Patricia Ariel understands the challenge of meshing leadership and interpersonal relationships with hard numbers. But her determination carried her through years of night school as a single mother of a six-year-old, all the way to becoming an accomplished executive in the healthcare industry. That same determination helped her achieve one of her biggest accomplishments: building the internal audit and compliance departments at Westchester Medical Center Health Network in Valhalla, New York. But to do so, she knew that she’d need to focus just as much on people as numbers.
“When I first came here in 2007, I was by myself,” says Ariel, now the organization’s senior vice president and chief compliance officer, internal audit and compliance. “So, the first thing that I needed was staff.”
Ariel started staffing corporate compliance and auditing departments for Westchester’s three hospitals and hiring consultants when necessary. “When I came here, it took time to hire the right people and put a plan together to work with the CEO and board,” she says.
Ariel built interdisciplinary teams that included representatives of many of the hospital’s departments, not just her employees. “You can put policies out there, but if you can’t enforce them—and that includes with discipline—and you can’t manage them, you’re just putting stuff on paper that you’re never going to be able to meet,” she says.
Teams meet as often as necessary to evaluate whether procedures are being met. When improvement is needed, a subcommittee is formed that meets more frequently until the situation reaches the necessary benchmarks. Ariel works to ensure that Westchester’s hospitals are operating to government standards before audits are performed.
Ariel’s determination ensured that effective compliance and audit practices were established at all of the organization’s facilities as it expanded to nine hospitals and 1,700 beds in New York’s Hudson Valley. “It was really one step at a time,” Ariel says. The first step of the challenge was addressing a hospital in Poughkeepsie that had no compliance officer.
“I drove up there and stayed in a hotel for twenty-three nights over the summer so I could meet everybody and get to know the operations and what I would need to put a plan in place,” Ariel says. She obtained approval to station a compliance director in Poughkeepsie from Westchester’s CEO and board of directors. That procedure was then duplicated for the other community hospitals that had been added to the network. Ariel’s techniques and determined leadership skills have enabled her to succeed in growing the network’s corporate compliance and internal auditing departments.
This would not have been possible if Ariel hadn’t developed the skills to manage this expansion through her years of experience in finance and the healthcare industry. She started working as a bookkeeper for Nassau County on Long Island, New York, while attending night school for her associate’s degree in business accounting.
After receiving her associate’s degree, her determination kicked in. Ariel realized that, as a single mother, she would need more education to ensure her daughter’s financial future, so she began attending night school to earn her bachelor’s degree in finance. “It wasn’t until I actually graduated with my degree that my career path grew and I had another goal that I wanted to achieve: to go into a leadership role,” Ariel recalls.
Determination was important, but Ariel knew it needed to be developed through education. She also knew that simultaneously raising her daughter, working full-time, and attending night school would require relying on strong relationships. “I had a good family behind me,” Ariel recalls. “That helped a lot. Sacrifices were made, but in the end it all worked out really well.”
Those sacrifices influenced her leadership philosophy, which is driven by empathy and the importance of human connection. “I am not a micromanager,” she says. “I believe you need to treat people as you want to be treated. I ask everybody in healthcare, ‘How would you feel if you were the patient receiving care?’ That resonates with people.”
Ariel’s empathetic philosophy is a natural fit in the healthcare industry, which she says feels like family. “People just seem to be more family-oriented,” she says. “The people care so much more about each other. I love the fact that I can talk to these people. Everybody has a business responsibility, and that always comes first, but there’s a human side. That’s the nature of healthcare: the human side. It just drew me in, and I never left once I got in.”
Even though Ariel says she did not expect to spend the past ten years at Westchester Medical Center Health Network when she joined it, she plans to remain in the healthcare industry for the rest of her career. “I love what I do,” she says. “I landed here and lasted here so long because of the established relationships and a CEO who really believes in compliance. It has allowed me to set up a compliance program that is stellar. I got so lucky to get tied to all these things and still reach what I believe is a success.”
HCCS, A HealthStream Company, is pleased to congratulate Patti Ariel, vice president and chief compliance officer at Westchester County Health Care Corporation, for her outstanding accomplishments. We appreciate and thank Patti for her ongoing direction, support, guidance, and vision, and are proud to be a longstanding partner of Westchester Medical.