The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Jeff Bokser and Kara Koirtyohann
Family gatherings and celebrations with friends are joyous traditions for many during the holiday season. However, as the threat of COVID-19 lingers and cases of the flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) surge nationwide, it is important that we plan for safe gatherings with friends, family, and loved ones. This month, we are highlighting some of Hagerty’s healthcare subject matter experts (SMEs) to discuss their career paths, professional experiences, and perspective on how to safely navigate the holiday season.
Tell us about yourself and how your career path led you to Hagerty.
Jeff Bokser: Before joining Hagerty Consulting, I built my career working in academic medical centers in New York and Connecticut, where I gained experience in leading healthcare operations, finance, crisis management, and disaster recovery. I started my career in a New York City (NYC) hospital in healthcare administration three months prior to September 11, 2001. I was quickly placed in the hospital command center and helped the hospital respond to the events and the aftermath of the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks. I have since led hospital staff in planning, executing, and responding to significant emergency events, including Ebola, Hurricane Sandy, the H1N1 pandemic, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), anthrax scares, mass-casualty surge incidents, and deploying disaster response teams and telemedicine nationally. This has prepared me for public health emergencies, and the response and recovery capabilities Hagerty is providing across the nation.
Kara Koirtyohann: Prior to joining Hagerty, I worked as an architect, overseeing the design and construction of urban, institutional, commercial, and residential projects. During this time, I had the opportunity to manage the design of a local government library. This project, in particular, was a favorite of mine as the work was designed to meet the needs of a diverse community within the city’s infrastructure of public space. I found my way to Hagerty when I learned they were working with that local government, helping the city recover from a significant hurricane event, and looking for architects to work with the public departments, including the libraries, on long-term reconstruction. Since then, I have led wildfire and flooding recoveries, and as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, I pivoted to meet the needs of our healthcare and other private non-profit clients.
What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of emergency management?
Jeff Bokser: I am inspired to work with a truly dedicated team at Hagerty Consulting that looks every day to make a difference in the lives of others. In addition, having the opportunity to work with healthcare organizations across the country, I am amazed by the heroic efforts and innovative solutions that healthcare workers have developed to meet the unique patient needs in all corners of our country. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to help people and organizations in the midst of a crisis and then months later look back and realize how the collective team’s effort played a role in helping people in their most difficult of times.
Kara Koirtyohann: Every disaster is unique to the circumstances of its place, time, and context, which means that each disaster brings new challenges and problems to solve. In my work with clients, it is thrilling to get to work side-by-side with different cities, states, and private nonprofits across the country, to get to know the particulars of that organization, and to understand how we can best solve the specific problems they are recovering from, preparing for, or responding to. This might include interpreting and arguing new federal policies, assisting in developing local community priorities, or learning the operation of a client’s financial management system. Regardless, the work makes you want to bring your best, working with clients who are fully invested in their organization and knowing that our efforts to help them recover, prepare, and respond are truly appreciated.
As our nation faces a tripledemic threat of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 this winter, what do you believe are the most important steps to help clients in the healthcare industry?
Jeff Bokser: Hospitals across the country are at their highest capacity of patients in over a year. Pediatric hospitals are full, and patients are waiting hours in emergency departments for treatment. Some hospitals are postponing elective surgeries and reopening COVID-19 triage tents and surge space to care for the overflow of patients. Healthcare organizations are once again in crisis. What makes this crisis different from the surges seen during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is that most healthcare organizations have less staff than they did a year ago and, therefore, cannot operate as many beds.
The next few months will be incredibly challenging for the healthcare industry. We need to reactivate some of the mechanisms which resulted in the federal and state governments providing staffing, medical supplies, and financial support to healthcare organizations. Some states have started to do this and declared a public health emergency for RSV and flu. A public health emergency already exists for COVID-19. Emergency preparedness activities required to respond to the tripledemic are not covered in patient reimbursement. Therefore, healthcare organizations should track their costs during this ongoing response in the event that future reimbursement is made available to offset unreimbursed expenses. Healthcare organizations that normally compete for business and patients must once again come together and share resources and “load balance” patient volume from one facility to another to match where resources may be available to best treat patients with RSV, flu, or COVID-19.
Kara Koirtyohann: Our healthcare systems are struggling to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, much less the new threats faced by an increased RSV and flu seasons. While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that certain regulatory flexibilities allowed for COVID-19 can also be applied to the flu and RSV, many systems are still seeing staff and bed shortages and skyrocketing contract labor costs. Compounded with the fact that existing healthcare-specific funding programs are drying up and new programs have been slow to materialize, our healthcare clients are looking to capture and maximize every available recovery fund.
As we continue to navigate this continuously changing environment, our advice to clients is to always ensure all expenses are documented. Ideally, at this moment, costs for COVID-19, RSV, and flu should be identified and tracked separately where possible. Should new funding programs be introduced or policies changed on current programs, having these costs identified and tracked will best position them to align scope and recover costs as fully as possible. Secondly, I encourage healthcare systems to leverage their collective voice. Unlike our government clients, healthcare systems may not have a direct line to policymakers and need to band together to advocate for the resources they need. We have already worked with various state and national hospital groupings to identify current needs, processes, and opportunities for adaptation to assist in their advocacy.
What are some simple precautions you take to personally prevent the spread of illnesses and ensure a healthy holiday season?
Jeff Bokser: This holiday season, and always, I never leave home without hand sanitizer in my pocket. Given the high level of respiratory viruses and increased levels of hospitalizations in my area, I try to avoid crowded indoor spaces with a lack of ventilation as much as possible. At the same time, I am living my life and going to important gatherings with family, friends, and colleagues to celebrate special occasions. I wear a mask when on public transportation or in crowded indoor spaces when I don’t know the vaccination status of others. If a family member in my household or I feel sick, we try to isolate and join events virtually. This holiday season, I think it is important to gather with friends and family. Most importantly, I feel strongly that the updated COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine are good matches for this year’s strains, and I know that being up to date on your vaccines is the best defense to enjoy a safe, healthy, and prosperous holiday season.
Kara Koirtyohann: First and foremost, I make sure to stay up to date on vaccinations and booster shots. As COVID-19, flu, and RSV cases rise in my area, I will continue to mask up in crowded and public places, and I will be sure to stay home if I am feeling ill. For me, the holidays are about appreciating the gift of family and friends, including taking action to protect my health and the health of others.
What are you passionate about outside of work?
Jeff Bokser: In my free time, there is nothing more I enjoy doing than being with my family. My teenage daughters keep me active and current on pop culture and occasionally get me to learn a TikTok dance with them. I enjoy watching and cheering them on from the sidelines at their dance recitals as well as field hockey and lacrosse games. On weekends, during warmer weather, I enjoy handy work around the house and am continuously in pursuit of the “perfect” golf game.
Kara Koirtyohann: I love all things culture, but I am particularly passionate about opportunities to escape the office and go into nature on a hike.
To learn more about Hagerty’s work supporting healthcare systems, visit our Public Health and Medical Support page here.
Jeff Bokser is Hagerty Consulting’s Vice President of Healthcare Programs with strategic expertise in all aspects of healthcare operations, finance, organizational resiliency, institutional preparedness, and recovery. Jeff has over 20 years of experience as a senior leader at NewYork-Presbyterian and Yale New Haven Health and served as Incident Commander guiding 40,000+ employees through numerous internal and external emergency response and recovery operations.
Kara Koirtyohann is a Deputy Director of Recovery for Hagerty Consulting. At Hagerty, has supported clients on recovery projects in response to various federally declared major disaster incidents, including hurricanes, flooding, wildfire, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to working at Hagerty, she managed the design and construction of public and private institutional, commercial, and residential buildings and interiors from preliminary design through construction closeout.