CONNECTING CONFLICTING NEEDS: Denise Patnode, center right, sees her role as CFO of The Providence Center as one that balances the risks inherent in a mental health services provider with the need to keep it financially viable. Taking a meeting with her are, from left, Eileen Comparetto, administrative chief of staff, Felicia Lesnett, marketing/communications specialist, and Roka Francis, senior administrative assistant.
Given the extraordinary changes that community behavioral-health services now face, it is essential to skillfully manage the complex interplay of institutions, programs and funding sources, said Dale K. Klatzker, president and CEO of The Providence Center.
Managing complexity is what Denise Patnode, chief financial officer of The Providence Center, does best, Klatzker says.
Funding is now shifting from large state grants and contracts to reimbursements paid by insurers managing Medicaid programs on behalf of the states, Klatzker said. He added, “Denise takes calculated risks” by offering solutions that help move the organization forward.
Calling herself a counterpoint to the visionary, risk-taking Klatzker, Patnode explained that she performs a balancing act. She strives to understand what must be accomplished and then offers recommendations. With every decision, she aims to reduce risks and increase rewards.
Virtually every business decision involves some degree of risk, yet The Providence Center is successfully navigating an ongoing dilemma: How to develop innovative new programs that produce revenue and to balance losses incurred by essential but unprofitable programs that promote a support system to help clients stay healthy, while continuing to operate efficiency?
“New programs must be carefully seeded with donor contributions and grants to make certain the programs can be sustained,” Klatzker said in the Providence Business News 2014 CFO Awards nomination form for Patnode. “To date, The Providence Center has been very successful in this effort.” He attributed these successes to Patnode’s exemplary financial management.
One notable example, arising from an affiliation between The Providence Center and Care New England, is Symmetry at Duncan Lodge, a new substance-abuse treatment facility on Butler Hospital’s campus. Programs such as Symmetry at Duncan Lodge allow The Providence Center to market its core competencies to a commercially insured population, which means the organization may treat more patients and grow its revenue.
Care New England and The Providence Center share in the new venture’s risks and rewards, and Patnode was a key contributor in developing the partnership’s financial model, Klatzker noted.
Supporting innovation while maintaining sound fiscal footing is any CFO’s largest challenge, said Domenic F. Delmonico, a senior vice president at Care New England, and one that Patnode handles admirably. Of these new affiliations, he added, “Denise has helped us all navigate this complexity with skilled financial analysis, clarity and wisdom.”
A newly formed for-profit subsidiary, Continuum Behavioral Health, offers outpatient counseling services, specialty services for people after being hospitalized for psychiatric problems, and outpatient substance abuse treatment in Cranston, North Kingstown and Providence. Established just last summer, Continuum Behavioral Health, said Klatzker, is well on its way to profitability. Patnode’s expertise and capabilities support The Providence Center in addressing the state’s unmet behavioral health care needs.
These initiatives indicate the rapid changes, including the need for strategic affiliations, that Patnode anticipates the health care industry will face head-on in coming years. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act could lead to increased or decreased funding for nonprofit community health centers, she said.
In fewer than six years, Patnode has helped strengthen The Providence Center, which Klatzker identified as Rhode Island’s largest community-based mental health center. Founded in 1969, the organization annually provides behavioral health and addiction recovery services to more than 12,000 people. With a 2014 annual budget of $45 million, The Providence Center’s 600 employees serve 12 locations in Burrillville, Cranston, Pawtucket, Providence and Warwick.
The organization’s 31 percent growth in revenue since 2009 is largely due to Patnode’s “superior understanding of the clinical components that make up our business, and her financial and business acumen,” said Klatzker. Patnode oversaw the agency’s debt refinancing, and guided The Providence Center to continuous profitability and growth in revenue, employees and clients served. In addition, several new back-office initiatives led to improved efficiencies and increased cost savings.
Patnode finds it deeply satisfying to partner with the agency’s program directors. “I learn from them and [I believe] they learn from me,” she said. Collaboratively, staff configure and then implement programs that deliver fiscally sound and sustainable solutions.
Practicing what she preaches, Patnode believes people should work hard, continue to learn and grow, and be good team players and collaborators. “I think many times the [CFO is the] person in the corner no one wants to talk to,” she said. Patnode lives by a different philosophy: “Please come talk to me, and sooner rather than later.”
Math and music are her dual passions. An opera fan and lifelong Rhode Islander, Patnode earned her undergraduate degree in music from Barrington College, a now-defunct Christian liberal arts school in Rhode Island. While working as a claims and insurance adjuster after graduating, she developed a keen interest in nonprofit health care, and earned her MBA from the University of Rhode Island. Patnode also contributes her financial expertise as a board member to domestic violence prevention organizations. Currently, she is treasurer of the Women’s Resource Center serving Newport and Bristol Counties.
Previously, Patnode worked for 25 years as finance director for the East Bay Center (formerly East Bay Mental Health). Asked to describe her management skills, she said, “Collaborative, directive when I need to be, a good listener and always looking to get good input from people actually doing the work.” She expressed great pride in her colleagues, who help clients every day.