Carolyn Wood Views Well-Being from All Angles

Carolyn Wood considers all points of the wellness spectrum as vice president of employee benefits to keep UPMC employees safe and healthy

Photo by Kristin Miller

Carolyn Wood came to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) at the tail end of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that despite being months on the job, she still has yet to meet many of her colleagues face-to-face.

Coming to a healthcare organization during one of the most severe health crises of modern history might seem a strange choice for the financial analyst turned retirement and benefits professional, who has an amazing résumé that includes manufacturing, defense, aviation, and even baking.

But Wood took the challenge on later in her career precisely because of the resilience she has demonstrated in all of her previous roles. After all, who better to help frontline employees navigate a challenge than someone who has managed to overcome hundreds of obstacles in her own career?

Wood has spent six months as vice president of employee benefits at UPMC, and while she may not have met all of her team in person yet, she’s helped make an immediate impact at a time when the healthcare organization needed all hands on deck to support their employees and deliver a strong total rewards program.

The Three-Legged Stool

Wood was excited to come to UPMC for several reasons. At the top of the list is knowing that the people she sees on the news as frontline and essential workers are the same people she’s helping support and lead more fulfilling and healthy lives. The opportunity to come to UPMC has also provided Wood a chance to pursue what she considers the future of benefits, which—as she puts it—looks like a three-legged stool.

“When we talk about the future of benefits, it’s this interconnected approach to physical, emotional, and financial well-being,” Wood explains. “All three of these affect each other, and I think it’s very important for an organization like us to demonstrate caring in each of these areas.”

“This organization is deeply humane and very value-driven . . . It sticks with me because when an organization is truly about serving its people, you feel it.”

While the physical and financial aspects of benefits have made significant headway over the years, Wood says only recently has the behavioral health and emotional well-being component been embraced more widely in the US workplace. The stress of the day-to-day experience of healthcare workers means that the organization has a tremendous opportunity to provide tools and resources for employees to deal with unprecedented challenges.

Telehealth is one area where UPMC has continued to expand its offerings to employees during and post COVID-19. “One of the great things that has accompanied our telehealth program is the ability to help remove barriers to access and acknowledge that there was a behavioral health crisis in this country before COVID began,” Wood explains. “It’s allowed us to expand the ways in which we continue to support our people, finding innovative and creative ways to address these problems.”

UPMC’s health plan has offered behavioral or mental health first aid training for leaders, to help recognize employees who may need a hand but struggle to express it openly.

The Holistic Employee Experience

Wood says that evolving the holistic employee experience comes down to delivering the right benefits at the right time to ensure that they resonate with as many employees as possible. “That sounds like it might be easy, but it’s very, very hard,” Wood explains. “There’s a lot of data that needs to be collected and analyzed behind the scenes in order to do that.”

carolyn wood
Carolyn Wood, VP of Employee Benefits, UPMCPhoto by Kristin Miller

That process includes identifying at-risk populations, looking at turnover for key positions, and breaking down employee populations so as to figure out which benefits will provide the maximum impact for the most people. One of Wood’s biggest achievements thus far is helping evolve that holistic experience conversation.

Part of the reason Wood has been able to make an immediate impact is because of her sheer breadth of experience. There are very few benefits professionals who are able to draw a parallel between a hospital system and a bread company, but that’s what makes Wood great. She sees a through line in the way organizations look after their people.

“Our mission and values were the same at a baking company as they are here, in many ways,” Wood explains. “This organization is deeply humane and very value-driven, and it reminds me of my previous experience. It sticks with me because when an organization is truly about serving its people, you feel it.”

It’s perhaps that outlook that has earned Wood’s designation as a welcome addition to UPMC. “Getting a team excited about what they’re doing and the opportunities and shared commitment in this organization is really important for them to own their own pieces of the work,” Wood says. “We have the opportunity to work for an organization that is truly making a difference and moving the needle in such an unprecedented time.”

Wood’s excitement, her outlook, and her mission-driven work ethic are an ideal fit for an organization whose employee proposition is simply “Cares.”

Everything for a Reason

Carolyn Wood speaks often of her belief in things happening for a reason. Most of her career jumps have come not from active solicitation but from phone calls from acquaintances wondering if she was up for a new challenge. She’s taken on new responsibilities in one major city after another, adding to a colorful skill set that’s made her an asset to any company she’s been part of.

“I’ve found that the diversity of experience in my career and the willingness to be resilient and move forward have served me well so far,” Wood says.

She got the call about UPMC the day she dropped off her youngest child at college for the first time. Coming to Pittsburgh allowed her to relocate to the city where her middle son resides. A solid trade.