As Anne Curry-Smith (MHSA ’08) walks the halls at the sprawling Cleveland Clinic, she can’t help but be on the lookout. “It’s become a part of who I am to make sure that we provide a safe, efficient and welcoming environment for our patients,” she says.
As associate director of accreditation, she ensures that all departments meet standards set by accrediting agencies and the federal government—everything from the placement of an exit sign over a doorway to leadership awareness of patient safety outcomes.
“Remaining compliant with regulatory requirements is complicated and tenuous work but absolutely critical to the organization,” says Curry-Smith. “Regulatory requirements are established to ensure safe, high quality patient care. Some of those requirements may be more challenging to meet, but we have to figure out a way to do it.”
“I bring the right people and the right resources together with the goal of remaining compliant.”
“Figuring it out” is where Curry-Smith thrives. Regulatory standards can be detailed and cumbersome, and it’s up to her team to collaborate with leaders and subject matter experts to make sure every department in the hospital is compliant, even when those departments may have competing priorities. “It’s our job to communicate the significance of continuous compliance,” she says.
Cleveland Clinic and each of its regional hospitals are accredited by The Joint Commission, along with several private accrediting agencies for specialty areas. Maintaining compliance helps to “keep the doors open,” says Curry-Smith. “Without accreditation, our operations can be severely impacted. That’s what we try to communicate to others.”
Curry-Smith is responsible for nonclinical areas impacted by regulatory standards, including medical records, environment of care, patient complaints, informed consent, and advance directives, among others. When a compliance concern is uncovered, she is often in the difficult position of being the bearer of bad news. “Our team monitors compliance and identifies issues, but it’s up to the affected departments, such as patient registration or nursing or social work, to implement the solution, which may involve changing a process or improving performance,” she says. “I bring the right people and the right resources together with the goal of remaining compliant. Ultimately, compliance is about doing the right thing for patients.”
In addition to helping the Clinic maintain accreditation, Curry-Smith has also had the opportunity to support its growth. In addition to its main campus, family health centers and regional hospitals, Cleveland Clinic also seeks out community physicians in private practice to join the clinic as part of a group practice. Joining the group offers physicians the support and resources that come with a large organization, while still providing the service and experience of a community doctor.
“The physician integration initiative is a huge undertaking and something I’ve been very proud to work on,” says Curry-Smith. As physician practices and medical groups join the Clinic, each brings its own unique arrangements and specialties. To make sure that each practice is in line with the Clinic’s regulatory oversight, Curry-Smith leads a cross-functional team that includes representatives from nursing, pharmacy, accreditation and revenue cycle management, working together to make sure each practice meets the licenses, guidelines and standards it needs to maintain compliance.
A native of rural Maine, Curry-Smith grew up in a healthcare family; her father was a pharmacist and her mother a nurse. “I was very attracted to the field, but was too squeamish to be a nurse,” she says. Luckily, the healthcare industry offers plenty of opportunities outside the clinical environment. Curry-Smith started as a medical transcriptionist, earning two associate degrees in Maine. She moved to Cleveland and earned a bachelor’s degree in health services administration from Myers University while working at Cleveland Clinic in health information management.
“I never thought this was the direction I was going to take but things happen for a reason and I’m thrilled with the opportunities I’ve discovered,” she says. Accreditation work requires extensive administrative and regulatory expertise in hospital and outpatient settings, a skill set Curry-Smith has cultivated in her 17 years with Cleveland Clinic. “The great thing about working here is that there are always opportunities to grow,” she says. “Sometimes that means moving to a different role or department, but it is very common for people who come to work here, to stay here.”
Making those career moves often requires additional education or training, which Curry-Smith discovered in 2005. “I wanted to move up in the company and I knew a master’s degree would help me get there,” she says. Looking for a school that would allow her to apply work experience to her courses, Curry-Smith found Strayer University. “Knowing how important accreditation is, I chose Strayer University because it offered a rigorous and accredited curriculum through an online program,” she says. Like many adult students, Curry-Smith was looking for the flexibility the online program provides as she balanced a challenging career and a personal life with earning a degree. “My husband, Mark, was very supportive,” she recalls, “and often had a late evening meal ready for me after I completed final exams online following a full day of work.”
Curry-Smith earned a Master of Science in health services administration in 2008, and the degree still serves her today. “The landscape in healthcare is shifting—every organization is looking for ways to do more with less, and technology is changing the way we work,” she says. “Not only do I feel prepared to help the Clinic grow but I also feel empowered to grow my own career—setting and meeting my own high standards.”