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In the nearly 25 years Richard Burke has worked at Fallon Health in Worcester, the healthcare industry has undergone tremendous change. From the state’s healthcare mandate to the introduction of the Health Connector, intense political scrutiny to the challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic, it’s an industry far from stagnant.
Burke, who has served as Fallon’s president and CEO since 2015, has been with the local industry through it all.
“I’ve always been drawn to mission-oriented work,” he said of the nonprofit healthcare organization.
The son of a U.S. Marine, Burke moved frequently as a child, living at various military bases until he was 10 years old. Around that time, his family settled in Leominster. He would later attend high school in Fitchburg, and then study political science at Assumption College (now Assumption University) in Worcester. He’d go on to earn a master’s degree in the same field from Boston College, as well as an MBA from the Samuel Curtis Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, although he’d never be gone from this region for very long.
Central Massachusetts, he said, is very much his home.
Initially Burke took a route not uncommon for young political science majors in the commonwealth, taking a job as a legislative aide at the State House. From there, he returned to Worcester, to his alma mater, switching gears to work in community and government relations.
That job at Assumption eventually led him to Fallon, where he began working in 1998. Since joining the company, he’s held a variety of leadership positions, including serving as the president of senior care services and government programs.
Under his leadership, the organization has undergone numerous changes, including, most recently, an announced step away from the commercial insurance market, a decision ultimately driven by health disparities among different segments of the public, he told WBJ in March 2021. That decision was effective in April, with existing members given 18 months to stay.
Eradicating inequities remains an ongoing focus of at Fallon, under Burke’s leadership.
Relatedly, Burke is a champion of the work Fallon has done with seniors, a space wherein shifting from the private insurance market will provide room for expansion. Shortly before he joined the company, Fallon was in 1995 the first and only health plan to sponsor a PACE program – a program of all inclusive care for the elderly, the Fallon iteration of which is known as Summit ElderCare.
Since then, the program has expanded to be one of the largest PACE programs in the country, Burke said. At the crux of the initiative, which includes medical care, health insurance, and in-home assistance, is allowing the aging to grow older with dignity. Burke lights up when he talks about it.
“It’s such a wonderful program,” he said. “It really goes to who Fallon is as an innovative company.”
The terms “innovation” and “mission-driven” come up repeatedly when talking to Burke about Fallon, and similar accolades bubble to the surface when others describe him.
“He’s a very down-to-earth individual,” said Francesco Cesareo, president of Assumption, where Burke sits on the board of trustees. “There are no airs about him. He’s genuine, he’s sincere, and I think his family remains at the center of his life.”
Not only is Burke deeply committed to the work being done at Fallon, but to his and Fallon’s work in the community, Cesareo said, with Burke actively participating in the local business community and putting the weight of his organization behind efforts to improve the city.
Such participation has garnered him a significant amount of respect in the region, Cesareo said.
Indeed, reluctant to boast about his work, Burke casts himself as a part of a larger whole, including in terms of his legacy at Fallon. In that realm, as he continues to press the healthcare provider forward into the 21st century, he hopes to continue the organization’s reputation for growth.
“Fallon is a unique organization,” he said. “It’s innovative, and I certainly hope my legacy will be one of continuing that 45 years of innovation.”
The WBJ Hall of Fame Class of 2022:
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