A New Direction in Cancer Care

From secretary’s assistant to top executive, Tina Graham has spent nearly thirty years working her way up in the world of healthcare. The chief operating officer of Alabama-based Guideway Care has no plans to slow down as she takes on a new challenge to transform the cancer care system.

When Tina Graham started running, a friend gave her some sage guidance to overcome the physical struggles of getting into shape. “She said to just make sure that the last mile is faster than the first mile,” Graham says. “You don’t want to slow down. You want to get faster and better. You want to keep moving forward.”

That advice is a theme that has tracked through Graham’s personal and professional journey. Her first mile was her humble childhood in a small town in rural Alabama. After high school, she moved by herself to Birmingham, the largest city in the state. There, she started working to buy her first car and to pay for tuition at a technical college. The college set her up with a job placement at Southeast Health Plan, a local HMO, where she served as an assistant to a secretary. This proved to be a pivotal point in her life and prepared her for future success.

“I entered my career at the lowest place you can start,” she says. “I was nineteen years old. I started out doing administrative things in the information systems department, but I had a manager who really invested in me. She had me develop training materials for the software and test software changes, and gave me opportunities to expand my writing and presenting skills.”

Tina Graham, COO at Guideway Care

Not long after, Graham sprinted to a promotion to quality assurance coordinator at Southeast Health Plan. She stayed in the role for four years before she went on to spend five years as the quality assurance manager for MACESS, a business process and enterprise content management software for the insurance industry. Next, Graham worked her way up to become the chief operating officer (COO) of SuccessEHS—a vendor of EHRs, practice management solutions, and integrated medical billing services—for fourteen years. When SuccessEHS became part of Greenway Health in 2013, the company named Graham the senior vice president of revenue services.

Today, Graham has hit her stride as the COO of Guideway Care, a Birmingham-based start-up firm that was founded in 2016 to provide cancer patients with nonclinical services and help them navigate every step of the treatment and recovery process.

“Working at Guideway Care is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been able to do in my career,” Graham says. “This company has such a great purpose. We are doing something that improves patient care and population health while making healthcare more affordable for everyone in the system.”

Guideway Care hires and trains specialists, known as care guides, for cancer clinics. These experts offer cancer patients emotional support and education about their disease and treatment, as well as assist patients in eliminating barriers to care and in connecting them to community resources. The goal is to create a high-quality experience for patients, families, and providers.

“When a cancer patient is in the clinic, they have a lot of support,” Graham says. “But when they leave, they are taking care of themselves. Our care guides engage with patients between clinical visits. They help them deal with issues that go beyond their immediate health concerns.”

“Part of what excites me about anything I do is finding a way to do it better.”

A state-of-the-art solution includes care maps, guidance protocols, and a technology platform developed and tested by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System Cancer Community Network—all of which aid the care guides in their mission. The Guideway Care platform interacts with health system information through the digital cloud, which results in advanced communication protocols that ensure nothing is overlooked in conversations between patients and their care teams. Guideway Care also performs rigorous assessments of patients’ needs.

“I am very proud of our partnership with UAB,” Graham says. “While delivering a more than 350 percent return on the original capital invested in the program, they have created opportunities for us to share this proven process with other cancer centers. We are doing something at Guideway that will redesign the way in which cancer care is delivered.”

As COO, Graham handles Guideway’s development and care-guidance teams. However, she is involved in all areas of the business as it continues to grow, and she describes the culture throughout Guideway as high-energy, collaborative, and focused on innovation.

“Right now, we are functioning as one big team,” Graham explains. “There aren’t really any divisions. Every single day seems different from the day before. It’s a rewarding place to be. We are getting to do such great work, and there are so many doors opening for us.”

Although Graham has continued to accelerate along her career path for almost three decades, she says her desire to keep improving and growing as a professional has allowed her to keep pace.

“You have to make sure you have good energy for what you are doing,” Graham says. “I love learning and doing new things. Part of what excites me about anything I do is finding a way to do it better. I don’t think you can ever perfect anything. There is always room to make progress.”