Leading with conscience for four decades

Leading with conscience for four decades

March 26, 2018

“Lynn Varricchio is the conscience of the agency.”

That’s how multiple former and current colleagues describe Varricchio’s work with Common Ground Health. The nonprofit’s longest-serving employee, Varricchio retires at the end of March, having served as an invaluable team member since 1979.

While Common Ground Health’s work centers on collecting and analyzing data—and measuring results—Varricchio’s numerous contributions have been immeasurable.

From the beginning, she helped shape and execute the organization’s mission. Her responsibilities have included conducting health-services research and organizing and staffing commissions, committees and workgroups.

Lynn Varricchio, Common Ground Health's longest-serving employee, wraps up a 40 year career advocating for underserved and at risk populations.

She worked closely with consumers and providers to develop regional plans to guide service development for the full spectrum of adult and pediatric chronic-care services.

Whatever project Varricchio was involved in, she always kept the consumer’s best interests in mind.

Former senior planner Art Streeter put it this way: “Whenever we were working on a [Certificate of Need] CON application, Lynn always advocated for the public’s view. She’d ask how this would affect a certain population. We’d shake our heads and say, ‘oh, that’s Lynn,’ and then we’d take her concerns to heart. I was more of a numbers guy, Lynn was always the agency’s conscience.”

One of Varricchio’s most notable achievements involved helping change the state’s CON requirement regarding Medicaid recipients. People receiving Medicaid could not get into nursing homes, helping cause a large backup in area hospitals.

To help alleviate this problem, Varricchio pushed the concept that if you have a public-funded franchise, you should accept everybody.

Largely due to her advocacy, the state adopted a requirement stating that nursing homes had to accept a fair share of people receiving Medicaid—an equal number of admissions had to be Medicaid as opposed to private pay. There was much push-back from one local institution, and the fight ended up in a contested hearing at the State Hospital Review and Planning Council.

Ultimately, Varricchio’s vision prevailed.

This concept never existed before in New York state or anywhere in the U.S. It is one of her lasting legacies to Common Ground Health and to this community.

Varricchio also shepherded an update to the state’s nursing-home-need methodology that was adopted in the mid-1990s. Maintaining that people with developmental disabilities were no different than other nursing-home residents, she advocated for a change that required nursing homes, for the first time, to provide access to people with developmental disabilities and neuro-behavioral problems.

Former Executive Director Rene Reixach said Varricchio was an incredible resource for the community.

“Lynn recognized that populations with special needs were going unnoticed and unserved. She worked to helped secure funding and structural changes to serve these populations.

“It was easy for us to get caught up in bureaucracy and number-crunching. As the conscience of the agency, Lynn advocated for people’s needs. People would call her for help. Instead of saying, ‘I’m just a planner, it’s not my job,’ she always advocated for them because she cared.”

Much of Varricchio’s later work focused on long term care and issues related to aging. Other Health Systems Agencies did not focus as much on long-term care. Common Ground Health, then called Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, did, according to Art Streeter, largely because of Varricchio’s outspokenness and her advocacy.

She provided staff support to the Monroe County Long Term Care Council and to the Monroe County No Wrong Door Implementation Team, which works to streamline long-term- care access. She also supported the Sage Commission and was instrumental in developing a comprehensive, person-centered plan for senior health services.

Varricchio helped lay the groundwork for about a dozen homes for the dying. These hospice-like homes, which still exist, are composed of two beds with volunteer staff. Nursing care is provided by home health care agencies, and hands-on care is provided by volunteers. They were not required to be licensed like hospices because of their size. In recent years, Varricchio worked to expand these homes to include facilities with deaf residents and HIV positive residents.

A trip to a meeting about a proposed hospice-like home in Watkins Glen stands out to former Executive Director Martha Bond as an example of Varricchio’s incredible focus on an issue.

“We were driving to a meeting in Watkins Glen, but we got so caught up in our discussion about the project that we blew past several Thruway exits and ended up in Syracuse. That trip showed how intensely Lynn believes in what she’s doing. Her dedication and her ethics made a difference. Lynn had an enormous influence on long-term-care services, not just in Monroe County but across the entire region.”

Varricchio also led the Rochester Area Task Force on AIDS (RATFA), helping the community navigate the early days and the peak of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Through this work, Varricchio first met Trilby de Jung, current CEO of Common Ground Health.

Trilby was struck by Varricchio’s knowledge about the complicated data and policy questions RATFA faced, and how she held people as they cried and even attended their funerals.

In recent years, Varricchio has continued to advocate for underserved populations. “Working with her to create solutions to complex and politically charged challenges has taught me many things, including to be courageous in the face of potential conflict,” said Albert Blankley, director of research and analytics. “I have never known Lynn to ignore a challenge or to avoid an issue simply because it was difficult,” he added.