Hospital and health system CFOs discussed the most pressing developments associated with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
The unprecedented challenges created by the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, along with the strategic initiatives required to address them, served as the main focus of the HealthLeaders CFO Exchange held last week.
Provider organizations face a plethora of both critical issues and growth opportunities related to the pandemic, a dynamic that will require executives to balance the need for short-term action and long-term vision.
Topics that generated the most conversation among attendees included telehealth services, workforce management in a crisis, and investment acceleration.
Below are three highlights from the HealthLeaders CFO Exchange about how healthcare finance has changed during the coronavirus pandemic.
1. The business case for telehealth
One of the bright spots that has emerged from the pandemic has been the mainstream popularity of telehealth services.
Yet while virtual care options seem to be 'having its moment,' CFOs at provider organizations are still examining the financial aspect of the service.
Ken Wheat, senior vice president and CFO at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, said that telehealth is likely to be a major component of the healthcare delivery system going forward, but noted that many hospitals still need to analyze how much to invest in the service and understand the impact on physician compensation.
2. 'Keep everybody employed and redeployed'
As some provider organizations around the country faced the dual challenge of caring for an increased number of patients infected with COVID-19 and dealing with revenue shortfalls related to the temporary cancellation of elective procedures, furloughs and layoffs became a common practice.
However, Mark Meyer, CFO at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, was tasked with ensuring that the organization would keep its workforce intact through the outbreak.
"As a state institution, we decided early on to avoid furloughs, layoffs, or cuts in pay," Meyer said. "Interestingly enough, as the CFO, I was asked to be the health system point person to keep everybody employed and redeployed as much as possible while our operations and nursing teams dealt with the virus and protecting employees and patients from the virus."
Meyer said the UTSW strategy focused on moving employees around the enterprise to keep operations up and running, and he noted that employee turnover numbers declined as a result.
As the organization has moved past the latest surge in cases and seen its patient volumes return to near pre-COVID levels in terms of volumes, Meyer said the decision to keep all employees appears to have paid off and that UT Southwestern's employee engagement scores rose about nine points year-over-year among academic medical centers.
3. Accelerate investments but be diligent
Exchange members emphasized the importance of accelerating investments in crucial areas of the enterprise. Leaders spoke about how there shouldn't be a wait to drive operational efficiencies throughout the organization.
Jeff Limbocker, executive vice president and CFO at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady in Baton Rouge, said that his organization would be "more diligent" about its capital spending plan going forward, but added that its investments in information technology will continue as planned.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we had to plan for dramatic cost reductions until the CARES Act stimulus dollars were received," Limbocker said. "That gave us the opportunity to be patient and more thoughtful about short and intermediate-term measures we needed to put in place. As we continue to understand the impact of COVID-19 and related implications/decisions over the next six months, we will remain stringent on capital outlays to help maintain a stable balance sheet."
Additionally, Andy Zukowski, CFO at UNC REX Healthcare in Raleigh, North Carolina, highlighted his organization's use of strategic partnerships to advance telehealth opportunities and other strategic initiatives.
"One of our differentiators has been our successful strategic venture fund that is coming up on its 10th year; that has created great opportunities for us to access different investments and partnerships that we can leverage in support of growth of some of our strategies," Zukowski said.
The HealthLeaders Exchange is an executive community for sharing ideas, solutions, and insights. Please join the community at our LinkedIn page.
Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.