The ultimate mission: Catholic Health exec and Navy vet led Covid hospital

By Tracey Drury
Buffalo Business First

Now retired from the U.S. Navy, Rebecca McCormick-Boyle began a new career at Catholic Health in January.
Rebecca McCormick-Boyle was the only one of six siblings to follow her father’s lead by joining the military. Now retired from the U.S. Navy, she began a new career at Catholic Health in January. (Joed Viera/Buffalo Business First)

Listening to Rebecca McCormick-Boyle tick off the places she’s lived and worked might lead you to consider her worldly. But Catholic Health’s chief integration officer considers herself very much a hometown girl.

The daughter of a World War II Navy reservist, she and her five siblings grew up in Griffins Mills, a hamlet in the town of Aurora not far from West Falls. She earned a nursing degree from the University at Buffalo.

After college, she spent 36 years in the Navy, moving from Orlando, Fla., to Bethesda, Md., and back home to Buffalo, then to Okinawa, Japan, with multiple stints in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.

And she never thought twice about retiring in Buffalo.

“I always intended to come home, and this is home,” she said. “Really, the Navy allowed me the opportunity to go away from home and still have home be home. I came from Griffins Mills, N.Y., and went to many places, but home was always home.”

The year after she retired as a Navy rear admiral in 2018 and came back to the region, she found herself recruited to join the board of Catholic Health, where she quickly clicked with CEO Mark Sullivan.

Though she wasn’t looking for a job and Sullivan wasn’t looking for a chief integration officer, both realized the opportunity to put McCormick-Boyle’s experience to work at the region’s second-largest health system.

The timing was fortuitous. The Covid-19 pandemic hit just months after she started in January, and she was tasked with creating the nation’s first Covid-only hospital at the St. Joseph Campus of Sisters of Charity Hospital.

The rigor and discipline of her military background fit perfectly with the need to quickly and efficiently repurpose the hospital and create procedures to keep staff and patients safe.

“The job of a Navy nurse is to be part of the nation’s readiness and defense,” she said. “My career track was directed more administratively, but you still maintain this readiness and this ability to support that overall mission.”

And though the military is very different from a civilian health system, joining the board showed her there were similarities in working toward a common mission of service to others.

“That’s extraordinary to me. I was very fortunate to establish that board relationship and then through that, this job relationship,” she said.

She’s quick to celebrate the skills and dedication of the entire team that operated the St. Joe’s Covid hospital, caring for up to 100 patients at a time in makeshift ICU wings. About 600 patients received care at the Cheektowaga campus between the time the site opened as a Covid-only hospital and mid-August.

McCormick-Boyle said she also had the luxury of cherry-picking what she calls a “great team” of doctors and nurses, infection control, pastors and emergency managers. She credits Sullivan with enabling that success.

“Mark Sullivan is a tremendous, visionary leader,” she said

Though times were uncertain, he provided a list of “F” words to get through – fearless, flexible, faithful.

So despite a four-decade Navy career that included time as a military surgical and critical-care nurse, McCormick-Boyle doesn’t hesitate to say this was the ultimate mission.

“Absolutely,” she said. “I feel as if my career prepared me for this moment in time for my community. I feel like I had a role to play to hold that team together and take action for everything Mark wanted us to do. That was my job.”

This article originally appeared in Buffalo Business First.