“I’m not afraid of hard work."
Lissa Lara had a long career in accounting behind her when she moved here in 2004, but no experience in the health care field.
Today she’s helping to lead the dramatic growth of a major physicians group and managing operations for its 35 partner-doctors.
Lara is the CFO and COO for Palmetto Primary Care Physicians, which has locations in five counties and is building a new 20,000-square foot corporate headquarters near Charleston Southern University.
When she was named CFO in 2007, she said, the group had 12 locations, 20 partners and 165 employees. Today it has 25 locations, 35 partners and 450 employees. “I feel like I’ve had a big hand in the growth of the company,” she said.
But it wasn’t without work.
“The deficit in medical knowledge -- I had to work extra hard,” she said. “I’m not afraid of hard work. I wanted to make a career change.”
Now she tries to mentor younger people in the office to show them how hard work can make a difference. She was lucky enough to have people who had a positive affect on her when she was starting out, and she wants to pass that on, she said.
Things were quite different when Lara graduated college in 1987. She joined a work world in the midst of transition. Women weren’t completely new to the workforce, yet bias and sexual harassment were still common.
She never felt lesser, however.
“I was brought up to believe gender didn’t really matter,” she said.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed by other staff members.
“Lissa has been a great mentor and leader to the rest of the management team. As a woman in the healthcare industry, it is easy to notice that the ratio of men to women is highly disproportionate – especially in boardrooms. Lissa is a daily reminder to us young professional women in the field that there is nothing standing in our way to achieving the same success,” said Vivian Barajas, the company’s director of marketing.
Lara grew up in Virginia and moved around the Southeast as an adult. She then moved to Kansas, but frequently visited South Carolina because her mother was in Florence and her sister in Summerville.
When her stepfather became ill, she decided it was time to return East.
“Living in middle America, it’s OK, but it’s not like living in South Carolina or North Carolina or Virginia,” she said.
Within six months of moving here, her life began to settle into place. She met the man she would marry, Lenny, and his two daughters, and in a year began working as the controller for Palmetto Primary Care.
Lara said she loves working in the health care field. She’s involved in every aspect of the organization except for the actual medical care between doctor and patient. By running the behind-the-scenes operations and reaching out through diabetes education classes and the patient-centered medical home concept, she’s part of affecting change and helping people.
As passionate as she is about her job, Lara isn’t all work. She’s involved in several charities, of which the American Cancer Society is especially dear to her because of family connections to cancer.
She also loves fly fishing, and once or twice a year takes a trip to go freshwater fly fishing.