Chris Lane is late for an interview. He's been hand-delivering lunch to his laboratory staff, as a morale booster to help them through a tedious and annoying computer system conversion. "It's amazing the work these people do, and they need a pat on the back," he says.
His enthusiasm for his job and his affection for his employees are as noticeable as his thick Boston accent. "He is such a breath of fresh air, I can't tell you," says Kathy Galvin, executive vice president of Kaleida Health and one of Lane's mentors. "He doesn't have the years of experience in dealing with people that an older executive would have, but he knows how to reach out. He visits patients and reassures them. People don't do that anymore."
Lane has been president of DeGraff Memorial Hospital, a 100-bed community hospital in upstate New York, since February. It is his first taste of running an acute-care hospital after eight years with long-term-care facilities. The hospital's region is not growing economically and occupancy hovers between 50% and 60%, but even so, Lane is exceeding all his profit targets. Ambulatory services are healthy and an affiliated 80-bed nursing home is full.
Healthcare runs in Lane's family: His mother is a nurse, and his father is chief executive of an acute-care hospital in Massachusetts. At loose ends after graduating from Colgate University in 1994 with a political science degree, Lane spent some time as statehouse aide in Boston, then accepted a family friend's offer to enter a training program for nursing home administrators at Olympus Healthcare, Westboro, Mass.
In 1999, Lane took over a troubled skilled-nursing center for Covenant Health Systems in Lexington, Mass. He increased its census by 50% in less than a year and its revenue by 30% in six months. Within two years, he had brought the facility from substandard quality of care to deficiency-free. He then did the same for an Alzheimer's center, which had had to pay civil penalties for four consecutive substandard years. Within a year, the facility passed its state survey with one minor deficiency.
During these turnarounds, Lane made presentations to Covenant's finance committee. He caught the attention of the committee's chairman, Bill McGuire, who was also president of Kaleida and looking at his own turnaround. A five-hospital system formed in 1998, Kaleida had lost $125 million in the few years before McGuire arrived.
"I saw Chris take a facility that was badly broken and fix it-on the revenue side, which is a lot better and a lot harder than just taking a chainsaw to expenses," McGuire says. "He used his leadership skills to get the best out of his employees, and he became an active spokesperson in the community. DeGraff seemed like an ideal place for his talents."