Victoria Labriola — American Renal Associates
When a dialysis patient, who happened to be a veteran, was repeatedly left stranded at a clinic after his exhausting treatments, the manager was at a loss about what to do and turned to Victoria Labriola for help.
The goal was to make sure this patient would no longer be left behind and could get a safe ride back to the Veterans’ Affairs home, and Labriola—a member of American Renal Associates small in-house legal team as well as a former EMT—knew just who to call to get this fixed, stat.
To Labriola—and more than 4,000 members of the nursing, medical and corporate staff at Beverly, Massachusetts-based ARA—taking care of patients is priority one, and there was no way this man, or anyone else, would be left behind. Since 2018, the would-be doctor has been serving as the deputy general counsel at one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing outpatient dialysis companies with 235 clinics in 26 states serving approximately 16,000 patients suffering from end-stage renal disease.
“My goal is always to make sure we are supporting our staff in the field and our nurses and physician partners around the country, so that they can focus on what they do best; taking good care of the patients,” Labriola says.
And that can be a challenge, she adds, noting the pace of the company’s growth shows no signs of slowing down. She’s kept busy reviewing the legal and financial elements of contracts for clinics around the country, with 15 to 20 opening each year.
Down-to-earth power broker
ARA may be a $750 million operation, but Labriola says it can feel much smaller, more like a startup, with plenty of teamwork and an emphasis on collaboration at the company that started with humble beginnings out of the homes of its founders.
Labriola, who spent several years in private practice before joining ARA, says from day one she been hands-on in clinic operations. A Jill of All Trades, she’s handled everything from developing an IPO, to dealing with a broken HVAC. Then there have been the patient and insurance matters, compliance with HIPAA and even dealing with problems arising from weather emergencies.
Nothing’s really changed except a bigger workload that’s had her tapping into her repertoire of skills and handling corporate financing matters, physician partner transactions and relationship management issues, securities and health care regulatory guidance protocols, patient insurance claims, litigation and disputes, IP law and corporate governance. That’s the glam side of her work.
Despite the company’s incredible growth, ARA stock took a hit in late March after announcing the CFO’s resignation and the need to restate certain financial statements. Labriola, a mother of twin daughters, jumped into action with her background in finance and investment banking standing her in good stead. She had, after all, helped ARA achieve its IP0 in 2016 after joining the company one year earlier as a senior counsel, highly experienced in domestic and international commercial transactions. She also brought to the table a Suffolk University MBA and certifications from the National Association of Securities Dealers and the New York Stock Exchange.
“Taking advantage of in-house opportunities to learn is all up to you,” she says. “On any given day you can be dealing with a number of different matters across all areas of law, from Medicare and Medicaid issues, to reviewing a breach of contract claim, or the terms for a new multimillion-dollar vendor engagement. It’s varied and you learn something new every day.”
Same focus, different path
Labriola, who had initial aspirations for a medical career, says it’s too bad she didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to be a doctor. She cares deeply for the patients and the profession, but certain elements of the medical training made her queasy, among them the sight of blood—something she’d witness while driving an ambulance as a part-time EMT during her undergrad years at Tufts University.
“It wasn’t the right fit for me emotionally; I’d get very attached and invested in a patient’s life and found it difficult to separate those feelings. I spent a lot of timing crying,” she says.
Settling into her role at ARA, a patient-oriented health care company, is very purposeful, she says, and was meant to be. She feels connected to the patients, the nurses and other staff and finds ways to help meet their needs. Here she’s been able to flex her legal muscle to help patients navigate the complexities of health insurance, including when the need arises to appeal a coverage termination. In other small ways she helps the medical staff so they can focus on providing the highest quality patient care. It’s her way to help.
“Many of our patients don’t have extended family members or outside support, and our clinics often become their home away from home,” the 2002 Suffolk Law School grad says, “It’s a place where, three times a week, they see familiar faces and know and trust that they will be well-cared for and comforted. We are here to help and extend that support to our chronically ill patients.”
Finding her voice
In assimilating all types of information in a burgeoning business model, Labriola says she has learned to never be afraid of asking questions, and that showing vulnerability by raising a hand is not a sign of weakness.
Early on, her financial talent was earmarked by a headhunter, and with certain personal and professional changes occurring at the time, it was a good move for her. She has no qualms about being a woman in an often male-dominated field and profession.
“I came into my own earlier on in my legal career and one of the things I learned is that if you think there’s an easy answer to an issue, often there isn’t, but trust in yourself and your abilities, be confident and ask questions,” she says. “I also learned that at times, others may be thinking or wondering the same thing, but they aren’t open to putting it on the line.”
Being the “first” to speak-out, however, can have its challenges, she says, and judgment comes from experience. It’s important as in-house counsel to know when it’s time to highlight a legal risk that others may not be quite ready to hear, but also to be prepared to offer a path to a solution.
“In order to gain that experience, you need confidence, and confidence comes from your ability to understand the underlying issues and your business, so if I ask, teach me, and tell me why,” she says.
“It’s important to retain that knowledge so you can apply it to the next challenge that may arise. I continue to build on my experiences so I can provide value to the company,” Labriola replies.
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