Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The Hagerty Advantage – Our People: Jeff Bokser and Mark O’Mara

Over the past year, Hagerty has helped more than 25 state and local governments, as well as over 100 hospitals and healthcare systems respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the past month, we have highlighted several Hagerty team members who are helping our clients navigate the complexities of the continuing public health crisis by sharing how they have addressed unique response challenges, maximized federal reimbursement opportunities, and tackled recovery challenges your community may be facing. Today, we hear from Hagerty’s Vice President of Healthcare and University Programs Jeff Bokser and Hagerty’s Director of Recovery Mark O’Mara. 

How did your career path lead you to Hagerty?

Jeff: Prior to joining Hagerty Consulting, I spent my career working in academic medical centers both in New York and Connecticut where I gained experience in all aspects of healthcare operations, finance, crisis management and recovery. I started my career in a New York City hospital in healthcare administration three months prior to September 11th, 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 attacks. I have since led hospital staff in planning, executing, and responding to significant emergency events including Ebola, Hurricane Sandy, 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 Hagerty is providing during COVID-19. 

Mark: I started my career like many in this industry, accidentally! I studied to be an architect and upon graduating found the world we knew to be severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina. I knew I wanted to help and I had the skills and technical background to help the Gulf Coast rebuild bigger, better, and stronger. Eight years, and dozens of disasters later, I joined the Hagerty team to help rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy. 

How have you been supporting clients in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Jeff: Hagerty is currently working with over 100 hospitals, public health departments across the country address the significant financial challenges from the effects of COVID-19 testing, treatment, care and vaccination roll-out. Our work includes Identifying and preparing organizations to optimize federal emergency funding such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance (PA), Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF), Provider Relief Funds and other programs to offset revenue loss and assist with cost recovery from COVID. In addition, we are helping hospitals and public health departments staff emergency operations centers both virtually and in-person, running contact tracing and call centers, providing solutions for field hospitals, enhancing continuity of operations plans for pandemics and supporting the planning and roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines. Hagerty is unique – we have vast experience in disaster response and recovery, and we are bringing them both to the table for our clients during COVID-19.

Mark: In my role with Hagerty, I am fortunate enough to be able to support a variety of public and private clients with differing priorities, demographics, and needs. This allows me to build teams, solve complex problems, and provide subject matter expertise on federal funding programs including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, FEMA Public Assistance Program, and the new Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). To date, we have successfully supported over $10B of COVID related grants and programs which have helped governments, universities, hospitals, businesses, and individuals recover from this unprecedented pandemic.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and/ or addressed while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Jeff: Normally there is a time when an emergency ends and recovery begins; right now, they are blending. In addition, there was no national playbook for a long-term public health emergency like COVID-19. We are creating in real time, solutions to help our clients manage and scale financial recovery and response solutions including just in time COVID-19 vaccination points of distribution and programs.  

Mark: Besides working from home with three small children and one big dog in a tiny apartment?!? I believe the biggest challenge we will face together is one that is largely in front of us now, vaccination distribution. We are already seeing the tremendous challenges associated with community outreach, planning, implementation, as well as the skilled medical practitioner shortages and data management / record keeping realities associated with this stage of the pandemic. Hagerty looks forward to helping our clients across the country successfully overcome these unprecedented, yet solvable problems.

What lesson(s) have you learned – professionally and personally – supporting our clients’ response to the pandemic?

Jeff: 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 of the populations in all corners of our nation. 

Mark: While there has been no shortage of life lessons for each of us throughout this event, the one that has stuck with me the fervently is to truly appreciate the silver linings in life. Working 100 hour weeks? Thank goodness I still have a job and enjoy the people I work with. Miss my extended family? Grateful they are safe and look forward to seeing them soon. Can’t fit into my clothes anymore due to the “Quarantine 15”?!? Well, I guess I am still working on the silver lining to that one!

What long-term impacts do you believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the Healthcare and Public Health Industry’s?

Jeff: COVID-19 has forever changed the future of healthcare and public health emergency preparedness. The public health emergency will not just be about the immediate aspects of caring for COVID-19 patients and mass vaccination. It will require healthcare organizations to develop new and more resilient models of care delivery to not only prepare for future pandemics but the long term issues resulting from the pandemic including: Inequality in treatment exposed during COVID; A backlog of elective procedures that were put off to create capacity for COVID-19 patients; More complex healthcare needs from individuals who put off preventative care and mental health needs resulting from job loss, social isolation and staff burnout of caregivers. Most importantly it will require a restoration of trust in science and health and a prioritization and investment of funding at all levels of government and private entities in public health and healthcare.   

Mark: While this may be hard to see now, in the fog of battle, so to speak; I believe the long term impacts of this pandemic will strengthen our country for generations to come. It will help us better plan and prepare for future catastrophic events, man-made and natural disasters alike. It will force us to think critically about what can, and can not be done. From remote learning / working / medicine to the role of Federal, State and Local governments, we are forced to rethink the way things have always been done and move to the way they should be done. Mostly though, I believe that future generations, hopefully in a distant time from now, will use the lessons learned and the best practices developed through the COVID-19 response and recovery to successfully combat a pandemic that could very easily be far, far worse than COVID-19.

Jeff Bokser is Hagerty Consulting’s Vice President of Healthcare and University Programs with strategic expertise in all aspects of healthcare operations, finance, crisis management, and recovery. Jeff currently works with healthcare systems, public health departments and universities across the country focused on COVID-19 financial recovery, preparedness and response. Jeff has over 20 years of experience as a senior leader at NewYork-Presbyterian and Yale New Haven Health. Jeff is nationally recognized in the healthcare sector for his transformational leadership in the areas of emergency and crisis management; security and safety; pandemic and surge planning; and business continuity.

Mark O’Mara serves as Hagerty’s Director of Recovery. Mark is an experienced Disaster Recovery Project Manager with a demonstrated history in the recovery and grants management industries and strong background in design and construction. He has over 13 years experience in developing, managing, and leading the formulation and administration of over $15B of grants funded through the FEMA Public Assistance (PA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)/Federal Transit Administration (FTA) – Emergency Relief (ER), etc. programs.