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Rafael Cartagena on the Cornerstone of Care

Rafael Cartagena on the Cornerstone of Care

COO Rafael Cartagena aids North America Partners in Anesthesia’s growth by focusing on what matters most: people

Photo by Christopher Appoldt

Think of the most complex and stressful moments in a hospital or emergency room—procedures such as an organ transplant, coronary artery bypass surgery, emergency C-section, or mechanical thrombectomy. Anesthesiologists play a critical role in all these events, administering powerful drugs in high-pressure situations. The patient’s life is often quite literally in their hands.

Hospitals, surgical centers, and other medical facilities simply must have high-quality anesthesiologists—specialists who they can turn to for safe, effective, and consistent care. North American Partners in Anesthesia (NAPA) provides those highly skilled medical professionals to more than five hundred healthcare facilities around the country.

Rafael Cartagena is NAPA’s chief operating officer. He coordinates clinical operations and works to ensure that all of NAPA’s partners have the tools and resources they need to be safe and successful. “We want to attract, develop, and promote the very best people so we can continue to deliver unmatched service to the millions of patients our partners serve every day,” he explains.

A tragic event at an early age led to Cartagena’s lifelong commitment to medicine. He was playing a pickup game of football when a friend suffered an asthma attack. Although Cartagena and his friends called 911 and attempted to render aid, they lacked adequate knowledge and couldn’t find anyone nearby to assist. His friend passed away before the ambulance arrived. Cartagena made a promise to himself—he would pursue medicine and positively impact the health and well-being of others.

We are only as good as our people on our team. What matters is the care we provide, and that care is driven by our people.”

Rafael Cartagena

That motivation took the young student to Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied genetics before continuing to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. He remained in Philadelphia for a residency in anesthesiology and then accepted a faculty appointment as an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, where he had the chance to train and influence future medical residents.

After nearly two years, Cartagena left academia for private practice in Virginia. He worked as an anesthesiologist, became part owner of Total Anesthesia, and partnered with hospitals to provide services throughout the Richmond area.

As Cartagena built and grew his businesses, he learned what it meant to be responsible for the livelihoods of his employees and their families. “We are only as good as our people on our team. What matters is the care we provide, and that care is driven by our people,” he says. That realization led Cartagena to start investing even more in his employees.

In the face of a changing healthcare industry, Cartagena and his partners realized that they could provide more job security and professional opportunities for their staff by joining a larger entity. NAPA emerged as the right fit, and in 2014 they acquired Total Anesthesia.

As NAPA’s chief operating officer, Cartagena draws upon all parts of his unique career path and leverages his operational, clinical, and training experience to help the business flourish. “I still get to train younger professionals, help run a business, practice medicine, and manage employees,” he says. “And we’re doing it all so we can serve the communities we are in.”

A dedication to human resources and professional development continues to set Cartagena and NAPA apart. “The only things proprietary in anesthesiology are the leaders and the people who create differentiation in the industry,” he notes.

NAPA functions with regional teams, and its executive leaders work to identify high-potential employees who are matched with mentors and opportunities for personal and professional growth. The organization is also launching a new program that will support nurses from underrepresented backgrounds in their applications to nurse anesthetist programs.

Cartagena’s approach is taking NAPA to new heights. The organization announced many new endeavors in 2021, including one with Sheppard Pratt’s Baltimore/Washington Campus. Cartagena now has clinicians on-site to provide anesthesia services for electroconvulsive therapy.

NAPA has a long-established relationship with Sheppard Pratt, whose Chief Operating Officer Greg Gattman says the hospital broadened its collaboration based on shared values. It’s validation that Cartagena’s approach is working. “We’ve built a core asset of great people working well together to deliver great care,” he says. “And that will take us far.”

With more than five thousand clinicians nationwide, NAPA is now the largest single-specialty anesthesia and perioperative management company in the United States. And a reputation for safe, quality, and compassionate care will help NAPA stay on top.

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