Alissa Meade, who has been President and CEO of Curavi Health since 2017, went to law school but says she quickly realized she wanted to be a business person instead of being a lawyer. Meade made the switch soon after earning her law degree, moving into investment banking and focusing on health care mergers and acquisitions as well as private equity.
Meade, who says she has always been opportunistic with career opportunities and did not plan too far into the future, also worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. before joining UPMC. She led strategic business solutions for UPMC Health Plan and was a product management lead at UPMC Enterprises before the opportunity with Curavi, a UPMC portfolio company, came her way.
“I’ve always believed in having a rough idea of what you want to do professionally over the next one to three years because things are always changing. The opportunities that come your way, they’re always fluid,” Meade said.
Since taking over at Curavi, the company, which delivers innovative clinical care solutions for residents in skilled nursing facilities and the broader post-acute care environment, has grown substantially – most recently with an acquisition of TripleCare, a long-term care and post-acute telemedicine company.
We sat down with Meade, whose background also includes earning her bachelor’s degree in International Relations and French from Miami University and her law degree from Duke, to find out more about Curavi, what she’s learned as a CEO, and where the telemedicine industry is headed.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
My first job was at the Gap as a salesperson when I was in high school. And what I learned was if you work hard you will be rewarded. In my case, I learned that by hustling a little more than my coworkers I was promoted to a cashier. Being a cashier is way more fun and interesting than being on the floor where you’re refolding sweaters because you’re constantly busy. You’re cashing people out, interacting with them. Plus, as a cashier you’re handling the money – I learned early on that is where the action is and how you get a little more authority, too.
So how does someone with a law degree who also studied international relations and French end up the CEO of a telehealth company?
Can I say good luck? In reality, it was a combination of a willingness to try anything, hard work, and having great mentors and sponsors. I’ve taken a circuitous path. In that time, I’ve built a wide set of skills that are serving me well. I’ve learned how to think analytically, how to disaggregate a problem, how to research and understand opportunities. Those broad skills translate whether the underlying content is business or finance or international relations. Because so much of your training happens on the job, it often doesn’t matter what your degree is in. I’ve always believed that given the opportunity I could figure things out and do the job well.
What has surprised you about becoming a CEO?
What has been the most surprising is how much I’ve internalized the job and feel responsible for every aspect of the business. When I took on the role, I recognized that I had an incredible opportunity. But I didn’t think beyond it being a challenging and hard-charging job. What I’ve discovered about being a CEO is it’s a lifestyle and not a job. It’s with you 24 hours a day in a way that I’ve never experienced in any other role.
Prior to Curavi you were at UPMC Enterprises and UPMC Health Plan. What did you learn working at a large health system that has helped you lead a startup technology company?
My learning curve at Enterprises was steep and valuable in terms of learning and understanding product management and getting deep on the long-term care and post-acute care space before stepping into my current role at Curavi. Enterprises was the best education I could have asked for. At the Health Plan, I developed a deep understanding of payer operations and incentives for payers, which has been incredibly valuable because it’s so important to align incentives with payer. And then just being exposed to a large organization like UPMC and understanding the nuances of how executives operate – that too is important to my current work.
Curavi recently completed an acquisition that nearly doubled the company’s footprint – were there any unexpected challenges with that growth and how have you dealt with them?
Culturally, the integration of TripleCare into Curavi has been very smooth. We’ve been lucky to bring over many talented and like-minded team members from TripleCare. We doubled our facility footprint – but we also evolved from having most our clients in Pennsylvania to having clients in 14 states. While we prepared for that change, it’s still a challenge to scale your operations from one state to 14 states overnight. But we are blessed with a talented and passionate team which has dug in and relished the challenge. Accordingly, we’re doing well with the change so far.
The telehealth industry seems poised for substantial growth thanks to some favorable policy changes regarding reimbursement. Is that your outlook and are there other hurdles facing the industry?
I think telemedicine is going to continue to grow in adoption thanks to what we’re seeing coming out of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The single biggest lever is further CMS regulations around the ability to utilize telemedicine. But at the same time, the challenge can be anticipating the pace of that policy adoption. CMS has been promulgating regulations and loosing up reimbursement, but it’s been at a very measured pace. We do not expect a quick, seismic shift in utilization.
If you could change one thing in health care what would it be and why?
I would realign payment incentives in health care. The fundamental misalignment between providers and payers is the reason why innovation can’t move forward as quickly as we would like, why there’s disparity in outcomes and inequality correlated to socio-economic factors. Unfortunately, the system that’s been built from the ground up over decades in this country has had this misalignment built in.
While it’s an issue that is increasingly being recognized by health care leaders, policy makers and others, there isn’t yet agreement within the industry or among politicians and policymakers on the best way to address it. I certainly do not have the answer either, but I think we can learn from the example of UPMC, which aligns payer and provider incentives within its integrated delivery and finance system. That alignment allows UPMC to focus on value and has led to the creation of companies like Curavi and others that are building technology solutions that improve health care.