With some 14,000 employees, Lee Health is the largest employer between Tampa and Miami, doing $2 billion in business annually while serving about 2 million patients in Southwest Florida. Given those numbers, it’s unquestionably a source of pride for Florida Gulf Coast University that one of its alumni is the administrator who manages the finances and operations of the healthcare giant.
But Ben Spence (’10 M.S. Health Science), the FGCU Alumni Association’s 2020 Alumnus of Distinction, is equally proud to be recognized by the university.
“I really didn’t expect it,” said Spence, whose master’s degree includes a concentration in health services administration. “It’s an amazing honor to be chosen for.”
Spence, Lee Health’s chief financial and business services officer, and five other alumni designated as this year’s Soaring Eagles (one from each college) were honored at the Alumni Association’s annual awards ceremony Feb. 7 in the Cohen Student Union as part of Homecoming 2020.
For Spence, earning a master’s at FGCU after the Cleveland native had dual-majored in finance and real estate at The Ohio State University in earning a bachelor of science in 1992 was another step up the ladder during his career climb within Southwest Florida’s premier healthcare provider. After following his retiring parents to Southwest Florida in ’92, Spence had “dabbled in real estate and soon realized my skillset wasn’t in sales, but in finance,” he said.
He started at Lee Health — then known as Lee Memorial Health System — in 1995 as a reimbursement clerk in the financial services department. “It was a privilege to get a foot in the door, knowing what a great organization it is,” Spence said. Since 2000, he has ascended to a variety of management roles in what he describes as a “continuous learning process.”
In his current job in charge of finances and business services, Spence’s responsibilities are far too numerous to list, but perhaps the best summation of his importance to Lee Health comes from Dr. Lawrence Antonucci, the system’s president and chief executive officer, in his nomination of Spence for the FGCU alumni award.
“Ben is an incredible individual who … demonstrates his exceptional value and talent as an FGCU alumnus on a daily basis,” Antonucci wrote. “Ben collaborates with organization leaders, medical staff, employees and the patient community in a variety of activities dedicated to ensuring long-term financial viability of the system while improving the health outcomes of the population served by Lee Health at the lowest possible cost. … Ben’s great work keeps this hallmark of our community running so that the needs of the community can be served.”
Those needs of the community often require figuring out ways to absorb the cost of health care for those who don’t have insurance and can’t afford it. “We don’t turn anyone away, so we have to make money from other sources to offset that and continue our mission,” Spence said. “It’s a real challenge.”
Although he didn’t have an exact number, Spence said he knows Lee Health employs more FGCU graduates than any other single business, with the Lee County School District second. “The nursing school (in Marieb College of Health & Human Services) is a great feeder for us, and we’ve also benefited greatly by hiring FGCU graduates in areas such as analytics and IT,” Spence said. “And as large as we are — the largest employer in the county — we are always looking for more employees. We are always challenged in that area.”
Lee Health’s regional workforce demands are among those FGCU will continue to fill with degree programs designed to get graduates off to a running start in the business world.
“I really like how well-rounded the master’s program is,” Spence said. “They didn’t teach us a lot about health finances in business school, and FGCU’s health services administration concentration really gives you a great overall background. The courses lay out many of the different pieces of the puzzle in health care, which is a very unique industry, and the curriculum pulled those pieces together for me in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”
Spence joined five other FGCU alums honored at the ceremony as Soaring Eagles for their achievements since graduating. The annual celebration of success by members of the university family is special for Kimberly Wallace, director of Alumni Relations and a proud Eagle herself (’09 M.A. School Counseling; ’06 B.A. Communication).
“The Alumni Awards celebration is one of my favorite events that we host,” Wallace said. “It honors our outstanding graduates for their achievements both in their careers and in their communities. I’m so proud of all of our nominees and what they are accomplishing.”
This year’s alumni honored as Soaring Eagles are:
Jessica Marcolini (’08, ’10 MS)
College of Arts & Sciences
An instructor in the Integrated Studies department at FGCU, Marcolini is a true champion of combining service-learning and civic engagement in her classroom. She has designed a “one class-one project” model that gets an entire class focused on the same objective for a nonprofit agency. She also is behind the Weigh the Waste project on campus to raise awareness of food waste by weighing it. Marcolini stays involved in community sustainability and walkability projects, including as a board member of Streets Alive of Southwest Florida.
Alicia Ciaffone (’12)
College of Education
A Lee County elementary school teacher, Ciaffone has spent eight years educating first- through third-graders, but her love and concern for students goes beyond classroom instruction. She developed her school’s first National Elementary Honor Society chapter, which inducted its first group of students this year and works on special projects such as “Birthday Bags,” which ensure that less-fortunate students have everything they need for a happy birthday. She also helps underserved students with a special closet that contains clothes and personal hygiene items they can take for free.
Maria Elkady (’16)
Lutgert College of Business
Elkady brings joy to hundreds of sick and developmentally disabled children through Heroes Unmasked, a nonprofit she founded and presides over that brings cosplay to hospitals and residential homes throughout Florida. Since 2017, Heroes Unmasked has sent volunteers dressed in superhero costumes to brighten the lives of almost 800 children statewide.
Darin Hovis (’13)
Marieb College of Health & Human Services
Rated as one of the top 50 golf athletic trainers in the U.S., Hovis volunteers with FGCU’s PGA Golf Management Program by conducting Titleist Performance Institute movement screening on incoming freshmen. Since graduating, he founded Par 4 Fitness in North Naples, which strives to help golfers of all skill levels achieve maximum performance. Additionally, he has overseen wellness and performance programs for several professional golf tours.
Julia Roscher (’17)
U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering
Whether it’s working as a flight-test engineer at the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in Orlando or as a volunteer with the Center for Horsemanship and Personal Success, Roscher is either shooting for the sky or staying grounded to make an impact. In her former role, she develops test planning and reporting documentation for the Navy; in the latter role, she educates, empowers and enriches physically disadvantaged children through therapeutic horseback riding, which she is greatly passionate about.