In this conversation Cris and I discuss the progression of his career, from perfusionist to starting his own company. We’ll also discuss how he’s helped SpecialtyCare start Perfusion Path, a 1099 opportunity for perfusionists.


Speaker 1:  Bringing you conversations with leaders within the operating room and healthcare community, this is Scrubbing In.

Todd Schlosser:  Hello, and welcome to this episode of Scrubbing In, a podcast powered by SpecialtyCare. I’m Todd Schlosser and today my guest is Cris Wedekind, the regional director for Profusion Services at SpecialtyCare. In this conversation, Cris and I discuss the progression of his career from perfusionist to starting his own company. We’ll also discuss how he helped SpecialtyCare start Perfusion Path, a 1099 opportunity for perfusionists. Enjoy the conversation!

Todd Schlosser:  Thank you for joining us here on Scrubbing In. I’m joined by Cris Wedekind, and he is one of the regional managers for SpecialtyCare for perfusion, correct?

Cris Wedekind:  Perfusion, correct.

Todd Schlosser:  And you kind of handle the Northwest, correct? The Pacific Northwest?

Cris Wedekind: Northern California.

Todd Schlosser: Oh, okay. So just central [crosstalk 00:00:52]-

Cris Wedekind: Central and northern california.

Todd Schlosser: Okay, awesome. Okay. I’d like to start off the podcast this way by asking what it was that drew you to a career in healthcare. What was it in your youth or childhood or young adult life that made you want to work in this field.

Cris Wedekind: Good question. I’ve always wanted to work in healthcare. It seemed to me that it’s working and helping people get better is just a special way of doing things.

Todd Schlosser:  Sure.

Cris Wedekind: I wanted to go to med school, did not have the grades for that. So got wait-listed-

Todd Schlosser: Like to become a surgeon or-

Cris Wedekind:  Yeah.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah.

Cris Wedekind:  And didn’t get the grades. Got into optometry school and dentistry, and then I heard about the perfusion thing, and I had no idea what it was.

Todd Schlosser:  When did you hear about perfusion? Where were you?

Cris Wedekind:    ’79.

Todd Schlosser:   Oh, wow.

Cris Wedekind:  And I was graduating college. So went to Stanford, which was the closest program from UC Berkeley where I was graduating from, and talked to them about what it was to be a perfusionist. I thought, “Geez, this is great. It sounds very exciting, it’s very autonomous.” And thought, “I’d like to do that.”

Todd Schlosser: So you entered their program and then graduated, and then you worked as a perfusionist for 20-some odd years, correct?

Cris Wedekind:  Be 40 years now.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh. I should say before you started your own business.

Cris Wedekind:  Correct.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah. So you worked I’d imagine just like a regular perfusion does day in, day out-

Cris Wedekind:   Correct.

Cris Wedekind:  I started my own company when the hospital I was working for as a contract perfusionist got audited by the IRS.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh.

Cris Wedekind:   And I didn’t have a company. So they said, “Okay, if you had a company, there wouldn’t be any problem.” So I started my company.

Todd Schlosser: So you were saying, “Guess what, guys? I decided to start a company.”

Cris Wedekind:   Yeah.

Todd Schlosser:  All right.

Cris Wedekind:  The short of it, yeah.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah. So you did that, you worked that company for 25, 24 years or so? And then you came on with SpecialtyCare. I guess you transitioned from being a perfusionist to being a business owner, and I would imagine that takes different skillsets.

Cris Wedekind:  Yeah, negotiating with hospital, contracts, negotiating with the individual perfusionists that work with you, be it subcontracted or employed.

Todd Schlosser:  Sure. Now did you still work your own cases while you were running this business?

Cris Wedekind:  Oh yes. Yes.

Todd Schlosser:  So you were doing the administration side of it on top of the actual practicing-

Cris Wedekind:  That’s correct.

Todd Schlosser:  Well, not maybe practicing, but actually doing the cases.

Cris Wedekind:  Yeah.

Todd Schlosser:  What was that transition like from being just a perfusionist, which is a job in and of itself, like that’s no small feat, to being a perfusionist/buss owner?

Cris Wedekind:   A big one, a big jump. But I got to have my own company, made my own rules. It was difficult, but it was definitely worthwhile.

Todd Schlosser:   Yeah. You came on with SpecialtyCare in 2016-

Cris Wedekind:  Correct

Todd Schlosser:   … as the regional director of operations for that northern California area. You have recently started a program called Perfusion Path to have SpecialtyCare bring in 1099 perfusionists who can be their own boss and sort of work with the hospitals that we already have contracts with.

Cris Wedekind:  Yeah. We’re really excited about this program. I think it’s a group of perfusionists we have not had eyes on and could not bring into the company because of the strict structure of the company we had.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah, especially because [inaudible] never done it before.

Cris Wedekind:  Right, right. Now we’re able to get a group of people that we haven’t seen before, and we could, again, have people work on their own companies, yet be helping us providing services.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah, absolutely. So they’re coming on board, and we’re just giving them accounts to work with, or how does that flow work?

Cris Wedekind:  Well, we will match regionally where they’re needed in the hospitals that need help. Our hospitals initially. And then plug them in. Use them as a … Similar to what we use right now as per diems, but we’ll use them in a contractual basis so they could run their own business.

Todd Schlosser:  Absolutely. Can you explain what per diem is just for those who don’t know?

Cris Wedekind:  You have a full-time that works 40 hours a week or more.

Todd Schlosser:  Sure.

Cris Wedekind:  Then you have a part-time that works half time, and then you have per diems where we could use them when we need them. They typically have other obligations themselves.

Todd Schlosser:  So they run their own company as a 1099, or they have part-time work, or maybe they do full-time work and just want to work extra cases.

Cris Wedekind:   Moonlighting.

Todd Schlosser:  I got you, yeah. I mean, moonlighting’s still a thing. Yeah, absolutely. And if the caseload is out that and people need perfusionists in their surgeries, why not make a little money and help those that need to go into cardiac surgery faster, get that done? I see a definite need for that. It’s sort of a win/win I think.

Cris Wedekind: It’s a win/win.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah. Same with the 1099. I think that, what I should call Perfusion Path, I think that’s sort of a win/win for those who are looking to branch out and be their own boss, work where they want to work when they want to work, that sort of thing.

Todd Schlosser:  How do you, since it’s your baby, how do you facilitate a program like this, bringing on contracting?

Cris Wedekind: Vetting processes are going to be important. We’re negotiating right now what we will have them be required to do on their own. One other group that perhaps we did not discuss are people that have their own companies currently and that were either obligated to do per diem for us, but now will be able to transition into the 1099 contract.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh, okay.

Cris Wedekind:  It’s a small segment, but it’s an important segment, and I think we could capture that.

Todd Schlosser:  When you look at perfusionists in general, there’s what, 4,000, a little over 4,000 nationwide?

Cris Wedekind:  4,000.

Todd Schlosser:  So it’s going to be a small segment no matter where you’re looking. Do you know how many perfusionists out there do 1099 work now as their primary source of income? Is there a certain percentage?

Cris Wedekind:  It depends where you are in the country.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh, does it?

Cris Wedekind:  Yes.

Todd Schlosser:  Okay.

Cris Wedekind:  Typically back West we have more.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh wow. Okay.

Cris Wedekind:  It has become somewhat lucrative.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh, okay.

Cris Wedekind:  Even more so than salary perfusionists.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh yeah.

Cris Wedekind:  So we’re hoping to capture that market as well.

Todd Schlosser:  Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s sort of what you did when you transitioned to having your own company.

Cris Wedekind:  That’s correct.

Todd Schlosser: Now when you had your own company, did you get to the point where you had employees?

Cris Wedekind:  I had employees, and I had subcontractors.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh okay. So you-

Cris Wedekind:  So I was able to use both depending on what the needs were.

Todd Schlosser: So because of your experience with being a perfusionist yourself, then taking on that business ownership and hiring employees and subcontractors, I see you as sort of uniquely qualified to launch this Profusion Path.

Cris Wedekind:  The headaches as well, I’m sure.

Todd Schlosser:  Well, yeah. You-

Cris Wedekind: But we’re going to minimize that.

Todd Schlosser: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s sort of what you’re here to do, is to grease the wheel and make sure everything runs smoothly.

Cris Wedekind:   Right.

Todd Schlosser:  What are the pain points for hospitals that 1099 work will allow SpecialtyCare to isolate and take care of?

Cris Wedekind: Right now we have hospitals that we are understaffing ourselves. So there are hospitals, they’re our clients’ hospitals, and we want to make sure that we can get a broader amount of people available there so we can cover the cases and such. Also to give the employees that we have now, the associates that we have now, time off for PTO and maybe reduce their work life a little bit.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah. So sort of increase people’s work-life balance.

Cris Wedekind:  Yeah.

Todd Schlosser:  I’d imagine though that that’s also the people you’re trying to target to come on as a 1099 contractor for perfusion?

Cris Wedekind:  Correct. Well, ironically yes. We would like to have people that want to manage their own time, which is something difficult to do if you have a contract yourself with a hospital, or if you are employed by SpecialtyCare or any other group, or by the hospital itself. So you’re kind of mandated as to when you’re going to be working by the schedule. With a 1099, we are looking at it as seeing your availability and fitting our needs to your needs.

Todd Schlosser:  Correct me if I’m wrong because you’ll be running the program; I’d imagine you’d know. If I was a perfusionist that wanted to do this and I reached out, I was approved by whatever the approval process is, would I then submit my availability to your team?

Cris Wedekind: Correct. We’ll find out what the pain points are and then try to match those to the people that are available.

Todd Schlosser:  Sure.

Cris Wedekind:  I’m hoping it’s going to be a little more scheduled than the night before.

Todd Schlosser: Yeah.

Cris Wedekind: Because those are always difficult to do.

Todd Schlosser:  But I understand, I’ve talked to a lot of perfusionists, and I try and schedule interviews with them and I … Almost every interview I do with perfusionists I get the message or email or text message or whatever saying, “I don’t know if I’ll be available at this time.” And I’ll ask, “Well, when do you think you’ll know?” They always say, “Tomorrow around that time. I don’t know.” So I’d imagine being able to schedule in advance would be very, very beneficial, or maybe even attractive to someone who was currently working at a hospital as a perfusionist.

Cris Wedekind:  Right.

Todd Schlosser:  And correct me if I’m wrong, because I have never worked as a perfusionist, but from what I understand, and I just developed this perception because I talked to a lot of new hires, and one of the reasons a lot of people come to work perfusion for SpecialtyCare is that better work-life balance because they’ve worked at a hospital, and they were the only perfusionist there, or they were on a team of two.

Cris Wedekind:  Right.

Todd Schlosser:  And it was very difficult to do things like take a vacation or get time off or whatever.

Cris Wedekind:  Plan a vacation.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah. I’d imagine that is something that you can offer a 1099 person, or really, they’re their own business.

Cris Wedekind:  Right. They offer it themselves. [crosstalk 00:10:33]. Exactly.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah.

Cris Wedekind:  It kind of role reversal. They are really the guardians of their own time.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah. So who do you think will be most attracted by the 1099 proposal?

Cris Wedekind:  I think there’s a variety of people that will be. First and foremost, the people that have their own companies or LLCs that are doing it now that have not been able to utilize SpecialtyCare as a subcontractor.

Todd Schlosser:  Right.

Cris Wedekind:   Subcontractee, sorry.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah, because they’re the subcontractor. Yeah. Absolutely. Do you have any data on how many people are out there doing that currently? I mean in a small group of 4,000, 100 people is a lot.

Cris Wedekind:  There’s more than 100 people.

Todd Schlosser:  Oh wow. Okay.

Cris Wedekind:  In that subset, they’re going to be the people that have their own contracts with hospitals, and then they’re going to be people that are subcontracting out with other people. So providing relief, PTO, FMLA.

Todd Schlosser:  Sure. So just fitting in where they can, provide help, and of course making money for filling those cases.

Cris Wedekind:  Of course.

Todd Schlosser:  I mean, economics. You got to fill the need.

Cris Wedekind:  101.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah, absolutely. Are we going to look for a certain age range of people or perfusionists who are at a certain point in their career, or is it really just anybody?

Cris Wedekind:  It’s almost anybody as long as they fit the qualifications and they can work independently. That’s going to be key. The other thing is that we imagine people that are nearing retirement don’t want to really hang up their clamps, and they want to continue on and help a little bit and make money at the same time. Those people I think would be important to capture.

Cris Wedekind:  I think we also, you know, moms or dads that want to participate more in family life and want to manage their own schedule as opposed to saying, “I’m going to be working these days routinely.” Then they could pretty much demand where they want to go and when.

Todd Schlosser:  So they can work when they want for who they want, and then if they need to make it to a dance recital or soccer game or tee ball or whatever, they can make sure that they don’t work those days because they dictate their own schedule.

Cris Wedekind: Correct. And then the other opportunity I think is for people that have not had their own company a chance to have their own company and participate in building something with us and by themselves too, but with us primarily, and to have the tax advantages that come with having your own company.

Todd Schlosser:  Like being able to write things off-

Cris Wedekind:  Right, yeah. As opposed to just having someone else being able to do that.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah, absolutely. So you’re going to get to take advantage of the tax benefits that are provided there.

Todd Schlosser:  Is this the only type of service that SpecialtyCare is planning on opening up to contractors or subcontractors?

Cris Wedekind:  Right now it is. We are in the process, and we’re very excited about ECMOPath.com, which we’re going to be utilizing ECMO specialists. We’re opening it up not just to perfusionists, but to others that are specialists and want to be specialists. I think that that will be a very good, large pool of people that we could utilize. And as we know, ECMO is growing and we are the largest ECMO providers. So we need the help here.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah. To touch on that with both ECMO and perfusion, people who want to start their own perfusionist company or maybe ECMO or maybe a combination of the two but don’t have the accounts, they can utilize SpecialtyCare’s accounts to help add to the foundation.

Cris Wedekind:   Right.

Todd Schlosser:   To build their own company.

Cris Wedekind:   Yeah. I mean, we want to retain them.

Todd Schlosser:  Well, yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Cris Wedekind:   To a certain degree we want to use utilize them, but-

Todd Schlosser:   But with their own company, [crosstalk] it generates all this freedom and a work-life balance that I would say maybe a regular employee wouldn’t have.

Cris Wedekind:  Correct.

Todd Schlosser:   Not to get back to the ECMO piece that you just mentioned, but you mentioned that it’s not going to be just for perfusionists. It’ll be for people who are ECMO-

Cris Wedekind:  Specialists.

Todd Schlosser:  Specialists. Thank you.

Cris Wedekind:  The interesting part I think is going to be that we’re going to open it up to nurses that can be ECMO specialists and respiratory therapists. There are going to be restrictions depending on licensing states, but I think we’ll be able to even train people so if they’re not ECMO specialists, we’ll be able to train them to be ECMO specialists.

Todd Schlosser:   So if you’re just an RN who’s interested.

Cris Wedekind:  Yeah, anybody who’s interested. We’ll soon be able to provide information.

Todd Schlosser:  Well, we’ll have to have you back on when that becomes more official.

Cris Wedekind:  Yes.

Todd Schlosser:  So you worked on your own and had your own company up until around 2016, and then you transitioned into SpecialtyCare. What was it that facilitated that move from independence to SpecialtyCare?

Cris Wedekind:  It was getting to the point where I couldn’t recruit myself perfusionists, and had been basically on-call for three years. My wife told me, “This is not sustainable. You need to change, or you need to change something.” So a position came about, an area clinical manager who was previously my employee. He was leaving SpecialtyCare from the area opening up a position. He said, “You got to talk to Steve Strauss, who’s the president of the west.” So I did. We started communicating, and he made me an offer of becoming the regional director of operations.

Cris Wedekind:  One of several things that I was looking at, alleviation of having the whole burden on me of running a business, and two was I looked at who recently came on board with SpecialtyCare. Al Stammers and Linda Mongero.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah.

Cris Wedekind:  Two powerhouses in perfusion. I thought, “Well, there’s got to be something there.”

Cris Wedekind:   And once on board, I realized that the management team in SpecialtyCare is fascinating and wonderful and really trying to improve not only all aspects of perfusion, but for the perfusionists, for the associates. They’re really trying. It’s a different SpecialtyCare than what it used to be.

Todd Schlosser:   Yeah. Well, Cris, thank you so much for joining us here on Scrubbing In. I very much appreciate your time, and-

Cris Wedekind:   I appreciate it.

Todd Schlosser:   … congrats on the extra responsibility, I should say.

Cris Wedekind:  We’ll see.

Todd Schlosser:  Yeah.

Cris Wedekind:   No, I actually look forward to it. So, thank you.

Todd Schlosser:   Fantastic. Thank you so much.

Cris Wedekind:  All right.

Speaker 1:  Thanks for listening to Scrubbing In. Please take a second to give us a rating on your podcast app and subscribe so you won’t miss out on what we have coming up. See you next time.