At least 40% of top execs have left New York health plan in last year

It's been just over a year since Highmark became the primary licensee of HealthNow New York; now, at least 40 percent of the company's top executives have left the Buffalo-based health plan, according to Buffalo Business First.

HealthNow confirmed that 36 leaders with titles of director and above had left as of April 11. The company pointed to the ongoing resignation trend nationwide, but former employees told Buffalo Business First that the March 2021 affiliation deal led to negative internal changes.

Four of the three dozen executives who left the company said morale decreased and the company's culture changed after the affiliation, and jobs they were offered in the new structure were not commensurate with their skill level and experience, according to Buffalo Business First.

"This was a group of high achievers who really wanted to do well and originally saw Highmark would be a company of growth for them, that they could grow their careers, gain more knowledge, experience and responsibility and they were in turn pigeon-holed into positions that were not challenging almost in the hopes they would self-select out," former HealthNow Director of Shared Services Jennifer Kopf told Buffalo Business First. "They really minimized what they thought our people could do."

HealthNow and Highmark had agreed on job protections for "almost all" of HealthNow's employees with state regulators in 2021, but that agreement did not include over 80 executive positions, according to Buffalo Business First.

"That's not unusual when you have an affiliation and there's a C-suite in the broader organization. Some of those become duplicative," Michael Edbauer, DO, president of Highmark Western and Northeastern New York, told Buffalo Business First. "Some had opportunities with the broader organization, but they chose to move on to other opportunities."

Dr. Edbauer said there have been no layoffs at HealthNow, and 74 percent of the company's 1,900 employees continue to work in the Buffalo area. Thirty people were hired by the company or its subsidiaries since the affiliation deal, with over 30 positions currently open and plans to open 100 more this year.

Despite the hiccups, Highmark's membership and revenue has increased. Members grew to 434,715 in 2021 from 420,027 in 2020. The company also has another 675,000 members across separate businesses.

Revenue increased to $3.07 billion from $2.9 billion in 2021. Pandemic expenses and costs associated with the affiliation resulted in a net loss of $58 million, according to Buffalo Business First.

Twenty-eight of the leaders who have left HealthNow, according to Buffalo Business First:

  • David Anderson, former CEO
  • Adam Bellomo, former vice president of commercial sales
  • Kerri Garrison, former vice president for operational planning and delivery
  • Jared Gross, former senior vice president for enterprise initiatives and analytics
  • Kathleen Hurley, former vice president for digital strategy and innovation
  • Jennifer Kopf, former director of HR shared services
  • Lester Lachuk, former vice president of corporate pharmacy
  • Jeffrey Martin, former vice president of underwriting
  • Russell Matuszak, former vice president for compliance privacy and ethics and interim chief audit executive
  • Julia O'Connell, former director of total rewards
  • Douglas Parks, former senior vice president and chief human resources officer
  • Robert Ruocco, former vice president and chief information officer
  • Thomas Schenk, MD, former chief medical officer
  • Julie Snyder, former vice president for community affairs in New York
  • Kenneth Sodaro, former senior vice president and general counsel
  • Stephen Swift, former executive vice president and CFO
  • Srinivassa Tummala, former director of technology and enterprise integration services
  • Paul Valley, former vice president for commercial sales
  • Michelle Watorek, former senior director of finance
  • Lisa Arnet, former director of talent and organizational development with HealthNow and director of enterprise talent engagement and performance with Highmark
  • Kathleen Batten, former manager of customer research and experience
  • Kristin Brant-Kusz, former director of commercial operations
  • Heather Gresham, former director of talent acquisition
  • Mary Herman, former executive paralegal
  • Angela Horton, former data and analytics leader
  • Gamal Jamil, former system administrator
  • Lynn Panasci, former manager of HRIS and reporting with BCBS WNY
  • Caitlin Zulewski, former director of corporate relations

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