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TBJ Women in Business Award Winner: Carolyn Knaup

Annually, the Triangle Business Journal recognizes a select group of area business women through their Women in Business awards program. This year, WakeMed senior vice president of Ambulatory & Physician Operations Carolyn Knaup, RN, MHA, was one of two winners from the hospital/health care industry.

Knaup joined WakeMed in 1999 as the Raleigh Campus operating room manager. In 2002, she became the executive director of Ambulatory Services and subsequently helped open North Healthplex and three other standalone WakeMed emergency departments. She also helped guide the expansion of WakeMed’s outpatient services. Today, she serves as the lead administrator for our healthplexes, medical parks and WakeMed Physician Practices. Her many contributions to our health system have been extremely impactful, and we feel fortunate that she is a part of our leadership team. Following is Knaup’s award nomination, which includes more detail about her career at WakeMed as well as her commitment to our organization, patients and community.

Carolyn Knaup
Senior Vice President, Ambulatory & Physician Operations at WakeMed

At her second job out of nursing school Carolyn Knaup thought she was at the hospital she’d be for the rest of her career. She’d started as a staff nurse and quickly worked her way up to clinical manager of the operating room. After six years with the hospital, she got called into the boss’s office and was told that her job was being eliminated. She was offered nursing options, but the hospital made it clear they would be fine if she decided to leave.

“I was devastated,” Knaup recalls. “It was like everything I’d set my career up to be was wrong.”

Among other things, her soon-to-be ex-employer told her she needed more outpatient experience. It would be a few years before she would capitalize on that bit of advice, but when she did, Knaup made the most of it. She began working with WakeMed’s outpatient services in 2002, and quickly proved she understood the growing importance of ambulatory care in a rapidly changing health care world.  In 2005, Knaup was named the system’s Vice President of Ambulatory Services.

She has since guided a pioneering expansion that has seen outpatient procedures – including surgery and endoscopy – grow to nearly 275,000 visits in 2012. By comparison, the hospital conducted fewer than 12,000 inpatient procedures during the same 12-month period. By eliminating costly overnight stays for patients, the expansion of outpatient procedures has helped contain health care costs in an era when every penny spent is scrutinized.  The decade-long push to provide more outpatient services has been driven by several factors, most notably the push toward “accountable care” to restrain costs as well as advances in technology, particularly, less invasive laparoscopic techniques that make outpatient surgery a popular option for a growing number of procedures.

Knaup has also driven the push to establish standalone emergency departments throughout Wake County, bringing emergency care closer to where residents live. Knaup’s effort to make emergency care less centralized bucked a longstanding industry trend, but has now become the standard for hospitals nationwide who are interested in the stand-alone concept.

Knaup is modest about the vital role she played in the recent opening of WakeMed’s fourth stand-alone emergency department (ED) in the Triangle, in Garner.  WakeMed Garner Healthplex opened its doors to the residents of Southeast Wake and Johnston Counties on August 19, 2013, bringing quality, convenience and much needed emergency and outpatient services to these growing areas.  It was initially estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 patients would receive treatment in the new ED during the first year, but based on initial numbers, the Healthplex is currently on track to surpass original year-end expectations by 2,500 to 4,000 patients.  “Our success at Garner has been a team effort, and we’re thrilled to be serving the health care needs of this vibrant, growing community.”

Knaup’s introduction into the world of ambulatory care was a baptism by fire. “I’d just finished my master’s [in Health Administration, from Pfeiffer University] and was wondering what I was going to do with all this free time,” recalls Knaup, who was raising two elementary school boys and was WakeMed’s director of surgical services. It was December 2001, and WakeMed was opening its first stand-alone emergency department in North Raleigh the following April. While Knaup was contemplating her future, the woman who was the new facility’s director was determining it for her. Says Knaup of the director, “She walked in, handed in her keys, her beeper, her badge and said, ‘I can’t do this.’”

Knaup swept in, hired a staff of 25, ordered equipment, developed policies and procedures and opened the facility on schedule. She’s since moved on to open four additional stand-alone emergency departments (Apex, Brier Creek and now, Garner).

She’s also involved in WakeMed’s continued expansion in primary and specialty care services. 

Knaup’s comprehensive knowledge of outpatient services, as well as her unique ability to successfully collaborate with physicians led WakeMed administrators to name Knaup to a new role in 2013, that of Senior Vice President of Ambulatory Services and Physician Operations.  Knaup now oversees all WakeMed Physician Practices (WPP) in addition to her current ambulatory responsibilities.  She is the lead administrator for WakeMed’s ambulatory sites, including more than 50 WakeMed Physician Practice offices throughout the region. She oversees all WPP operations, human resources, finance, practice integration, development, education and compliance, as well as physician relations.

Knaup says she never guessed she’d be where she is today, and she’s grateful that WakeMed has allowed her to accomplish so much more than she ever imagined.  “All of my work experiences – both the positive and not-so-positive – have led me to this point in my life,” Knaup explains.  “I’m just so happy that I’ve been able to be a part of a growing organization that is making health care more accessible to the people on a daily basis.  It’s a great feeling to know that I’m making a difference.”