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Stephani Ryan: looking back to see her way forward

As BlueCare Tennessee’s long term services and supports vice president, Nashville-based Stephani Ryan can easily identify what motivates her every day.

She treasures the ability to advocate for members and ensure they receive the support and care that her father struggled to obtain following his spinal cord cancer diagnosis in 2007.

“He thought he had a pinched nerve, only to find out it was a tumor on his spinal cord,” Stephani remembers. “My mom became his primary caregiver, but eventually he had to move into assisted living and then into a nursing home.”

Though her father – a retired insurance salesman – had purchased a long-term care policy for himself and every member of his family decades earlier, such policies were in their infancy at the time and provided only minimal coverage. His provided no home-based services or benefits.

Stephani was a constant presence at the nursing home, comforting her dad and helping her mom – who also had a career in insurance – with the everyday life side of things.

That sense of protectiveness and advocacy fueled her approach to helping members.

“Every member was going to be my dad,” Stephani says. “My goal was to do all I could to help these members and their caregivers get the support they need  to return to their communities.”

“Throughout my career, it’s always been about making sure people had the right things in place.”

The family business

That career began following in her parents’ footsteps, but Stephani – born in Cleveland, Ohio, before settling permanently in Nashville in 1992 – found that an early job in sales wasn’t for her.

BlueCross Stephani and Ed Ryan
Every year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Stephani and her husband, Ed, take a vacation. This year they traveled to Mexico.

“Insurance has always been really important to me, and I saw the value in it,” Stephani says. “But I couldn’t ask for your money. Moving over to employee benefits was a much better fit. I was now sitting with employers and saying, ‘OK, here are the gaps in your employee benefit packages.’”

In 2008, Stephani joined BlueCross as director of Cover Tennessee, an umbrella for four state-sponsored health insurance programs. In 2013, she became director of CHOICES, which provides in-home services and supports for Medicaid members through the assistance of personal care coordinators.

In her current role as vice president of long-term services and supports, Stephani determines how BlueCross can provide the needed services for individuals with long-term health care concerns to have the most meaningful lives possible. While she misses the face-to-face interaction with members, she recognizes the importance of every role that’s played in her department.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in compliance and making sure we as BlueCross employees follow our own rules or you’re sitting in a member’s home having a conversation about their health goals,” Stephani says. “We are all making our members’ lives more meaningful.” 

A star in Music City

In December 2017, Stephani was recognized as the inaugural overall winner of the Nashville Business Journal’s Employee of the Year award.

Weeks earlier, Stephani’s supervisor, Amber Cambron, president and CEO of BlueCare Tennessee, shared that she and others had nominated Stephani in the “company culture” category of the Employee of the Year awards. (Other categories were “financial impact,” “best support,” “community impact” and “most innovative.”) Gracious and humbled by her peers’ endorsement, Stephani nonetheless couldn’t help but be a bit skeptical.

“When I think about ‘employee of the year,’ I don’t think about the boss,” Stephani says.  “I think about the front line, the folks who pour their heart and soul into this every day.”

Amber Cambron, left, and Stephani, chat with a fellow attendee at the Nashville Business Journal’s Employee of the Year Awards event.

Despite her hesitation, Stephani became comfortable with the company culture nomination, given the changes she’d helped implement over the last two years. In mid-November last year, she learned that she would be one of many individuals recognized in that category during a breakfast event hosted by the NBJ.

However, she was not prepared to be called on stage for the overall Employee of the Year honor. In fact, leading up to the event, she was not even aware there was such a supersized award.

“At the breakfast, I’m seeing honorees from different categories, and there’s an announcement about the overall employee of the year being recognized at the very end of the event,” Stephani says. “I never gave it another thought. There were 24 other people in that room who were doing work just as important as the work that we’re doing.”

She had just returned to her chair after being recognized with the rest of the company culture nominees – the last category of the morning – when she heard her name called once more. She was then treated to a montage video produced by her team praising her leadership and passion for members.

“It was a complete shock,” Stephani says, pausing. “Just a genuine, honest-to-goodness surprise. I’m just glad they didn’t point out all of my quirks.”

 

A statement from the NBJ’s judging panel reads, in part, “Stephani exhibited all the things that any company could ask for in an employee: commitment to her craft, to her team, to her company’s customers and to our community. And in each of those, she excelled.”

Adds Amber, “I’ve watched Stephani grow into an effective and trusted leader over the years. She’s committed to developing her employees and ensuring they have what they need to provide our members with the best possible service – she has a genuine passion for everything she does, and she cares about making a difference.”

The power of sharing words

When not in the office, Stephani enjoys traveling with her husband, Ed – their most recent trip was a post-Christmas weeklong vacation to Mexico – and visiting her grown stepchildren, Zach and Colleen. She’s also a voracious reader.

“I always keep two books going at the same time, one business and one personal,” she says. “It’s hard to get to the personal book sometimes, because you think, ‘There is probably some sort of work stuff I should be reading.’ But my current pleasure book is A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and my business book is Leading Change by John Kotter.”

Stephani Ryan BlueCross St. Jude marathon
In her spare time, Stephani enjoys running half-marathons. For the past two years, she and her sister, sister-in-law and husband have dressed as superheroes to take part in the St. Jude Memphis race.

That passion for reading extends to her championing of Love Helps, a Nashville-based nonprofit that promotes literacy in inner-city public schools. For several years Stephani visited a kindergarten classroom every week and spent time reading to children.

“I keep a pile of thank-you notes from those kids on my desk, and I need to build those visits back into my schedule,” Stephani says. “Spending an hour reading and just being a kindergartener for a while was one of the highlights of my week.”

Next stop?

Though Stephani may not have as many hours in a day as she needs, when she reflects on the journey her career path has taken, both literally and figuratively, she feels as if she’s arrived.

“When you’re starting your career, you don’t know your true passions and what’s in your heart,” Stephani says. “I’ve been fortunate to discover those passions.”

“Knowing that I’m in some way contributing to a program that delivers the care and services needed by members is the reason I love coming to work every day.”

About Jesse Thompson, Principal Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorJesse joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. A Chattanooga native, he has more than 15 years’ experience in content creation, management, and strategy for consumer audiences, including a six-year stint in health care marketing.

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