After a Health Scare, Finance Officer Helps Lead Heart Fund-Raiser
One in an ongoing series
As a child who grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood with 11 brothers and sisters, Gerry Blaney knows about the struggle to make ends meet.
In fact, he had one prosaic ambition when he graduated college: “I thought if I could just make $20 an hour, I’d be on top of the world,” he says.
As an executive at Einstein Healthcare Network, Blaney clearly has met that goal, and then some.
But now his job as Chief Financial Officer is to help Einstein make ends meet. It’s no secret that’s often a tough task for a safety net hospital in a disadvantaged neighborhood.
“We’ve got over 85% government payers, and we can’t make ends meet with that,” he says, adding that he, former CEO Barry Freedman and the management team worked long hours together to navigate recurring years of operating losses, deficits and debt, when tough choices about cost-cutting had to be made.
“We have to run a lean organization, and we’ve been able to do that,” he says, noting that Einstein’s current financial health is substantially improved.
Budget Talks, Then a Heart Attack
Blaney recalls a particularly tough budget season in April of 2016 when, one day, he felt exhausted and ill.
“It was a Friday,” he remembers. “I had meetings from 6:30 in the morning and I had a headache. I figured maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten.”
He picked up his wife and daughter after work to go to a restaurant, “but I couldn’t even order. I wanted to go home and lay down and rest.” It never occurred to him that the burning in his chest might be a heart attack.
Sure, he’d had high cholesterol all of his life. But nobody in his immediate family had serious heart disease.
He ate well, and exercised. Indeed, he’d ramped up his exercise dramatically as he approached the age of 60, to regain the fitness of his youth as an athlete. He attended St. Joseph’s University on a soccer scholarship, as did four of his five brothers.
His wife and daughter declined to take him home from the restaurant that evening.
Instead, they drove him to Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia – passing two other hospitals on the way – where he learned he was, indeed, having a heart attack.
Surgery, Then a New Mission
After surgical procedures for two blocked arteries, and a couple of weeks recovering at home, Blaney returned to Einstein. “I had to get back and try to get the budget done,” he says.
He also had begun another mission: to help raise awareness about heart disease.
Blaney was chair of the American Heart Association Heart Walk in 2018, and has been on the Heart Walk Executive Leadership team every year since. This year, he’s heading Einstein’s team in the annual fund-raiser, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6, to help prevent heart disease and stroke.
“It’s urgent that we raise funds for this No. 1 killer,” he says.
Blaney says the “greatest accomplishment” of his 38 years at Einstein has been “meeting my wife,” who was a coworker at the time.
“Einstein has been phenomenal to me,” he says. “I love my job and I love the people here.”
And perhaps more than most people, Blaney understands the significance of having a hospital in the neighborhood.
When he was growing up in Kensington, he lived right across the street from Episcopal Hospital. It was the institutional pillar of the neighborhood, the place that provided jobs and healthcare, and stood as a solid, reassuring presence amid the urban decay.
Blaney suspects he could earn a higher income in the private sector, where the bottom line is easier to balance. But, as one of a dozen kids whose father was a plumber and mother was a homemaker, he knows all about making ends meet. And he’s happy to do it at Einstein.
“When there’s pressure, it’s good pressure,” he says, “because you know you’re accomplishing something. You can see you’re doing something for people.”