You might call it noteworthy if the top leader at Women & Children’s Hospital was a graduate of the hospital’s own maternity ward.
What about that fact – times four?
The top four leaders at the Buffalo hospital specializing in infant, childhood and maternity care – Cheryl Klass, Debianne Peterman, Allegra Jaros and Dr. Margaret W. Paroski – were all born at the Bryant Street facility.
Three of these four executives also delivered their babies at the hospital – seven children in all.
It makes for an unprecedented situation at the 120-year-old hospital, which, according to many people’s recollections, has never had four women in the top leadership positions before, let alone four women with Buffalo roots and ties to Children’s.
“We were laying there in the bassinets, thinking, ‘We’re going to take over someday....’ ” joked Klass, president of the hospital, when the four leaders gathered to talk about their roles.
On a serious note, the women said they do believe it makes a difference to the hospital to have leaders with such personal ties to the institution.
“Childbirth is still deemed a women’s prerogative,” said Paroski, chief medical officer for Kaleida Health and the hospital’s executive vice president and chief medical officer. She smiled.
“Frankly, since men don’t give birth to children,” she added, “I think we have a great connection to the women we serve.”
Together, the women said they are particularly excited to be leading the hospital into a new – and vastly different – future. Over the next few years, Women & Children’s Hospital will move from its longtime home in the Elmwood Avenue neighborhood of the city to a new building next to Buffalo General Hospital, in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus area.
The new hospital, at the corner of Ellicott and High streets, has an estimated price tag of about $200 million and likely will open at the end of 2015, the administrators said. They see it as a chance to put a new face on Children’s for the first time in generations.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Klass.
“It’s huge. It’s historic,” concurred Jaros. “It’s an awesome responsibility.”
With their individual histories at Children’s combined, the four top women represent a cumulative 50 years’ worth of experience at the hospital.
Peterman is the newest addition to the staff, after working in Atlanta and Nashville. She heads up nursing operations.
With her arrival, the top staff looks like this:
• Cheryl Klass is president of Women & Children’s and senior vice president for operations at Buffalo General Medical Center. A Hamburg native, she was born at Children’s in 1955 – the same year as Paroski and Peterman.
Klass graduated from Immaculata Academy in Hamburg, then Niagara University. She received an MBA from Northwestern University’s School of Management in 1997. She has worked at the hospital for 24 years in all, eight as part of her most recent stint as an administrator at the facility.
She delivered her three children at Children’s and said that her experience as a mom and patient at the hospital gives her a perspective that makes her a better leader.
“Having children and grandchildren in our community, it’s sharpened our focus,” Klass said, of herself and the other members of her administrative team.
She and the others want to make sure “if something happens to those children and grandchildren, those services and specialists are here.”
Klass noted that she and other leaders at the hospital have brought the hospital from a point of vulnerability, a few years back, to its current position of strength and viability – and the potential for growth.
Hard decisions and lots of planning and communication went into those changes, she said.
“In the last eight years, we’ve brought the hospital from a very difficult point,” Klass said. “We’ve come out of that. The hospital is viable and strong.”
“The challenge now is the declining population of Western New York,” she said.
• Dr. Margaret W. Paroski is executive vice president and chief medical officer at Children’s as well as chief medical officer for Kaleida Health. A Buffalo native who lives in the city – “I’ve lived in two square miles my whole life,” she joked – she graduated from Nardin Academy, then Canisius College. She earned her medical degree from the University at Buffalo in 1980.
In her role as head medical officer for both Children’s and Kaleida, Paroski oversees the medical end of the hospital and health care system’s operations.
Paroski comes from a background with an emphasis on pediatric care – her father was a pediatrician, as was her first husband, who died at an early age. She said she sees her role and that of the others on the administrative team as moving the hospital into forward-gear toward the future.
“I sort of feel like we are the ‘reality team,’ ” said Paroski, who has two children who were born at Children’s, as well as a stepchild from her second marriage. “Some people see only the hospital that used to be.”
• Allegra Jaros is chief operating officer at Women & Children’s. A Williamsville native, she was born at Children’s in 1970. She graduated from Williamsville North High School and Canisius College, and received her MBA from Canisius in 1996.
As chief operating officer, Jaros’ role is to steer the hospital’s day-to-day operations.
She said that her inspiration in deciding to work in health care was her mother, Jacqueline Thompson, a former faculty member in nursing at UB and an advocate for work in the health professions. She died last year.
“She was a significant impact on me,” said Jaros, whose two children were both born at Children’s. “She asked me what purpose I was going to have in life, with a finance background.”
Her role at the hospital is a way to fulfill her mother’s hopes for her, Jaros said.
“That’s one of the nice things about the health care industry,” she said.
• Debianne Peterman is chief nursing officer at Women & Children’s and vice president at Kaleida. A Snyder native, she is the only one of the four women to have worked away from Western New York for much of her career.
She moved to Atlanta with her family when she was 16, and later earned degrees from Georgia State and a master’s degree in nursing from Emory University. She received her doctorate in nursing from Georgia State in 2005.
She said her decision to make a career in the health care field was spurred by an experience she had when one of her three children was ill, and she was not allowed to be near him when he was in the hospital.
“It made me realize there’s a need to have someone advocating for mothers and babies,” Peterman said.
Peterman returned to Western New York this fall to take the position at Children’s, where she heads up nursing operations. She said she always longed to return to this area, which she considers her home.
“I have been a huge believer in Buffalo, and have always talked about Buffalo to anyone who would listen,” Peterman said. “I want to do something here that could make a difference for moms and babies. I knew my heart was here.”
When she returned to the hospital where she was born, this time as an employee and leader, it felt just right.
“The minute I walked in the door,” Peterman said, “I felt I was home.”