One of the largest nonprofit hospital and health-care networks in the country will see a shift change for its chief in-house legal role next year.
Highmark Health announced Nov. 20 that Carolyn Duronio, a partner in Reed Smith’s tax-exempt and nonprofit organizations practice in Pittsburgh, will join it as general counsel on Jan. 6, 2020. The move is part of an organizational succession plan by Highmark to replace chief legal officer Thomas VanKirk, who will retire at the end of 2020.
Duronio, who has spent her entire 35-year career at Reed Smith, told Bloomberg Law that she has worked with Highmark Health for 33 of those years. She said she had “big shoes” to fill in replacing VanKirk, who along with Highmark Health president and CEO David Holmberg approached her about joining an organization that has roughly 110 legal staffers located in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
“Highmark is the second-largest integrated delivery and financing system in the country—it has both a large health insurer and a significant hospital system for both providers and payers,” Duronio said. “Highmark is going to be at the forefront of looking at how to do higher quality, lower cost health care that is accessible and community-based.”
Duronio laughed when asked how she felt about tackling the nation’s seemingly perpetual health-care crisis.
“Isn’t that what one wants in life—the biggest challenge?” she said.
Highmark Health, which operates the Allegheny Health Network and its insurance arm Highmark Inc., has in the past turned to Reed Smith to represent it in various litigation battles or work on initiatives designed to decrease the cost of health care.
Reed Smith’s former global managing partner, Gregory Jordan, now general counsel at Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc., is a member of Highmark’s board of directors.
Duronio acknowledged that while life in Big Law can be difficult for women like herself—she spent the bulk of her career caring for elderly parents and a younger sister with Down Syndrome—she praised Reed Smith’s current and former leadership for accommodating her situation and “allowing me to be a caretaker for my family and have the career that I have.”
In her new role at Highmark Health, Duronio will eventually succeed another former law firm leader in VanKirk, who served as CEO of Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney before joining Highmark in 2012.
In an annual tax filing made public earlier this month, Highmark Health disclosed that VanKirk was one of several executives to see a pay increase during its 2018 fiscal year. VanKirk earned $2.47 million in total compensation from Highmark Health last year, up from almost $1.94 million in 2017 and $967,000 in 2016.