By Roy Snell
Taped at the 2015 Compliance Institute in Orlando, HCCA co-founder Debbie Troklus shares the history of the HCCA, including how we’ve gone from an idea on a napkin to a 10,500+ strong compliance community.
Listen here: http://bit.ly/DebbieTroklusPodcast
Editor’s note: Roy Snell is a founder and served as the first president of the Health Care Compliance Association from 1996 through 1998. He was appointed to serve as the HCCA’s Chief Executive Officer in January 2001. He may be reached at (952) 405-7904 or by mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a theory, or perhaps myth, that hurricanes start with a single flap of a butterfly’s wing. Fact or myth, it is clear that the HCCA started with an event just as insignificant as the flap of a butterfly’s wing. In late 1995, soon after the University of Wisconsin asked me to take on the role of compliance officer, one of our compliance auditors met Mary Dunnaway, corporate compliance officer (CCO) for the University of Arizona, and suggested I call her to share compliance war stories. Our conversation was so robust it seemed evident that there must be others out there that could benefit from sharing compliance war stories. Mary agreed to help set up a compliance meeting in Minneapolis as a part of the 1996 annual Medical Group Management Association meeting.
Thinking that they would be a good draw, I called Brent Saunders from Thomas Jefferson University and Ed Longazel from the University of Pennsylvania. They agreed to come and speak at their own expense. Almost everything we did in the first year was at the expense of the organizations we worked for, and the HCCA owes a great debt of gratitude to The Universities of Wisconsin, Louisville, Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson, and the Law firm of Montgomery, Macrakin and Rhodes.
Opportunity to network
The room in Minneapolis was packed with people who had flown in from both coasts to attend the three-hour meeting. About 50 were invited, 30 agreed to come, and 60 showed up. It was clear that there was a significant need for continued networking among compliance professionals. So, working on napkins that evening in a Minneapolis Chinese restaurant, Brent Saunders and I started what would become known as the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA). Actually some of this story may be embellished due to that lack of a photographic memory, a great imagination, and a real passion for the HCCA. That night it was decided that I’d serve as President, and Brent would serve as Vice President.
Some of us stayed on in Minneapolis to attend the MGMA meeting. One of those who stayed on was Debbie Troklus from the University of Louisville. I sat down next to her at a presentation, told her about HCCA, and she signed up for duty as our Second Vice President. Since that day, Debbie has contributed more time and effort to the HCCA than any other single individual.
Throughout 1996 and 1997, the search was on for more volunteers. Brent found Lisa Murtha, who had taken on the CCO role at University of Pennsylvania. Lisa assumed the job of treasurer, and her charisma and practical experience helped attract many new members. We also invited Greg Miller to join the HCCA Board of Directors. He was a mature voice of reason, helping to steady the aggressive and entrepreneurial nature of the other founders.
In the beginning
HCCA started out as a Special Interest Group of the MGMA. The part of the MGMA with which we were affiliated was committed to having their next meeting (February 1997) in Hawaii. We called the MGMA to tell them that we were going to have our first meeting on the mainland because it would look bad to have a group of people dedicated to healthcare compliance, ethics, and integrity hanging out on the sandy beaches of Hawaii. They informed us that many people were having trouble with the selection of the Hawaii location, and our decision would further complicate their problems with attendance. We reluctantly acquiesced and luckily never received a single complaint. Debbie and I went to Hawaii to conduct the first meeting under the HCCA banner. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. For many reasons, including that fact that we wanted to help all segments of healthcare, not just physician group practices, we soon parted company with the MGMA.
Greg Warner, the Compliance Director for the Mayo Clinic, joined us in our efforts to advance the HCCA after Mary Dunnaway dropped out for personal reasons. Greg was named HCCA Secretary. He provided significant early leadership, particularly with regard to organizational development, collaboration, and structure.
Early in 1998, we were fortunate to recruit Joe Russo and Alan Yuspeh to the HCCA Board. During our Board of Directors meeting in October 1998, we elected Sheryl Vacca as HCCA Secretary and Odell Guyton, Andrea Bohannon, Michael Hemsley, and Eileen T. Boyd to the Board of Directors. Each helped us wind our way through many significant decisions.
We have since added many more individuals from all over the country. Although I reference some of individual contributions in this historical narrative, there are too many to name. You see them working within the organization every day, helping the Board and staff improve the HCCA. All of them have contributed greatly to one of the fastest growing associations ever assembled.
In the beginning, we were unknown and several vendors have helped get our name out there, and we appreciate all of their assistance. Opus Communications not only helped promote the HCCA through their newsletters, but they also “contributed” Margaret Dragon. Margaret was named HCCA’s Director of Communications in 1998. She has made our newsletter, This Week in Corporate Compliance, come to life.
The numbers have been fascinating to follow. From two members in a Minneapolis Chinese restaurant in 1996, doodling a mission statement on a napkin, to over 2,000 members within three years was amazing. Managing that growth without staff quickly became untenable.
The first sign that we were in trouble occurred when people started to send nasty letters claiming that they were not members. It was clearly strange that people would write to tell me that they were not members and that they didn’t want any more information. Some of them were not even in healthcare. Somehow 50 people had been entered into our membership database at random. Don’t ask me how that happened. We cross-matched the database with the membership applications (that we could still find) and with our tail firmly planted between our legs we called the rest to ask if they were members. It was painful at the time, but it makes a great story now.
It was clear that we needed help, we didn’t have much money and didn’t know how big we would eventually get. I hired someone from a temporary agency at slightly above minimum wage, and the University of Wisconsin agreed to give him an office, a laptop, and a phone. That was Henry Youmans, a Ph.D. candidate looking for some part-time work, who turned out to be a tremendous asset to the early startup phase. He hit the ground running. Within months we realized that we needed professional help to run the HCCA. We hired an association management company, which we relied upon for years.
Eventually, it became clear, though, that it was time for us to run the association ourselves.
So in 2000, the board met and voted that it was time we had a full-time CEO and staff. I was fortunate enough to be selected to run the HCCA, and I assumed the role of CEO in January 2001.
By having our own staff, we were better able to manage our member funds and to provide greater support to our membership. We also knew that by having our own dedicated staff we would be able to provide much higher levels of service.
Service remains critical to our mission. It’s why we don’t have a “voicejail” system when you call us. There’s no recorded message telling you to press this button to reach that department. A real person located in our HQ in Minneapolis answers the phone.
Growth and Long-Term Success
Part of our history that moves me the most are the meetings. We went from a handful of people in a small room to conducting meetings in prestigious hotels with over 2,400 attendees. In 2015, we had close to 50 meetings scheduled. It is very strange to stand there looking at thousands of people telling compliance war stories and thinking back to that single phone call to Mary Dunnaway.
Very early on we realized that we needed more than meetings for sharing war stories. We needed to start putting together programs that would train the next generation of compliance professionals. This led to the birth of our Basic Compliance Academies.
Debbie Troklus volunteered to head these up, and I doubt that she would have if she knew we would grow to offer eleven Basic Academies in 2015, and three Privacy Academies plus two Basic Academies. But, I’m glad she didn’t know what she was getting into and how many nights she would be sleeping in hotels because of it.
The Basic Academies provide three and a half days of intensive, classroom-style training in the fundamentals of managing a compliance program, and at this point virtually every one of them sells out weeks, if not months, in advance.
Just as we saw the need for training programs, we also saw the need for certifications. Virtually every other profession, and certainly ever related profession – legal, internal audit, fraud, HR – already had a certification program. So in 1999, we created the Compliance Certification Board.
Debbie Troklus serves as the President of that organization, and the number of certifications and certification holders continues to grow. In healthcare, we offer four certifications: Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC)TM, Certified in healthcare Compliance-Fellow (CHC-F)®, Certified in Healthcare Privacy Compliance (CHPC)®, and Certified in Healthcare Research Compliance (CHRC)®.
Another significant achievement has been the bridge we have built between the government and healthcare. Because HCCA is not a lobbying organization, HCCA has carried on several discussions with the government that has helped ease the tension and improve relations. It has made a difference.
But the biggest bridge we have built is the bridge between the healthcare compliance community and the corporate compliance community.
Even back in the early days we recognized that the profession as a whole was bigger than healthcare, and that compliance officers across industry – manufacturing, technology, services, energy, construction – would benefit if we provided the same kind of resources we provided for healthcare.
In 2004 we created the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics to serve cross-industry needs. Dan Roach and Odell Guyton, who had been active in the HCCA for years, agreed to be founding co-chairs of a new advisory board for SCCE. They were soon joined by Debbie Troklus, Sheryl Vacca, Joe Murphy, Marjorie Doyle, and others.
At first it was more than a bit of a struggle. People wondered why this group was created and whether there was a need for it.
But we quickly started gaining traction, little by little and then seemingly all at once. It took us until August 2010 to get to 2,000 members, about six years. But less than five years later we’ll be at 5,000 members.
At first our meetings were small, especially since we had gotten used to the size of the HCCA meetings. Once again, though, we just kept on growing. The 2015 Compliance and Ethics Institute will probably have more than 1,500 attendees, once we count up all the paid attendees, speakers, and exhibitors.
We now offer nine Basic Compliance & Ethics Academies around the U.S., and virtually all of them are sold out. In addition, the Academies have gone global. The Brazil Academy sold out for the first time in 2014. We’ll be there again this year as well as in Brussels, Sydney, Singapore, and Dubai.
In 2012, we launched our first international conference: The European Compliance and Ethics Institute (ECEI). We hold it each year in London. The attendees told us they were thankful we finally brought to Europe a conference that is designed for multiple industries and addresses a range of compliance challenges, not just one or two.
At the end of the ECEI we offer our Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional-International (CCEP-i)® exam, just as we offer the Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP)® exam in the U.S.
These certifications have earned their place in the market. At first, there were many who challenged the idea of certifying compliance professionals. These days, our research has shown that those who hold the certification are, on average, compensated better than those who don’t. That speaks volumes.
The SCCE also offers regional meetings in 11 cities around the U.S., giving people the opportunity to learn and network with their peers.
In addition, we offer specialty conferences, like our Utilities & Energy Compliance & Ethics Conference and the Higher Education Compliance Conference.
In sum, the SCCE has grown into its own full-fledged institution, with a host of meetings, a magazine and enewsletter, and a loyal membership base.
Together HCCA and SCCE have more than 15,000 members, which allows us to speak for the compliance profession and demonstrate that compliance truly is a profession in its own right.
One often wonders why HCCA and then SCCE all worked. It’s hard to know. Is it being in the right place at the right time or getting the right people involved? To me it’s obvious that it is both. What has kept it going is a simple truth, that people who face significant challenges need to communicate with others facing similar challenges. Compliance professionals face huge challenges. The reason we continue to meet in ever-larger numbers is the very same reason the first call to Mary Dunnaway was made—to share compliance war stories and learn from each other.