How Atlantic Health Makes Corporate Compliance Approachable

Employees usually choose to remain anonymous when reporting compliance issues. That’s not the case at Atlantic Health System, and Eva Goldenberg explains why.

Eva Goldenberg doesn’t mind a challenge. She has faced plenty: the transition from law to human resources, the Herculean comprehension of international employment law, and, perhaps most seismically, the career shift from for-profit wholesale to nonprofit healthcare. But now, as the VP of corporate compliance and internal audit at Atlantic Health System, she is facing perhaps the biggest challenge of all: making a compliance department approachable.

Goldenberg’s position at Atlantic Health is very much the result of a diverse career. Her journey began in earnest at Russ Berrie and Company, a gifts company specializing in stuffed animals, giftware, and other similar staples. There, she served as associate general counsel, and after six years, she was promoted to chief human resources officer. “That was not my corporate expertise,” she says, “but I worked for a CEO who had presented me with challenges over the years and knew I could figure it out.”

A period of reconstruction and reorganization at the company followed her promotion, and the experience Goldenberg gained in leading that transition prompted Newton Memorial Hospital in northern New Jersey to reach out. “I had no healthcare experience, but they were seeking a human resources leader who could help through a transition,” she says. “At this particular community hospital, there was a lot of change: people were retiring, new folks were coming in, and healthcare was in transition.”

Eva Goldenberg, VP of corporate compliance and internal audit at Atlantic Health System

Although she had plenty to learn, Goldenberg believes the goals of any human resources professional align across all industries. “Everybody wants to earn a living, get a paycheck, be comfortable in the workplace, and have passion and interest in what their company does,” she says. “Whether it’s selling stuffed animals or providing healthcare services, the workforces are similar in what human beings want out of a day of work.”

What was difficult to adjust to, however, was discerning appropriate business practices in the healthcare sector. There are many business practices and tactics in the private sector that would be unacceptable and potentially illegal in nonprofit healthcare. Goldenberg cites volume discounts and two-for-one programs as examples, and she notes that every idea, project, or offering must first be filtered through a series of laws, regulations, and subregulatory guidance.

“We’re still running a business, though,” she adds. “Our business is providing outstanding healthcare to patients and their families, so we have to strike a delicate balance between implementing an idea and enhancing how people get healthcare with all of the complex rules and regulations.”

“Our promise to our patients, their families, and our communities is that we are committed to building a trusted network of caring.”

That may sound taxing, but all the legal minutia has emboldened Goldenberg. After Newton was folded into the Atlantic Health System network, she was offered the opportunity to restructure and continue to build the health system’s corporate compliance and internal audit functions. Goldenberg takes the task seriously. She worked hard to learn the rules, and now, she’s working just as hard to reinforce them.

“Sometimes I like to say we’re compliance to the extreme,” she says, citing the corporate integrity agreement and the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) compliance guidelines as the basis for the firm approach. “The OIG has seven elements for an effective compliance program at a hospital. We live by that as our basis and build on it.”

However, Goldenberg is quick to note that being firm on issues of compliance doesn’t have to mean being a buzzkill. She’s aware that Atlantic’s sixteen thousand employees are focused on caring for patients, and it’s her department’s job to help those employees keep up with the complex ins and outs of compliance requirements. So, she’s maintained an open line of communication through education and training that emphasizes how compliance relates to the day-to-day of one’s duties. “We try to keep it real; we try to make it relevant,” she says. “Hearing about all the different laws and all the Medicare rules and regulations is probably not the most exciting thing.” That’s why she includes real-life cases, as well as their organizational and individual consequences, during training sessions. There’s even a licensed compliance-centered comic strip called Captain Integrity, which is sent to the entire workforce via e-mail and addresses common issues with whimsy and humor.

It’s working, too. Like most organizations, Atlantic Health has a compliance hotline where employees can call in to report any concerns. National statistics show that approximately 80 percent of callers choose to remain anonymous when they make these types of calls. At Atlantic, it’s the opposite. “Eighty percent of people identify themselves. Why is that? I’d like to say it’s because, for the past five years, we have worked very hard to build trust,” she says. “Typically, a compliance department’s reputation is that they’re out to get you or find things that are going wrong. So, we’ve worked very hard to partner with people to be supportive, to be engaging, to be visible, and to earn trust.”

Atlantic Health maintains a mandatory reporting policy, but it also has a nonretaliation policy. “Once somebody reports something, their job can’t be in jeopardy,” she explains. “Our promise to our patients, their families, and our communities is that we are committed to building a trusted network of caring, where we deliver outstanding quality with the right care, at the right time, at the right place, and at the right cost. Understanding that trust must be earned every day through every action, my goal is to remain vigilant in safeguarding this trusted network of caring.”

For Goldenberg, that care doesn’t stop within the organization’s clinics and hospitals. What’s clear is that she’s been able to bring Atlantic Health’s commitment to nurture and preserve her own unique corner of the organization.