PBN's Five Questions With: Debra M. Paul

Published 12/17/2020

Debra M. Paul, CEO of Fellowship Health Resources Inc., based in Lincoln, earned national recognition nearly a year ago for her accomplishments as a top woman executive. Paul was named to WomenInc. Magazine’s 2019 list of Most Influential Corporate Board Directors, an honor she shared with top businesswomen across the country.

She discusses the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on Fellowship Health Resources and behavioral health care in general, along with her perspective on women in health care leadership roles in Rhode Island. 

PBN: What sort of changes has the COVID-19 health crisis necessitated at Fellowship Health Resources Inc.?

PAUL: The challenges of the coronavirus pandemic have required FHR to be nimble and adaptive. This has included our team utilizing technology and creativity in order to shift a number of site-based programs to be offered in virtual formats.

As an organization with programs across seven states, it has also driven the need for enhanced communication. I am extremely proud of the way that FHR has been able to come together as one responsive team to support individuals in our care and one another. It is because of the dedication and commitment of FHR employees that we are able to continue to provide the critical mental health services that the individuals in our programs depend on.

PBN: Last December, you were named to WomenInc. Magazine’s 2019 Most Influential Corporate Board Directors. How do the challenges of 2020 relate to the work that you’ve put in to your more-than-20-year career in health care?

PAUL: I have been fortunate to be able to hold leadership roles at a number of mission-driven health care organizations in my career. A constant has been the balance of fulfilling the mission of an organization while also evaluating the financial aspect of service delivery.

As the coronavirus pandemic evolves and changes the world around us, FHR continues to put our mission and the individuals we serve at the center of the work we do each day. A commitment to focusing on how decisions will impact both those who are receiving and delivering services is the essence of being a successful leader in a mission-driven, person-centered organization. Throughout my career, my focus has remained the same: delivering quality services with a team focused on the well-being of individuals in their care.

PBN: Have you seen an increase in demand for behavioral health services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

PAUL: There continues to be a high demand for behavioral health services. During this time, individuals may be experiencing increased levels of isolation and anxiety. In addition, there has been an increase in the use of artificial coping mechanisms, such as substance use and gambling.

However, access to behavioral health has improved due to telehealth provisions that enable individuals to receive care virtually. For many of the individuals in our programs, having the ability to connect to our team through telehealth has been a critical lifeline.

PBN: Do you notice a difference in the number of women leaders in Rhode Island’s health care industry now versus 10 years ago?

PAUL: According to recent statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor [Statistics], 80% of the health care workforce is made up of women, while fewer than 20% hold leadership roles.

In looking at the last decade, I have begun to see more of a balance emerging in the senior leadership of health care organizations. At FHR, half of our Executive Leadership Team is made up of women who hold key integral roles. I look forward to the continued growth of women leaders in health care organizations, as well as businesses taking strides in the ways they recruit, retain and empower the women who are currently working in this field.

PBN: How many providers work for Fellowship Health Resources, and does the organization have an area of specialty within behavioral health?

PAUL: FHR has nearly 500 employees and a network of 80-plus programs in seven states along the East Coast. We offer a continuum of care of behavioral health services, ranging from community supports and case management through 24/7 group-living environments for individuals with serious and persistent mental illness. Newest to our service offering is a 16-bed Crisis Stabilization Unit, which opened this August in Pawtucket.

As an organization, we have a history of being successful with engaging individuals who have traditionally had difficulty utilizing other behavioral health services. Our clinical model focuses on person-centered care, enabling FHR to partner with individuals to improve their quality of life. We invest in each individual and never lose hope in the potential for personal growth and recovery of each person we serve.