Stephanie Westermeier – Trinity Health
- Written by: Mary Raitt Jordan
- Produced by: Dave Gushee & Louisa Smith
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
In these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stephanie Westermeier doesn’t have to look far to see the devastating impact of coronavirus—both at work and at home.
As the general counsel at the Boise, Idaho-based Saint Alphonsus Health System—a subsidiary of Michigan-based Trinity Health, the sixth largest healthcare system in the country and third largest non-profit—Westermeier says the influx of patients at the Catholic nonprofit has been startling. Added to that is the pain Westermeier has experienced firsthand, with multiple extended family members and friends testing positive—all of whom were in recovery late in 2020.
But growing up as the second youngest of seven children, and drawing from years of legal experience, Westermeier has become adept at juggling responsibilities—and making her voice heard.
When she came to Trinity Health in 2001, Westermeier’s priority was establishing legal operations at Saint Alphonsus. When the health system expanded 10 years later, her focus shifted to creating a new governance structure to oversee it and each of its four hospitals.
As part of both changes, she says relationship-building and communication were crucial.
“We look back to where we came from—nobody can imagine not having our current systems in place,” she says. “Now, more fast-paced issues are coming at us. Nothing on the law school exams would prepare you for this.”
According to Westermeier, even in a pre-COVID world, “disruption” defined much of the healthcare general counsel role. Now, she and her team are triaging a variety of issues with leadership—those related to monitoring the virus’ surge; ensuring adequate staff, space, equipment and supplies; changing regulations pertaining to care and reimbursement for care; and mitigating revenue loss. With COVID-19 care taking precedence, hospitals everywhere have lost income from conducting fewer routine procedures like mammograms.
“We have amazing people working on the front line of these challenges and behind the scenes every day,” Westermeier says, also crediting the unwavering strength of the board and leadership in both good times and bad. “There’s an immense amount of stress, but everyone has risen to the call for the good of our communities. Through empathy and advice we lawyers are making connections with people to help adjust to what the future will look like—whatever that might be.”
Keep calm and carry on
Admittedly, Westermeier is not one to stand idle. In fact, you’ll find her pumping out a 5 a.m. run before her workday, to clear her mind and prepare for the day’s challenges.
Raised in an Idaho household run by “incredible parents with strong faith and work ethics, who lived and learned through tough times,” she says working hard and helping others came naturally. Noticing her keen mind (and that she “always had an opinion”), her father, Erwin Westermeier, suggested a legal career.
Working as paralegal during college, she graduated with a degree in political science and international relations from Boise State University in 1988. From there, she attended the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and graduated with high honors in 1991.
Westermeier’s professional start as an attorney came at Givens Pursley in 1991, where she handled employment defense, healthcare work, medical liability and general litigation. There, she enjoyed 10 years and partnership at one of Boise’s preeminent law firms. During that time, she met Trinity as a client—and found her calling.
“I loved my firm and clients, but Sister Patricia Mulvaney pulled on my heartstrings to join them,” Westermeier recalls. “They really impressed upon me what I could do with my legal skills in this setting. So I decided to give it a try, and it’s proved to be a fulfilling decision.”
One quote that continues to resonate with Westermeier: “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”
The source: None other than Mother Teresa.
Today, this mom of two teenage sons believes it’s a problem-solving community spirit that will pull everyone through. No matter how busy life gets—and despite the challenges of this past year—she still finds time to volunteer: as a board member for the Women’s and Children’s Alliance, an organization committed to help those who suffer from domestic violence; and as a member of the Bishop Kelly High School Foundation board.
“Growing up, my mom told me, ‘Keep your head on straight, tackle what you’ve got to do and ignore the chaos around you. Think things through and then deal with it,’” Westermeier recalls. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve remembered that!”
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