A Conversation with President and CEO Frances Palm
Frances L. Palm, MPA, became Zufall Health’s president and chief executive officer (CEO) on February 1, 2023 after the retirement of longtime leader Eva Turbiner. Previously our chief operating officer (COO) for nine years, Palm comes to the role with extensive knowledge of, and demonstrated success in, our programs, strategy, and culture. In a brief conversation, she discusses her history with our health center and her vision for providing care to our nearly 45,000 patients.
How and why did you join Zufall?
In 2014, Zufall acquired Women’s Health and Counseling Center (WHCC), a health services agency located in what is now our Somerville site, where I was executive director for five years. Zufall absorbed all WHCC staff, and I was chosen to serve as the first-ever COO. Like Zufall, WHCC provided health care to people experiencing barriers to care, but its primary service was family planning, i.e., contraceptive services, pregnancy testing, and counseling. The acquisition combined the two organizations’ resources, giving patients access to more services in more locations.
What have you accomplished so far?
As COO, I led Zufall’s launch of seven new service locations and oversaw 15 facility renovation projects to elevate our delivery of patient care. I developed new patient communication systems and strategies, resulting in patient satisfaction rates of 90% and above. During the past three years, I have managed our response to COVID-19, including more than 100,000 tests and vaccines combined, telehealth services, and on-site screening protocols. I created new programs for compliance, safety, and emergency preparedness. I am most proud of having implemented a trauma informed care practice transformation for Zufall, including staff development activities to foster a patient-focused, collaborative team culture. Of course, these achievements were possible only with the support of my dedicated colleagues and staff.
What has kept you with Zufall for nearly a decade?
I am deeply committed to our mission to provide access to care for our most vulnerable neighbors. Without our health center, many of our patients – 4 in 5 of whom earn incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and more than half of whom do not have health insurance – would be unable to access affordable, high-quality health care. What’s more is that my Zufall colleagues are united in this common purpose. Our staffwide commitment to underserved people with the best possible health outcomes is truly inspiring.
What are your biggest priorities as president and CEO?
My top priority is to listen, learn, and build trust among our community—supporters, funders, elected officials, and community partners. I am looking forward to the opening of our 12th clinical site at Richard Hall Community Health & Wellness Center in Bridgewater this spring and will be working closely with our facilities team and construction partners to bring our new 15,000-square-foot West Orange building at 49 Mount Pleasant Ave to completion. I am also pleased to oversee our staff’s enrollment of more than 4,000 eligible children into Medicaid who now qualify under the Cover All Kids program.
The White House announced that the Federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency will end on May 11, 2023. How will this impact Zufall?
Zufall remains highly committed to protecting our patients and community from COVID with testing, vaccinations, and treatment. The virus is still with us; transmission rates are currently high or substantial in all New Jersey counties with about 1,000 daily hospitalizations statewide. Drawing on what we’ve learned from COVID, we will continue to prioritize access to primary health care and health literacy to be prepared for future public health threats. In addition, we will be watching with concerns about the future of regulations regarding telehealth, which was expanded during the emergency and has become an integral part of our service delivery in the past three years.
What, in your opinion, makes as good leader and how will this influence your approach as president and CEO?
The most effective leaders are responsive to the needs of their employees and volunteers. As president and CEO of Zufall, I know that our health center can accomplish nothing without a team that is well-equipped and fully supported. From medical assistant to chief medical officer, every team member’s involvement and opinion is important to me. As a leader, I also strive to lead by example and be approachable, thoughtful, and truthful.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Outside of Zufall, I like staying physically active, especially hiking and biking on weekends with my husband. I also enjoy cooking healthy food, gardening, and spending time with friends and family.