Dr. Thomas Mahoney

Dr. Thomas Mahoney, a primary care physician whose work with Common Ground Health helped define community-based health care both in the region and beyond, is retiring.

Mahoney has been responsible for overseeing all aspects of clinical data and analytics as chief medical officer since 2014, when the regional health planning organization was known as the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency. He will continue to serve as a consultant, and Dr. Linda Clark has stepped in to the chief medical officer role.

“It is not an overstatement to say that what we are doing today is because of Tom Mahoney,” says Common Ground CEO Wade Norwood, who describes Dr. Mahoney as his closest and most trusted adviser. “He used to say that doctors and hospitals did not create health disparities and health challenges, and as a result cannot address them alone. Everything he did was about bringing community to the table.”

Dr. Mahoney, who joined the organization in 2010 as associate executive director, guided the regional health agency’s evolution from a technical medical organization to a community health organization.

His legacy includes envisioning, and helping to secure, a $26.6 million communitywide grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. The grant helped transform primary care by integrating team-based care, care management, and data analysis before, during and after patient visits. The new model of care is both more comprehensive and cost-effective.

Dr. Mahoney’s drive comes largely from the wise words he has kept close. A Bible verse from Luke 12:48: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” And “A Physician’s Prayer,” which his aunt gave him when he graduated medical school. The prayer reads, in part, “Give skill to my hand, clear vision to my mind, kindness and sympathy to my heart. Give me singleness of purpose, strength to lift at least a part of the burden of my suffering fellowmen and a true realization of the privilege that is mine.”

Until recently a primary care physician at Rochester Regional Middle Road Primary Care, Dr. Mahoney helped the community understand the complex, important interplay between medical offices and economic stability, education access and other social determinants of health.

As CEO of the Rochester Individual Practice Association from 2003-2009, he recognized that the relationship between doctor and patient is only one factor influencing a patient’s health, and that non-medical influences often contribute to rising hypertension rates and medical costs. He amplified the message that when communities support healthy practices, they wind up improving overall health on a broader scale—while addressing race and ethnicity inequities at the same time.

“He is this progressive, forward-leaning, brilliant, thoughtful physician who understood how the system and communities needed to work together,” says Melissa Wendland, director of strategic initiatives at Common Ground Health. “He’s the person who can listen to chatter for an hour-and-a-half, then walk to the front of the room with a two-liner, and everybody will go, ‘Wow.’ His brain is four times the size of his being, but he doesn’t have an ounce of ego.”

Dr. Mahoney worked tirelessly to bring together data from the insurers, health systems, and state and healthcare providers to inform the community about the health challenges faced by our population. The data provided the feedback needed to measure the success of collaborative efforts to address these challenges. That drive to include multiple stakeholders has had an impact on how health care is delivered throughout New York State, with claims now being required to be submitted to the state and aggregated into a database.

“He is an excellent practitioner with a fundamental knowledge of how optimal care is delivered in our region,” says Howard Beckman, MD, FACP, FACH, a senior consultant at Common Ground Health. “He used that knowledge to obtain high-quality data from the state, which made Rochester an important contributor to statewide efforts by the health planning community to improve health care for everyone.”

Dr. Mahoney served as the lead clinical and content expert for the 2020 Performance Commission initiatives. The initiatives increased access to primary care and other outpatient services, which then reduced hospital admissions and avoidable emergency department visits.

As a member of the Sage Commission, he worked to better meet the needs of aging baby boomers by controlling health care and housing costs and reducing the financial burden of delivering institutional care.

Even in retirement, Dr. Mahoney will continue to address system and community issues he observed long ago, when patients who weren't taking their blood pressure medicine explained that they were struggling with financial issues, trying to feed their children, or dealing with being evicted.

“Now those observations have been coined the ‘social determinants of health’,” recalls Dr. Mahoney, who, prior to joining Common Ground Health, was a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Retirement doesn’t mean retreating from those issues, though he will have more time for recreation. No longer a marathon runner—he ran them for years, including three in New York City and annual races in Rochester—Dr. Mahoney is still an avid biker. (He used to bike to Common Ground Health when his schedule allowed.) He now looks forward to more of his favorite pursuit: sunrise bike rides.

In the meantime, Dr. Mahoney remains active with the New York eHealth Collaborative Policy Committee, which provides recommendations on topics such as privacy and consent, on behalf of Regional Health Information Organizations, to the Statewide Health Information Network for New York.

He also has been involved with the New York State Medicaid Redesign Team II, which is working toward more transparency when it comes to how medical information is released and who uses it, among other things.

And he maintains his place on a number of statewide and regional committees, including the New York State Department of Health’s State Health Innovation Plan-State Innovation Models (SHIP-SIM) Steering Committee and the Executive Steering, IT, and Clinical Quality Committees for the Finger Lakes Performing Provider System.

Says Wendland of Dr. Mahoney: “He just wants to make the world better.”