Putting People First: Sandy Fragale
Sandy Fragale is the CEO of Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Specialists, steering a staff of more than 175 and 21 physicians. As CEO she pairs her financial expertise as a CPA (certified public accountant) and her affinity for the medical profession in a job she could have never envisioned for herself.
When Fragale was 4 years old, her baby brother Brian was born with spina bifida. The condition occurs in utero when the backbone doesn’t form properly, resulting in damage to the spinal cord and its nerves. As her family navigated life with a disabled child, Fragale grew up immersed in the medical field.
While Brian’s diagnosis helped grow Fragale’s fascination with medicine, it also bred an insurmountable obstacle for their parents, who divorced when Fragale was 5. Growing up,
Fragale watched as her parents drifted in and out of relationships, accumulating an additional four divorces between the two of them.
Fragale became a bit of a default parent for her brother, stepping in to fill a role that was often left unoccupied by her parents. She got a job at Mc- Donald’s as a 14-year-old to pay bills and lived with her maternal grandparents throughout high school.
It was a rocky childhood for Fragale. The relationship between Fragale and her mother continued to deteriorate until they hadn’t spoken to each other for seven years.
But that’s where Fragale’s grandma Grace Bergman stepped in. “It was my grandma’s final wish that we reconcile,” Fragale said. “She had Alzheimer’s Disease for 15 years before she died in 2011. She was the kindest woman: very old school, she never drove a car. She was
Fragale credits her grandmother with helping to reconnect with and mend the relationship with her mother. And giving her a solid example of the strength that can be built by fostering empathy for each other.
That caring philosophy is Fragale’s hallmark in her personal life as well as her professional one. “In any pocket of my life, that’s what I’m passionate about: Encouraging and caring for one another. Life is so short, I want to find joy in everything I do. As a CPA when I started my career, I truly believed you needed to focus solely on the numbers,” Fragale said. “Today, I know that if you focus
on the people that work with you, they will create a great experience for your customers — or in our case patients — and the numbers
will naturally just fall into place.”
As CEO, Fragale was hired because she’s good with the business end of management. But over time, her role has morphed into one that is far more focused on the group’s culture and strategy. She took organizational development training with The Utech Group to completely shake up the way the health center was communicating. “When we started working on this shift, I thought it was bologna,” Fragale said. But she slowly grasped the lessons that centered on open and honest communications across all levels of staffing.
“In the last five years we’ve grown more than any other time in our history,” Fragale said. “I attribute that to our culture shift. My goal is to put a footprint in the area. I think in the next three to five years you’ll see another expansion.”
Under her leadership, she has effected changes that encourage medical staff to respectfully air grievances directly with each other, thwarting resentment and distrust. And with her guidance, Fragale has stewarded success stories like one staff member: “We had a woman who started working with us at 20,” Fragale recalls.
“She would sometimes show up to work hung over. Sometimes late. I’ve coached and mentored her over 18 years and today she’s an incredible leader. That’s what I get joy out of.” Fragale has been with OSMS since its inception in 2008 after two Green Bay orthopedic clinics merged. At the time, just 16 employees staffed the fledgling group. Today, OSMS has branched out to Marinette with a fulltime
office and is completing an expansion at the Green Bay location to accommodate four additional physicians, two more operating rooms and
three overnight stay rooms. Fragale anticipates breaking ground on an Appleton location later this year, which will open in 2020 and offer the same orthopedic and rheumatology services.
Because she watched her parents’ rocky relationship, Fragale said she was exceedingly hesitant to get married. “Scott and I met when I was 33, he was 39. We married three years later,” Fragale said. “I thank God regularly for waiting as our marriage is not perfect, but I do believe
I found the right person for me.”
The couple are avid travelers, choosing Hawaii and Costa Rica as a couple of their favorite destinations. They embark on a cruise nearly each year and visit Las Vegas and a Green Bay Packers away-game annually.
When the duo aren’t jetting off or getting exercise together, they funnel their spare time into the Big Brother Big Sisters of Northeast
Wisconsin program. They’ve been a “big couple” to Donte for nine years. Donte, who is now 15, and his family moved four hours
away a couple of years ago, but the Fragales stay in close contact with him and still see him regularly.
They waited a year after Donte moved away before deciding to take on another Little Brother. “Once we saw Donte doing well,
I was ready to start again,” Fragale said. “Miguel is so full of energy; he wears me out! On days I spend with him, I easily get 20,000 steps
on my activity tracker.”
The waiting list for boys is far longer than for girls in the program, so the Fragales have chosen to be paired up with boys both times.
“Those two little boys are way worse off than I ever was growing up,” Fragale said. “I want to encourage kids that you can always
change your life. The program says it is a year commitment, but I say it’s a lifetime,” Fragale said. “I expect that I’ll be at both of their weddings, that I’ll be there when they have children. When we met Donte he was a quiet little boy who just wanted to play video games all day
long. Today, he is a mature, charismatic young man who I am providing references for as he tries to get his first real job. Knowing that in
some way Scott and I have impacted and made his life just a little bit better gives me incredible joy.”
Fragale’s caring nature continues where it began, too: She’s a constant in the life of her brother Brian Swiecichowski. “His health is a
battle every day,” Fragale said. “He has good days and bad days. He lives on his own but is permanently disabled as he had a surgery about 15 years ago that left him legally blind.”
Before his debilitating surgery, Swiecichowski was working in his first job after graduating from college. He can no longer work. Fragale has remained the closest person to him throughout his struggles. Today, their mother helps him out by driving him to appointments and getting groceries, though all those duties used to fall on Fragale.
Fragale tries to emulate the lessons learned from her grandmother in all aspects of her life: at work, with Scott, Donte and Miguel and Brian: “My grandma was kind, caring, loving and patient. All my encouragement came from her. I don’t think I’ll ever meet another person like her.” w