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Mercy Health-Cincinnati CFO on Competition in Ohio Market

By Jack O'Brien  
   October 03, 2019

Colin Brooks shares how the health system is building on its sizable market share.

Colin Brooks' healthcare career began a decade ago, working as a financial analyst for IASIS Healthcare in Nashville.

Brooks took CFO trainee positions at different IASIS hospitals throughout the south, including Tampa and Houston, before accepting his first CFO role at Southwest General Hospital in San Antonio.

After two-and-a-half years there, Brooks accepted an offer to return to Ohio, where he graduated college, and serve as CFO of The Jewish Hospital - Mercy Health in Cincinnati. At the start of 2019, after a year and a half at that role, Brooks was promoted to CFO of the Cincinnati market.

Brooks spoke to HealthLeaders about opportunities and challenges associated with the "highly competitive" Cincinnati provider market. 

This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Related: Post-Merger Bon Secours Mercy Health Names 14 Senior Leaders

Related: One of Greater Cincinnati's Largest Hospitals Hires New CFO

HealthLeaders: What have been the biggest changes to healthcare that you've noticed since entering the industry? 

Brooks: As far as things that have changed, the concept of value-based [care and] population health were big buzz words a few years ago. I still think [healthcare] is going to continue to head in that direction and I know we've done some things here at Mercy to be prepared for that.  

HL: I'm curious about what you've done to ready your organization for the shift from fee-for-service to value-based care?

Brooks: We're a part of a larger organization, Bon Secours Mercy Health, but there's been a good foundation laid preparing for population health and dipping our toes in. As it pertains to the Cincinnati market, we've got a clinically integrated network of a little over 1,000 providers, managing [more than] 55,000 lives. We're doing that through value-based payer contract relationships, which we've been doing for a couple years now. We decided this was something we wanted to be a part of. We feel like there will be more [value-based care models] in the future, and we want to be well-positioned to be able to offer that kind of service.

Related: Bon Secours Mercy to Sell 51% Stake in Ensemble RCM Subsidiary

HL: What are some of the biggest opportunities and challenges in the Cincinnati market?

Brooks: Cincinnati is highly competitive. The landscape [includes] a large academic medical center and then three large nonprofit systems, all with strong histories. [Mercy] has got the largest market share, that's something we're proud of, but we've still got a lot of work to do. One of our strengths is that we've got five hospitals spread nicely throughout the geographic region, as well as four freestanding emergency rooms. 

Recently, we put up a couple different medical office buildings that house primary care [physicians], specialists, and ancillary services like imaging, laboratory, cardiac testing, and radiation oncology. We know more and more [demand] is going to be shifting to that outpatient site of service and through these buildings. We're going to continue to expand our footprint and our offerings.

In general, the population's aging and we're feeling some reimbursement pressures. It kind of feels like the inflationary expense pressures are outpacing the reimbursement a little bit in some areas.

Related: Cincinnati Doctors Rank Among Highest Paid in U.S.

HL: Do you have a stance on whether health systems should focus more on driving revenue or containing costs?

Brooks: [The strategy] goes both ways. I would say the organization that I came from previously was more focused on the expense line item and managing that. But if you do that, then you're limiting your long-term success and growth potential. I feel like we found a good balance here. There's always opportunities to improve, but we've done a good job of investing capital and we've grown our market share through that in recent years.

[We] keep a focus on the expense line and know that we can't have waste; we have to be smart how we manage our expenses. I don't think you can do one or the other; I think it has to be a little bit of both. 

HL: What has been the most useful advice on leadership or strategy that you have received since becoming a CFO?

Brooks: As far as personal growth and development, one of the things that helped me early on was a willingness to relocate and embrace new experiences with new people in new places. Of course, there are some sacrifices that you make with your family to relocate, but you deal with so many good people and learn so many different ways of doing things. I would encourage a young financial leader to do that if they've got the opportunity, because it's going to help you grow both personally and professionally when you live in a new place and meet new people. 

From a more strategic standpoint, I would say making the step that I made from the hospital CFO role to more of the market CFO role, I've had to think more strategically and that's a mindset that I'm continuing to develop more. It's more strategic and big picture versus more operational and day to day.

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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