March 2015 Woman in Leadership
Tamara B. Owen
President & CEO, Olmsted Center for Sight
Tamara Owen is the President & CEO for the Olmsted Center for Sight, a not-for-profit agency whose mission is to assist individuals who are legally blind or visually impaired to achieve their highest level of independence through programs/services that focus on education, independence and employment. OCS has 175 employees and operating revenue of $8.5 million. She has been with the agency for one-and-a-half years; before joining OCS, Tamara was a senior executive at Kaleida Health for 23 years.
Tamara went into the healthcare profession because she cares about people, and is driven to improve the quality of life for others. Early on, while working as a clinician (physical therapist) she was frustrated with what she perceived to be administrative barriers that detracted from providing high quality, patient-focused care. This inspired her to become a health care administrator (hospital president) who led for 20 years from the focal point of a clinician. Her passion for this work was dimmed when the focus of the job moved away from the patient and more toward the business and social politics aspects of hospitals.
A colleague told Tamara that she should to look into the position at Olmsted Center for Sight (their board of directors was conducting an extensive nationwide search for a new CEO). Tamara agreed to at least go in for a tour. Interacting with the staff and clients, and seeing the life-changing work they do at OCS was all it took.
Tamara says, “Working at Olmsted is more of a privilege than a job, it connects me to people. The opportunity at OCS has been a perfect change. It brought me back to my clinical roots of assisting individuals to overcome barriers, while allowing me to put to use the leadership and team-building skills I developed over the last two decades. We demonstrate that individuals with a visual impairment can do just about everything that a sighted individual can do, they just do it differently.”
She earned her Master of Business Administration from University at Buffalo. Owen also received a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy from University at Buffalo; a Master of Science in sports medicine/education from Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts; and a Bachelor of Science in physical education/athletic training from Springfield College.
An active member of the Buffalo area community, Owen has served on numerous boards of directors, including Canterbury Woods, Tonawanda Chamber of Commerce, and Boys & Girls Club. She has taught as an adjunct faculty member at both University at Buffalo and Daemen College. Her professional accomplishments include being named to both the Top 50 Healthcare Executives and Women of Influence listings by Buffalo Business First in 2012.
The Buffalo Association for the Blind opened in 1907 initially as a broom factory employing individuals who were blind, and in 1916 chair-caning, rug-making, and basket-weaving were added to the factory. In 1917 the agency expanded into vision rehabilitation services assisting blind individuals to learn to live independently. In 1997, the agency partnered with the Statler Foundation to open the National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality in an effort to address the 70% unemployment rate of people who are legally blind. The program has now trained more than 500 blind or visually impaired people and has placed 82% of them in gainful employment. The agency changed its name in 1999 from Blind Association of Western New York to Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, M.D. Center for the Visually Impaired, in honor of a multi-million-dollar gift from Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted.