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These Fierce Female CFOs Are Tackling Healthcare's Biggest Financial Issues

Analysis  |  By Amanda Schiavo  
   March 08, 2023

The women at the head of healthcare's financial strategies are finding solutions to some of the toughest economic challenges.

On March 8, 1908, women in New York City marched through the Lower East Side in protest of child labor, the conditions of sweatshops, and to demand women's suffrage. Two years later, in 1910, the first annual International Women's Day would be observed—and ever since, March 8 has been recognized as a day to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements women have made.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of those who came before, today women are thriving in careers and industries it was once thought impossible for them to enter. One area where women have been successful is in the C-suite, particularly in corporate finance. While full gender equality in the C-suite hasn't yet been attained—women made up just 16% of CFOs in 2022, a rise of only 6.3% since 2004, according to the Crist Kolder Volatility report—these women are bringing strong strategic leadership to the table to tackle the biggest economic challenges plaguing businesses today.

There is no shortage of economic pressure in healthcare. Hospital and health system CFOs are kept awake at night by issues involving financial sustainability, payer relations, growth, costs, and supply chain. And while just 23% of CFOs and chief actuaries in healthcare companies are women, according to a 2019 Oliver Wyman report, those that do hold this position have found solutions to help their organizations thrive financially.

In celebration of International Women's Day, HealthLeaders highlights the following women CFOs who are laser-focused on the top financial challenges affecting healthcare organizations and who are leading the way to solutions.

Read more from HealthLeaders: Celebrate Women Healthcare Leaders During International Women's Day 2023

Julie Lautt, the chief financial officer for Avera Health—a Sioux Falls, South Dakota–based healthcare provider with 37 hospitals, over 1,600 beds, and more than $2.8 billion in total annual revenue, on financial sustainability, optimization, and growth strategy.

Lautt: ''As soon as we started seeing our trends of costs continue to go higher, we began to focus on a financial stewardship plan at Avera, and our number one focus was maintaining our patient care.

''We're doing assessments on right-sizing our administrative tasks and non-patient care. We've also been assessing our non-core services. And the reason that we're doing that is to protect those critical components of patient care.  

''We're taking a look at some of the short-term levers and discretionary spending, while we also focus on long-term sustainability, optimization, efficiencies, [and] utilizing technology.

''We're focused right now on opening a new freestanding emergency room and clinic on the east side of our town. We also are invested in mental health, and we've identified that continues to be a growing need. We've been at capacity for some time, so we continue to expand in our Sioux Falls market thanks to a grant we have with one of our partners, [and] we were able to construct a new space and answer the need for 24/7 urgent care and residential addiction services for youth and partial hospitalization for youth.''

JoAnn Kunkel, the CFO for LCMC Health, a New Orleans–based, nonprofit health system with $1.7 billion in annual revenue, on payer-provider relations, supply chain, and technology.

Kunkel: ''The payer-provider relationships, interdependencies and involvement with patients is always changing. Financing is important to everybody, so those relationships continue to evolve and they're taking on more risk. A lot of us started out taking just upside risk, and now we're taking on downside risk, and full risk when you're working with your payers—that's huge. Population health has a different definition for almost everyone who does it. So, understanding what's important to you and your system is going to be important. Everyone is talking about supply chain disruptions, supply chain inflation, the bottlenecks, those things in healthcare have been an issue for the past two years. It's not an easy turnaround, so becoming more efficient in revenue cycle is going to take automation technology. Artificial Intelligence is big in that space, and if can you optimize your revenue cycle and automate it that will help with labor. Technology is the foundation of almost everything that we do today.''

Bridgett Feagin, the CFO for Connecticut Children's—a Level 1 pediatric trauma center with roughly $600 million in net patient revenue, on payer-provider relations.

Feagin: ''[A good relationship between the hospital and payers is a] collaborative relationship, meaning that they understand our needs and we also understand their business needs as well. So, if it costs $100 to take care of this patient, we at least need to cover our costs. Now at Connecticut Children's, we are a payer mix, close to 60% of Medicaid. Medicaid does not cover the cost. So, we need our commercial payers to give us a little bit more than the costs. So, we can shift some of that liability over to our commercial payers. And that's just the way it works. They understand that but we are working with the state as well to increase our reimbursement to cover our costs.

''A good payer partnership also reduces administrative burdens, such as a denial. When a payer denies a claim, it creates more administrative work for my team. On the front end, we're talking to payers about what we need to do, to make sure we don't get a denial in the first place.''

Amanda Schiavo is the Finance Editor for HealthLeaders.

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