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Buffy Domingue - Never Surrender Your Dream

Oct 11, 2017 02:47PM ● By Marisa Olson

Buffy Domingue

Stay Away From Fear – Never Surrender Your Dream

The best advice I could give anyone, especially an aspiring career woman, is the same advice I give my daughters: 

“Stay away from fear. When you find yourself in that moment of fear and doubt, reach out to your supporters to hold onto your confidence and maintain focus on your path. You CAN do anything. Never give up, never surrender your dream!”

CEO of an Award Winning, Specialty Hospital

Since 2010, Buffy Domingue has been CEO of Lafayette Surgical Specialty Hospital (LSSH) after taking the reins of leadership from her predecessor and trusted mentor, Gary Keller. Before becoming CEO of the nationally awarded, boutique hospital, Buffy served as its Vice President of Operations. LSSH enjoys a longstanding reputation for exceeding patient expectations for treatment, comfort, safety and cost, and its physicians are recognized leaders in patient care, specializing in surgical services in orthopedics, neurosurgery, ENT, general surgery and urology, as well as pain management.

Buffy explains: “Our success is not mine alone. It truly takes a dedicated team of physicians and amazing staff to win awards consistently year after year. Patient care at Lafayette Surgical Specialty Hospital is like no other. Our highly skilled staff treats every patient with priority to make them as comfortable as possible during their stay. We are delighted and honored to be named one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Patient Experience by WomenCertified for the five consecutive years, and have also been awarded at America’s 100 Best Places to Work in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare and the Studer Group, and just last week from our corporate partner, National Surgical Healthcare, now Surgery Partners, for The Satisfaction Award among all hospitals in the system, excelling in patient, physician and employee satisfaction.”

During the early years of her career, few might have forecasted Buffy’s brilliant success and career trajectory, or recognized her tremendous potential for leadership. Today, she also serves on the boards of One Acadiana and United Way. Fortunately, those most impressed were at the apex of that organization’s leadership: the hospital’s founder and first CEO, Tom Cooper, and his successor, Gary Keller. 

Humble But Auspicious Beginnings

When looking back, Buffy believes it was a matter of “right time, right place” and her determined drive that led her to become the chief executive of a nationally-recognized hospital. “It didn't happen overnight, and it may sound cliché, but I started from the ground up as a secretary and medical transcriptionist. I listened, experienced, and learned from my team and my bosses, Tom Cooper and Gary Keller, who, beside my husband and father, were my greatest advocates and mentors. I still value their advice and support today.”

Buffy was with LSSH from the very beginning, literally at its foundation: “I started with Lafayette Bone and Joint Clinic, when Tom Cooper was its administrator. The late Dr. John Cobb had this dream to build a hospital and we talked about it frequently. I assisted in the business feasibility study for what would eventually become Lafayette Surgical Specialty Hospital, interviewed its new physicians, and gathered information from the committee meetings when they selected the property on which to build.” When the hospital opened in 2004 under Cooper’s directorship, he adamantly urged Buffy to return to school to complete her education, and get her bachelor’s degree. Buffy recalls: “He said, ‘I want you to prepare, so that one day you will sit in this (CEO) chair.’”

Beloved Mentors, Gary Keller and Tom Cooper

After two years as CEO, Cooper retired, paving the way for Gary Keller, formerly, executive VP and a founding principal of Schumacher Group. In 1995, Keller, then president, helped build the emergency medicine management company, increasing its annual revenues from $3 million to $270 million in its first 12 years, and expanding operations from Louisiana into 16 states. After retiring in 2007, Keller accepted the position of CEO with LSSH.

Keller’s acceptance was a boon for LSSH, and well received by the Lafayette community. Outside from Schumacher Group, he held major leadership positions with Quorum Health Resources and Hospital Management Professionals, and also had an active consulting practice. He had begun his lifelong career in hospital administration in 1975 at Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco, after completing his master’s in management and supervision from Central Michigan University, and had received his bachelor’s from LSU as a “Distinguished Military Graduate.”

Once on board, Keller began integrating Buffy into all the executive duties. He fondly recounts his initial and lasting impressions of her, both as a business leader and as an individual of great integrity:

“Early in my tenure, I decided [Buffy] would be my successor. During my many years in leadership, I came to trust and act upon my instincts about people. Among my chief strengths is identifying talent. Once I identify it, I challenge it, and, if they withstand the challenges, I support and develop that talent. A leader demonstrates initiative and drive. Those are things you can’t coach. Buffy possesses those leadership attributes, and has guts, courage and self-determination. She was like a sponge, soaking up everything I taught her. She took challenges in stride, and is a true consensus builder. Most CEOs, including myself, can become too “directive” in our roles, but Buffy personifies “servant leadership,” and is a strong, compassionate executive. From day one, I had no doubt in her ability, and I know integrity when I see it. Not only that – she’s a great mother!”

Buffy describes Keller as “extremely influential” in fueling her ambitions, and in helping to prepare her for the directorship at LSSH. During his tenure, Buffy returned to school to complete her bachelor’s, following through on Cooper’s advice.

However, equally as influential was Tom Cooper, Buffy’s boss at Lafayette Bone and Joint, and later at LSSH. Buffy observes: “Gary and Tom are total yet complementary opposites in leadership styles. I have learned much from them both. Gary is driven, direct, and to the point, always generous with his keen insights and instruction, whereas Tom is laidback, subdued, and easygoing. When I approach him for advice, he often redirects the question back to me: ‘What does Buffy think is the best solution?’ urging me to work out the problem and solution independently.” 

“All Heart and Smiles”: Grandpa Silas

But Buffy’s greatest mentor and most beloved influence was her paternal grandfather, Silas H. Henard, Jr., a native of Pomona, Tennessee, for whom she was a caretaker during the last years of his life when he suffered from dementia. Silas had moved to Lafayette four years before his passing in 2015 at 91 years of age.

Buffy remembers him as the “13-year-old who drove his family from Tennessee to Arizona, where they settled,” as a man with “a passion for automobiles,” who loved long drives, and the adventure of the open road. “He probably drove more than a million miles in his life. In his later years with dementia, he often asked for his car.”

During WWII, Silas served in the Army in a motor pool as a mechanic's helper, adjusting brakes, lubricating chassis, repairing ignitions. He was promoted to truck driver for an anti-aircraft unit, transporting a 2 1/2 ton vehicle that towed a 40 mm gun that defended ground forces in northern and central Europe from attack by enemy aircraft.

After the war, he settled down, raised a family in Albuquerque, and established a 38-year career as Executive Officer for the U.S. Public Health, developing and implementing digitized and computerized health services across 4 states. “He was talker, and held on to many Tennessee clichés like ‘P-R-E-T-T-Y,’ if you happened to be dressed up for the day, and ‘I haven’t seen you in a prune’s age.’ He was compassionate, giving, and fun-loving.” One of her family’s dearest memories of him was when, at 85 years old, they found him playing nerf guns with his great grandchildren. “He was a great mentor, and always there for me. He was kind, gentle and caring. He smiled at everyone he met, and made you feel important.”

Growing Up in Lafayette and Scottsdale

Buffy’s family moved from Arizona to Lafayette in 1975 when her father decided to study geology at USL. After graduating, he stayed in Lafayette, and went into business with his uncle, Terry Bills. Buffy has one older, “amazing” brother, David, who now lives with his family in Fenton, Michigan, just south of Flint.

In the late 1980s, Buffy moved back to Scottsdale for a few years, where she graduated from high school and attended college, but returned to Lafayette, eventually marrying Kelly Domingue, whom, she confesses, she had fallen in love with at the age of 9: “I had a crush on him from day one.”

Buffy and Kelly both worked while raising their daughters, Lauren and Sydney. When Kelly opened his own business, Tab Products-Office Works, a Lafayette office furniture company, she helped him set up. Kelly’s company has been in business for approximately 18 years, and he remains a very hands-on owner and company president. As a couple they provide each other tremendous support in their businesses and careers, but family comes first. 

Calamity Comes In 3’s

The year 2016 brought unexpected, life-threatening challenges for Buffy and her family. That June, she perforated her esophagus, and was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. The event proved nearly fatal, and her prolonged convalescence in the hospital was physically and emotionally punishing.

She had barely recovered from that shock when, on August 13, Acadiana was pummeled by the historic 1,000 Years’ Flood. The Domingue’s home of 14 years - and the homes of seven immediate family members who lived close by - were partially submerged and nearly destroyed: 

“That Saturday night we were evacuated by boat, and for 5 months we lived out of a small apartment: Kelly, me, our 2 daughters and 2 dogs. We were devastated, but came out of that tragedy stronger and closer than ever: My husband and I, our children, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins – we didn’t how we were going to make it. Our trust and faith in God saw us through.” In January 2017, the Domingue family returned home after extensive repairs were completed.

While rebuilding their lives after the flood, Buffy was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (a form of skin cancer) on her scalp. She underwent several minor surgeries, which culminated in a major Mohs surgery, a microscopic surgical procedure. After battling and surviving cancer, she savors and finds joy in every moment of life.

Buffy and her family have survived and rebounded from misfortune, becoming stronger, braver and more grateful in the process. “My daughters have always been loving children, but now when I drop my 15-year-old Lauren at school, she never forgets to tell me, ‘I love you, Mom,’ but also, ‘Please pray for me today!’ God has a very real presence in our lives, and I am so blessed that my children better understand that.”

The True Measure and Meaning of Success

Although extremely proud of the hospital’s physicians and staff, and the numerous awards and accolades LSSH has garnered, Buffy does not measure success externally: “I measure success internally, by my own personal thoughts and feelings, by how content I am. I know it's a great day if I go home and go to sleep happy.”

When asked how she unwinds at home during the week, Buffy laughs and quickly answers: “Wine!” However, not before her daily workout of race walking. “Once Sydney’s and Lauren’s homework is done, and the kitchen has been cleaned, we retire to the living room and curl up on the sofa to watch Netflix. I look forward to sharing that quality time with my daughters each and every day, laughing and relaxing together.”

Lauren, Buffy and Kelly’s youngest daughter, is a sophomore at St. Thomas More Catholic High School, and on the Sparklers squad team as well as the Movement Dance Academy Competition Dance Team. She loves dance and art, and, like mom, is driven and determined. Sydney, their oldest daughter, now 20, attends college, and is a “my so talkative love-bug” who adores children and works at St. Pius Elementary’s Aftercare Program every afternoon. “In addition to her job, she babysits for everyone!”

During the week, Buffy doesn’t cook, but every Sunday prepares a large supper for the entire extended family and her in laws, always serving their favorite Cajun dishes. “My mother-in-law is an amazing cook, and taught me everything I know about Cajun home cooking. I make a great gumbo, but Kelly’s favorite is my rice and gravy. We find so much joy in sharing simple times together as a family every week.” 

 A “huge” football fan, Buffy is excited that football season is underway. Watching a game together is one of the Domingue’s cherished pastimes.