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HealthNow New York’s No. 2 executive for more than a decade is retiring by the end of the year.

Cheryl Howe, who joined the parent of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York 27 years ago and rose to executive vice president of operations in 2002, will step down as one of the region’s highest-ranking female executives.

As executive vice president, Howe oversaw all aspects of company operations, and was in charge of marketing and branding. She was responsible for managing the company’s finances, and led corporate strategic and operational planning. She is credited with leading the creation of a 24-hour medical-advice line, improving relations with doctors, nurses and pharmacies and starting the company’s prenatal and home-based supportive care programs.

In a letter to new President and CEO David W. Anderson, Howe said she wanted to help with the leadership transition after the retirement of former longtime CEO Alphonso O’Neil-White, but felt that process would be done by December.

Howe joined BlueCross BlueShield in 1986 as a registered nurse, and quickly rose to manager of professional services from 1987 to 1991. She was named director of utilization management from 1991 to 1998, vice president of care management from 1998 to 2001 and senior vice president of health services management from 2001 to 2002. Following the departure of former CEO Thomas Hartnett, she shared the role of president and CEO with O’Neil-White and James Cardone from May 2003 until December 2003, when the board named O’Neil-White to the permanent role.

She received her associates degree in applied science in nursing from Jamestown Community College, a bachelor’s degree from University at Buffalo and a master’s in health services administration from D’Youville College. She has also received natoinal recognition from Harvard Medical School and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

“Cheryl served HealthNow with distinction at each level of her career here,” Anderson said. “Her contributions are literally everywhere at HealthNow.”

email: jepstein@buffnews.com