Access key for new health-foundation chief

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — As a kid who loved science and math, Susan Fitzgibbon Shumaker was drawn to medicine. She studied nursing at Duke University, then worked for a year-and-a-half as a pediatric nurse at Duke Medical Center. “I learned so much as a young nurse from the team I worked with at Duke,” she says. “They were incredibly devoted to those families.”

In 1984, after receiving a master’s degree in health administration at Duke, Shumaker joined Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville as vice president of clinical services and assistant administrator. She was named president and CEO in 1990.

In September, Shumaker became president of the $100 million-asset Moses Cone – Wesley Long Community Health Foundation.

PJ: What led you to a hospital career?

Shumaker: The vice president’s job at Annie Penn became available, and my grad school adviser suggested I interview. When I interviewed, I thought, “What am I doing? This is such a tiny place.”

What happened?

I never imagined I’d stay long-term . But the people were so passionate and excited and committed to patient care and health care. Twenty-five years later, I’m still here.

What have you learned?

Health care is structured around sick people. We don’t do a good job in this country of teaching people how to care of themselves.

How accessible is health care?

We have two kids who have had really challenging health issues, and they’re insured because we can afford to insure them. What do people do without access to health care?

Susan Fitzgibbon ShumakerSusan Fitzgibbon Shumaker 

Title: President, Moses Cone-Wesley Long Community Health Foundation

Last job: Executive vice president, Moses Cone Health System, and president, Annie Penn Hospital

Age: 50

A favorite book: The Not So Big Life, by Sarah Susanka. “It’s about simplifying life and staying more in the moment.”

Favorite TV: The Golf Channel

Favorite music: Eclectic – classical, contemporary, country

Family: Married to Brad Shumaker, chief financial officer, Center for Creative Leadership; son, Hutch, 21; daughter, Whitley, 20.

What do they do?      

Whether they have insurance or not, navigating the health-care system is very difficult. That’s what I’m going to be doing in my new role — focusing on wellness and access to prevention.

As a consumer, what frustrates you about health care?

Navigating the health-care system. For a layperson to understand what’s happening to them, what kinds of tests are being run, to be able to connect the dots, sometimes is very difficult.

How will the debate over health care turn out?

I wish I knew. I’m thrilled we have a president who has it on his agenda.

What is your take on our health-care system?

It is shameful we’re a country that has 47 million Americans who are uninsured and millions more who are underinsured.  Our emergency-room visits are up significantly over last year, in large part due to the growing number of uninsured.

Why do they go to emergency rooms?

They don’t have anywhere else to turn.

Why can’t emergency rooms handle them?

Many of those patients have complex medical problems. The emergency room can provide episodic care, but we can’t do a good job of managing diabetes or high blood pressure.

So emergency-room care is the default solution?

The emergency room is the most costly place to seek treatment. Those patients need regular medical care, but they don’t have any other choice.

What will be your role as foundation president?

Interfacing with community and local providers in the foundation’s focus areas — adolescent pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS/sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse and mental health — and working closely with the board and the program officers to make wise decisions on spending our resources.

Will you act as an advocate?

Advocacy is a very important aspect of the role. We don’t have enough dollars to address the issues, but we can raise awareness and help impact policy changes.

What did your parents do?

My dad was a partner with Arthur Anderson. My mom was a homemaker.

What lessons did you learn from them?

I got my business sense from my dad. I learned people skills from my mom and the ability connect with others.

Do you have a specific childhood memory about them?

I remember sneaking into the movie theater. I made the mistake of telling my dad, and he was very unhappy with me. We went back to the theater and I paid the difference in the ticket. He set the bar very high for integrity and honesty.

What do you do for fun?

I play golf, tennis, exercise and cook with my husband. I’m the sous-chef.

Do you use Facebook?

No. I haven’t had time or interest. I see so much of the computer every day; it’s not what I want to do at home. Plus my kids would be mortified if I were on Facebook.

Who’s someone who inspired you?

A dear friend and former colleague at Annie Penn, Laura Felts, has been an incredible mentor to me. She’s just this wonderfully compassionate, bright, fun woman with a real zest for life who took me under her wing when I came to Reidsville.

What did you learn from her?

She taught me, “You buy everything in Reidsville, you support your community.” She really taught me how to navigate, that there were a lot of community expectations, and I was that representative of the hospital 24/7.

What do few people know about you?

I have been a bit of a scavenger my entire life and have many treasures I’ve picked up from piles left on curbs, old dumps in the woods, yard sales, antique auctions. I’ve got old Coke bottles from the early 1900s I found in a dump.

Your house must be full.

I’ve gotten more selective recently. My husband might shoot me if I bring home one more stray chair.

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