“The facts are always interesting, there is always something new,” says Heather Candy, chief counsel for all of Adventist Health system’s labor and employment matters, as she describes the benefits of labor and employment law. A Sacramento native, Candy has been practicing law for more than twenty years. Now in her second year at Adventist Health, she is part of a newly formed Office of General Counsel, which provides the legal support and regulatory compliance for 20 hospitals, 270 clinics, more than 30,000 employees, and providers in three states: California, Oregon, and Hawaii. As the only labor and employment attorney for the system, her role entails not only advising and managing issues for various facilities, departments, and locations, but she is also responsible for writing, amending, and developing policies and procedures, ensuring compliance, and managing litigation.
Prior to Adventist Health, she was with two Sacramento law firms exclusively working on labor and employment law matters. She then moved in-house for the eye insurance company Vision Service Plan (VSP). Her experience overseeing all aspects of labor and employment matters, but also business matters, has been integral to be an effective in-house attorney. “With my background and professional experience, I know the arc of what can happen when a decision is made,” she says.
Prior to her department’s creation, all of the organization’s legal matters were handled by outside counsel. Having in-house counsel allows an organization to have a legal, holistic view of the many complex issues occurring and to be able to positively impact decisions being made. Adventist Health’s Office of General Counsel is working on building and supporting the changing shared services model of the organization and integrating its legal services into the system.
“It’s tricky,” she says. “It’s even more challenging when you have a business that’s not used to doing business with a lawyer around at all times. Getting the business to recognize the value of in-house counsel takes time since you have to earn their trust. You can do this by being an effective resource when consulted.”
Her focus is to find a solution that may not have been thought of before or suggest an improved approach to a problem. Drawing on her experiences from private practice, she is distinctly equipped to handle unusual complex problems and circumstances.
She once had a client, early on in her practice, who needed to send a technician down to Colombia to upgrade an expensive heart monitoring system. This was early 2000, and the business was concerned for the safety of their employee and what could it do to protect its employee. Ultimately, it was decided to fly him to Colombia and the machine and doctor were brought to the airport so that the technician could make the upgrade there. It was an issue that most couldn’t imagine and the solution involved not only the practical legal issue, but a practical business solution to ensure the safety of the employee. Examples like this are what make Candy so comfortable tackling the challenges of her current role.
One of the goals of this new Office of General Counsel is to support the integration of all of the facilities into the larger hospital system so the department can better guide and positively influence decisions with a system-wide approach. With an organization of this size spread across three states, the Adventist Health legal team has been working on streamlining the system’s legal issues and funneling them through one channel and directing it to the right person.
When Candy joined Adventist Health, the organization had employee handbooks for each hospital and other facilities, totaling more than twenty versions. Partnering with human resources, she consolidated the system’s policies into one handbook, streamlining and creating consistency for the company. This effort took more than a year and required access to documents and employees that would be difficult to manage in an efficient and cost-effective manner as an outside counsel.
She has found that some of the most important traits to being a successful in-house counsel are the ability to stay calm and balanced, in addition to offering responses that do not create chaos for the organization.
“The idea is to provide support that the company’s business needs but to also know when to step back. It’s not a job where you give off-the-cuff responses,” Candy says. With a total of sixteen employees—five reporting to her and seven other lawyers in the department—she and her team have worked hard to pull as much work in-house, improving efficiency and saving on costs. “A lot of times, businesses may not understand the liability that they can create with a simple decision without thinking about the larger consequences for the organization,” she says. For Adventist Health, Candy and her department will continue to be the safeguards against risk to keep the company headed in the right direction.
Newmeyer & Dillion is proud to partner with Heather Candy and the Adventist Health team to propel its workforce and empower its leaders. With over 75 attorneys practicing in employment, business law, privacy & data security, insurance law and trial work, Newmeyer & Dillion delivers legal services tailored to meet each client’s needs.