, she oversees OHA’s leadership in several divisions, including health economics and policy, patient safety and quality, and operations. Gallagher also works closely with the OHA board of trustees that governs the association. She continues to find work centered on the health care industry challenging and rewarding. “The rapid change and transformation within health care has been amazing—especially in hospitals and the clinical world,” she said. “They’re very sophisticated organizations with very sophisticated issues.”

Hospitals rely on OHA to help them deal with new rules and regulations, spot trends and share best practices, Gallagher said. “The uncertainty and lack of control that hospitals face is what makes OHA such an important partner to its members,” she said. “We have the luxury at the association of being able to stay on top of trends and to help our members navigate them.”

The industry continues to be characterized by change, Gallagher said. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 “completely changed” the health care model. It moved care providers from a “volume-based system” to a “value-based system,” she said.

“Now, hospitals look at patients—not as a one-time encounter, but with a holistic approach,” she said. “They’re asking: What can we do before, during, and after their hospital stay to keep them well and not coming back through our doors?”

Hospitals deal with much more than patient care, she said. They are large employers dealing with human resource issues. The work they do results in hazardous waste that must be addressed. They have high utility costs that they try to contain. “Our members are so busy with the day-to-day operations, it’s hard to stay ahead of the rapidly changes rules and regulations,” she said. “We serve that role for our members.”

Another exciting area of hospital work is the institutions’ growing focus on community. Hospitals are partnering with businesses and cities to provide wellness services and community engagement opportunities, Gallagher said. Keeping up with hospitals as they change and evolve is another exciting aspect of the job, she added.

“The hospital itself is changing,” Gallagher said. “The blue H on the highway sign means so much more. Hospitals are embracing the idea that they are more than a building where people go when they are sick or injured or having a baby. They have so much more to contribute to the community.”

Although she no longer serves as the association’s legal counsel, she said that her law degree continues to help her. “It’s been a big benefit to have legal training—especially as I transitioned into an executive level. I understand different sides of an issue,” she said. “Also, I work with a lot of public policy. I can help members not just understand how it may be implemented but also how it may be challenged later on.”

In addition to the work, Gallagher, a mother of three, likes the people who she meets through her job—both internally and externally. The association employs an interesting array of professionals ranging from clinicians to statisticians who work on behalf of members.

Working side-by-side with hospital personnel also is rewarding, said Gallagher, who enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and golfing.

“Hospitals attract the most amazing, talented people,” she said. “People who are not just good at their jobs, but people who really care about healing others. It’s a real honor to work with folks who are so dedicated. It’s fulfilling.”