MHA alum leads efforts to launch state-of-the-art cancer center on Chicago’s West Side

January 30, 2017

Stonish Pierce MHA ’05 led the two-and-a-half-year development of Presence Center for Cancer and Specialty Care. (Photo courtesy of Steve Siver)

By Matthew Kredell

The efforts of one USC Price School of Public Policy Master of Health Administration alumnus – along with generous support from a group of nuns – are going to help 5,000 patients a year fight cancer.

As Regional Chief Ambulatory, Ancillary and Business Development Officer at Presence Health in Chicago, Stonish Pierce was given the opportunity and responsibility to develop a comprehensive cancer treatment center when the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth vacated their convent, located at Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, and recommended its use for patient care.

“With fewer people going into the ministry, there were only three sisters left in 11 bedrooms,” Pierce said. “So the sisters consolidated their housing in one of the Chicago suburbs and thought the space should be used to help people.”

Pierce co-wrote a comprehensive business plan that resulted in the system board of Presence Health approving $12 million toward implementation, then led the efforts to design, construct, organize and activate the Presence Center for Cancer and Specialty Care (CCSC).

The center, which treats a number of communities and patients throughout the City of Chicago, will be a one-stop shop for cancer patients, including infusion, radiation therapy, and pharmacy, imaging, education and support services.

The project took on a deeper importance when his mother died from cancer in 2015.

“During the planning process, my mother passed from cancer, so it became real personal,” Pierce said. “Everyone knows somebody who has been affected by cancer in some form or fashion. It propelled me to be more passionate about the work at hand and take my family’s personal experiences in shaping the experience for future cancer patients.”

Pierce stands near a machine used for radiation therapy at the new clinic. (Photo courtesy of Steve Siver)

Addressing community needs

Pierce involved the community in making decisions for the center. In partnership with the architectural firm, he led focus groups of current patients, conducted in English and Spanish, respectively, to obtain their input on the design of the facility and the features they would want in place.

For example, among the participating patients, he found English-speaking patients wanted private infusion rooms while Spanish-speaking patients preferred community infusion areas; so approximately half of the center supported each type of infusion area. Patients were also engaged in selecting the artwork consultant and eventual artwork displayed throughout the CCSC.

Featuring the latest cancer-fighting technology, the CCSC will also provide community resources including wig fittings, makeup lessons and support groups.

The CCSC opened on Dec. 12 following two-and-a-half years of effort by Pierce, and now he’s shifted his focus on operating the facility with a focus on quality, revenue, patient satisfaction and adding new services. The director of oncology reports to him.

“It’s unique because usually people do business development or work in operations — one or the other,” Pierce said. “Once again, I was involved in both aspects helping to write the plan and coming up with the whole structure, building it and now being responsible for its day-to-day operations.”

“From strategic planning, healthcare finance, governance, managed care, accounting and even law, the (MHA) program prepared me in every way,” Pierce says. (Photo courtesy of Steve Siver)

Turning lessons into leadership

Pierce completed his MHA in 2005 and was selected for a highly competitive national fellowship in health administration at Palomar Health in the San Diego area. At Palomar Health, after reading an intriguing story about retail clinics in the Wall Street Journal, he received his first opportunity to showcase his talents and develop a major project, introducing the Palomar Health expresscare retail clinics (formerly known as PPH expresscare).

“He’s someone who has been on the fast track with his career,” said USC Price Professor LaVonna Lewis, who was the MHA program director when Pierce attended. “He took a fellowship that he got right out of the program and has basically used it as a stepping stone to a whole host of opportunities. He’s always someone who is called in to basically make something out of nothing, to go from what might be a kernel of an idea to something fully functional and worthwhile.”

Pierce noted that the MHA program provided a great baseline foundation of knowledge that has served him well in his career.

“From strategic planning, healthcare finance, governance, managed care, accounting and even law, the program prepared me in every way,” Pierce said. “In addition to our core faculty having adjunct faculty practitioners in the field was really beneficial, as were all the site visits we did to medical groups, hospitals, health plans, long-term care facilities and other healthcare entities. Also the administrative residency which I completed prior to my fellowship provided practical experience before I graduated and really helped prepare me.”

Pierce is currently planning the center’s formal Grand Opening/Blessing celebration for Valentine’s Day. He expects the CCSC to serve 5,000 patients in its first year.

Pierce aspires to become a hospital CEO, which is the same answer he gave 12 years ago, following graduation, in an article on his fellowship award. But after this experience building and running the Presence Center for Cancer and Specialty Care, he’s much closer to making that dream a reality.

Now, he’s elevated his long-term career goal to become the CEO of a health system.

“A lot of people think big at USC,” Pierce explained, “and ever since I’ve been in the program I’ve always said you’ve got to think big.”