5 health system CFOs reveal investments that yielded great returns

Financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and workforce shortages forced hospitals to be strategic with their investments in the last year.

Becker's heard from five health system CFOs on the investments that created a great return:

Michele Cusack, Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.):

Northwell Health invested in the building of a temporary staffing agency a few years back, called FlexStaff. The agency has expanded its hire services to encompass many types of roles aligned with the latest market demands and has proven to be a crucial asset during each COVID-19 surge. The investment and entity was structured to capture new operating margin on the temporary outsourced labor activity, reduce the cost for our outsourced labor and enable a seamless transition of talent into full-time roles as needed. It has delivered millions annually in benefit back to Northwell financially.

Edward Karlovich, UPMC (Pittsburgh):

At the foundation of UPMC's continuing leadership role as the pandemic evolves is our workforce of 92,000. UPMC employees have gone above and beyond to meet the needs of our communities during these challenging times. To recognize outstanding work throughout these unprecedented times, in November 2021, UPMC announced more than $300 million investments to support our workforce, with enhancements in several areas, including rewarding each eligible employee with a one-time $500 bonus as a special "thank you" for their service. Since then, UPMC has announced additional investments that include substantial improvements to our already robust benefit programs to ensure all employees have affordable and valuable coverage and a boost to our merit program to ensure leaders are better positioned to reward strong performances during 2022. Before this, UPMC had increased minimum starting salaries effective in January 2021 for entry-level positions in its urban and central Pennsylvania facilities to $15 an hour plus a rich benefits package, the first healthcare provider in Pennsylvania to do so. These investments allow UPMC to show ongoing support to our employees who continue to take excellent care of our communities throughout some of the most challenging times in healthcare.

Michelle Bruhn, Sanford Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.):

Our people are our organization's most important asset, which is why protecting and supporting our workforce continues to be a top priority for Sanford Health. In 2021, Sanford Health made unprecedented investments in employee compensation increases and bonuses totaling $167 million. This included historic increases for providers, nurses and other front-line caregivers.

Our investment in the Sanford family goes far beyond a paycheck. Sanford Health has invested in new programs to support our employees through professional and leadership development and personal well-being. As the largest rural health system in the country, we are committed to being the employer of choice throughout our expansive geographic footprint. 

The American Medical Association honored Sanford Health as a recipient of the 2021 Joy in Medicine, one of 44 health systems recognized for their commitment to healthcare team well-being and programs to combat work-related stress and burnout. Sanford Health was also recognized by Forbes as the best employer in both South Dakota and North Dakota in 2021. The ranking was based on employee ratings on a variety of criteria, including workplace safety, compensation and opportunities for advancement. 

The privilege of caring for and supporting our patients and residents, people and communities who place their trust in us, is a responsibility we do not take for granted. We remain committed to supporting our talented and passionate employees who help carry out our mission every day by delivering world-class care and improving the health of the communities we serve.

Lynn Krutak, Ballad Health (Johnson City, Tenn.):

Undeniably, the greatest investment we could make is in our workforce. At Ballad Health, we've invested an additional $120 million annually in wage increases for nursing, nursing support and front-line caregivers.

We're also investing millions of dollars to expand our two child care centers and build as many as 11 new centers throughout the Appalachian Highlands for the primary purpose of serving members of the Ballad Health team with subsidized child care options.

As we've seen over the last two years especially, investing in our front-line healthcare workers is an investment in our region's health, well-being and future — and that is the purpose of Ballad Health.

Daniel Isacksen, Trinity Health (Livonia, Mich.):

At Trinity Health, we commit to making healthcare easy for our patients. One investment that is fulfilling this promise is our systemwide implementation of Epic, our electronic health record system. We are almost halfway to our goal of all Trinity Health locations live on Epic by 2024. The return on this investment is seen in many ways — not just financially.

With both inpatient and outpatient services on the same electronic health record and revenue cycle systems, we see better efficacy with claims and billing. Our patients receive one statement from all Trinity Health-owned hospitals and employed providers. This eliminates confusion for patients who, in the past, received separate bills for the facility, testing, professional and other charges. In our hospitals and clinics, we've reduced costly errors and can better collaborate with providers outside of Trinity Health. Most importantly, our patients manage their care from one easy-to-use patient portal on their mobile device that allows them to schedule care, access test results, find community resources and more.

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