Mary Bello, manager of physician relations at Anne Arundel Health System (AAHS) and the new board chair of the Central Maryland Chamber (CMC), has come to an interesting crossroads: She has a career’s worth of information about navigating the nation’s ever-more-complicated (and expensive) health system, as well as her CMC platform. So, at this juncture, her days are about connecting physicians with the hospital, while her new duties include connecting CMC members to their best health care options.

What is the current state of the CMC?

We are excited for our future. We have an engaged board comprised of professionals from key industries who have a shared level of commitment and enthusiasm. The direction of CEO Raj Kudchadkar, who has a depth of expertise and experience in our region’s development, has been a crucial asset post-merger; and Kim Wirt, our director of operations, has also employed her talents to help us move forward.

What are your goals?

The CMC is working on our first strategic plan since the merger and we’re looking forward to sharing the results. First, we’ll be reaching out to our members, assessing their needs and understanding their concerns, which I’m looking forward to. Their feedback will be essential as we develop initiatives to support our goals.

The West County Chamber and the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber merged two years ago. How did the merger affect membership?

After the merger, we had 550 members. Since, we’ve had some fluctuation, which was expected, as we combined two smaller chambers into a new, larger organization. Now, with Karen Russell on board as our membership director, we’ll be able to focus on member growth and retention.

What is the CMC doing to boost membership?

We will be building initiatives that are not so much focused on chamber growth metrics, but on continuing to grow long-term, sustainable relationships with local and regional businesses and communities. If we can continue serving, providing value, it will reflect in our membership growth and retention.

Are there any new programs you want to implement?

One is supporting young professionals who are currently in, or preparing for, the workforce; another is working with government contractors. Supporting Fort Meade will continue to be a top priority.

What are hot button topics as Session 2019 gets underway?

Our Legislative Committee is looking at minimum wage legislation, which is sure to be introduced, as it was last year. If the proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour passes, what will then be key to the chamber will be the timetable for phasing it in. We will also be looking at modifications to the prevailing wage that could authorize employees under public work contracts to sue without first filing a complaint, which is currently required.

Sports betting, renewable energy and modification of paid sick requirements are issues we will probably take positions on as session moves forward.

Obviously, the chamber will oppose those bills that put undue burdens on businesses, particularly small businesses, and support initiatives that help business growth (like tax incentives).

Given your day job, what should the public know about health care?

People can play a pivotal role in controlling rising costs. We have an opportunity to improve health literacy, which will guide people to spend wisely on their health care. Education on appropriate utilization and empowering people to make choices about their care that are evidence-based, and use high quality, low cost services options is essential.

For employers, there is an opportunity to identify cost-savings by right-sizing benefit packages so they accurately reflect the unique needs of their employee.

What do you hope to have accomplished when your tenure as board chair is over?

Generally speaking, using the definition of “synergy” is a perfect way to answer that question: I’m looking to achieve “the benefit that results when two or more agents work together to achieve something either one couldn’t have achieved on its own. It’s the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.”

Know that the health of any business community and its workforce is vital to the health of the greater community. So, understanding that vital synergy means expanding our scope beyond traditional business advocacy to playing a key role in supporting the health of both.

What are your duties at your day job?

I work primarily outside the walls of AAMC. Our team builds relationships with community practices, spanning from Cambridge, in Dorchester County on the mid-Eastern Shore, to Howard County and southern Maryland to support the goals of AAHS’s annual operating plan.

We also serve a large patient population from our building in Odenton that sits by the traffic circle that we operate in a joint partnership with Johns Hopkins Health System. That location helps us give patients better access to our specialists.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

That the bottom line used to be about patient volume, but it’s become more about coordinating care and focusing on patient navigation. That’s being done via building relationships, through network development and by working with community physicians. Combined, those value-based efforts result in better outcomes and result in optimal experiences for the patient.

What’s your biggest challenge in working for AAHS?

There is a challenge, nationally, in integrating care systems beyond the walls of the hospital – which is where hospitals have traditionally focused. As we shift from volume-based to value-based health care, coordinating care across the spectrum continues to be an opportunity for all involved to coordinate efforts that will improve the patient experience.

Considering our nation’s aging population, we’re examining ways to address Healthy Aging as well as the challenges that caregivers, who will go from a 7:1 to a 4:1 ratio by 2030, will have to address. As a health system, we are focused on keeping communities healthy.