Health care executive retires after 30 years with Lewis County Hospital

Nov. 28—LOWVILLE — After being part of the Lewis County Health System for three decades, Chief Operating Officer Michele A. Prince will officially retire on Nov. 30.

"It's just time for a change," Mrs. Prince said. "I've had such a wonderful career though. I've had nothing but support from any of the chief executive officers I've worked with and all my staff has been great from day one. They've helped me grow. I never dreamed I would be a COO or an interim CEO when I was in college. I just knew I didn't want to be a bench tech all my life, but I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be this successful."

When she realized physical education, her first career choice in high school, was a crowded field, she switched her aspirations to health care.

"I knew early on after graduating from college in my first couple of jobs that I wanted to keep growing and climbing up the corporate ladder," she said. "The cards just fell in place with one position after another, and I kept on climbing almost to the top. I've been very, very lucky."

After graduating from Carthage Central High School and earning an associate degree from Jefferson County Community College in medical technology, she worked for a bachelor of science in the same field from SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse and went on to do some graduate work at Cornell University in Ithaca.

Mrs. Prince worked in labs at many north country facilities after her first out-of-college job with the American Red Cross in Albany, including at Mercy Hospital and the House of the Good Samaritan, now Samaritan Medical Center, in Watertown; Edward John Noble Hospital in Alexandria Bay, now River Hospital; and Carthage Area Hospital.

In November 1991, she started as the laboratory manager for Lewis County General and has never looked back.

"I loved what I was doing and it was just something that I wanted to keep pursuing and making myself better and helping more people along the way," she said.

Her lab experience not only allowed her the direct patient interaction she loved, but informed her decisions and opinions as a leader over the years.

"That's how I gained the support and the respect (of the staff,)" she said. "I never took them for granted for anything. I was one of them at one time and I think that was very important. They realized it."

Over the years she has filled a number of roles, from the director of ancillary services to the interim chief executive officer before CEO Gerald R. Cayer was brought on board in 2017. She ultimately held the dual role of risk manager and corporate compliance officer while also being the COO since 2016, her favorite job of all.

"It's never a dull moment," she said. "I have people coming in my office all day, every day. It's just a real challenge and I like it. ... trying to keep everything going forward."

Although she feels it has gotten better over the past few years with more women in management, being a woman in what was a very male-dominated field presented its own set of challenges.

When she got to the upper reaches of management, she recalled a chief executive that would only speak to the men in the room, ignoring her.

"I was just honest with him about what I felt and that I wasn't going to put up with that, so if he wanted me on the team he was going to have to treat me with respect like he did with all of the men on the team," Mrs. Prince said. "That was all it took. After that, I've really never had other issues."

Mrs. Prince said that focusing on patient satisfaction and helping people have been the most rewarding aspects of her work at Lewis County Health, but her proudest accomplishments often revolve around keeping the hospital "cutting edge" over the years.

From leading the transition from paper to digital records in the 1990s, making the facility one of 300 hospitals in the country to secure a Germ Zapping Ultraviolet robot and making the facility the first in the north country to bring on 3D mammography, digital lung function testing and cutting edge molecular testing, Mrs. Prince has embraced technology for the hospital whenever possible.

She has led the successful effort to eliminate in-hospital spread of COVID-19 and to gain the state Certificate of Need for a new surgical building.

Retirement, however, will not end her quest to make a difference in health care.

Mrs. Prince is on the verge of signing a contract to work on a part-time basis for a specialty health care staffing company where she hopes to work on improving connections with the facilities they serve and the quality of the staff.

She has also agreed to work as a part-time consultant for Lewis County Health until a replacement is found.

The rest of her retirement is about the gift of time: more time with her husband, daughter and two grandchildren; time to travel, especially a bucket-list trip to Italy; and time to take up some hobbies she has enjoyed in the past like crafting, sewing and needlework.

That doesn't mean she will be giving up her fascination with technology any time soon.

A 3D printer has already caught her eye and her imagination.