Updated March 29 at 12:28am

Five Questions With: Debra Paul


Debra Paul is the new president and chief executive officer of Fellowship Health Resources Inc., succeeding Joseph Dziobek, who has held the position since 1984. Headquartered in Lincoln, FHR is a nonprofit behavioral healthcare agency providing clinical and supportive services to persons recovering from mental illness, addiction disorders, and other life challenges.

Paul joined FHR in January of 2012 as the agency's chief financial officer. Before that, she was employed at Women and Infants Hospital for13 years, serving as CFO for six of those years. She also had worked at KPMG as the firm's Senior Audit Manager. Paul holds both an undergraduate degree in accounting and a Master's degree in Business Administration from Bryant University and is a certified public accountant.

With programs in seven states, FHR assists nearly 3,500 individuals a year in improving their behavioral health, well-being, and quality of life.

PBN: You come from a background of finance but also have worked at Women & Infants Hospital. What attracted you to seek out this post as president and chief executive officer of Fellowship Health Resources?

PAUL: My experience at Women & Infants Hospital helped me realize that I am a mission- driven individual. FHR’s mission is to help people improve their behavioral health, well-being and quality of life. The people we help not only face healthcare challenges, they also deal with the stigma society has placed on those with behavioral health issues. I was attracted to the CEO position at FHR because of the challenges it presents. Leading a behavioral healthcare company is a challenge in itself. FHR operates in seven states, offers a variety of behavioral health and residential services, and encounters financial challenges. FHR’s mission and organizational challenges attracted me to the CEO position.

My role in helping Women & Infants Hospital develop and implement their strategic plan along with my financial background provides me with the tools needed to lead FHR. My involvement as an executive leader of the Hospital brought the finance, clinical, operations, communications and marketing functions together. These skills will be valuable in leading FHR through the ever changing world of healthcare.

PBN: During your predecessor’s tenure, FHR has undergone a period of expansion in seven states with revenue topping $33 million annually. What role will your expertise in accounting and finance play in the organization, and how will it help define your style of leadership?

PAUL: My expertise in accounting and finance along with my experience in continuous process improvement will assist in strengthening FHR’s focus on quality, accountability and financial stability. I lead using the team concept and developed a leadership team at FHR that can address each of our focus areas. Team and communication are key components of my leadership style. Addressing FHR’s challenges together as a team fosters a culture of ownership by the team and ability to solve problems together. Team building leads to an informed and engaged executive team that is aligned with the organization’s purpose and performs in a self-directed manner.

PBN: What adjustments do you anticipate having to make in helping the nonprofit navigate the new landscape of the Affordable Care Act? What are the risks and rewards of adapting successfully to the law?

PAUL: There will be a significant change to the process of how FHR obtains business. It will require using various methods of communication with payers, government agencies, other healthcare organizations, and our patients and consumers. The healthcare arena is moving toward population heath and outcome measures. FHR’s expansion of its primary care partners and enhancing our electronic medical record are key elements for success under the ACA.

The primary risk for FHR, as well as other small to medium healthcare organizations, is financial stability. Payment rates are being either reduced or frozen and many of our patients require a high level of service. Global payment rates and bundled payments will impact our revenue stream. FHR is a participant in the dual eligible demonstration project in Massachusetts. Participation in this project has provided us with insights into challenges providers, patient and consumers will face in the changing healthcare environment. Regardless of the risks and challenges, FHR’s focus is to provide high quality services at reasonable prices.

FHR’s goal is to have more people in recovery with improved overall well-being and quality of life, and to reduce the stigma of behavioral health issues. It’s rewarding to know that FHR has helped individuals move from a dark place in their lives to a place with hope and inspiration. FHR’s programs focus on the needs of the patient, consumer and their families.

PBN: How involved have you been in behavioral health care and what facet of it resonates with you the most? How does helping people recover and grow from mental illness and addiction fit in with your understanding of health, family and support systems?

PAUL: I’ve been exposed to behavioral health care since the beginning of my career as an auditor concentrating in the healthcare field. My tenure as CFO of Fellowship Health Resources immersed me into the behavioral health field from both the financial as well as the operational aspects of the organization.

For an individual dealing with mental illness or addiction, finding their path to recovery is not easy. At FHR we meet people at their current stage and help them find and stay on their path to recovery. This path is different for each individual we care for and everyone enters our care at different stages. Seeing how much our patients and consumers have achieved along their recovery paths provides me with the drive to lead this organization. Their stories fill my heart. At some point in our life we are all touched by mental illness or addiction whether it be a family or extended family member, a friend or a co-worker. To find and stay on the recovery path requires support from providers, family, and friends.

To strengthen this support, FRH is focused on growing our peer support services and healing arts programs. Obtaining funding to continue these programs continues to be a challenge. We can see the positive impact they have on our patients and consumers. Payment methodologies should look to reduce the restrictions placed on services and provide reasonable payments for improved outcomes.

PBN: If you could see yourself in this position 10 years from now, what would you hope would be the scope, financial footing and status of FHR?

PAUL: FHR’s scope is providing high quality healthcare and residential services and programs to persons of all ages regardless of their ability to pay. Ten years from now I would like to see FHR’s best practices implemented across the nation helping people find and stay on their path to recovery. To achieve this growth, FHR will need to produce a margin in order to invest in it programs, patients and consumers, and employee development. FHR will grow to a leading national organization providing high quality care at reasonable prices.


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