Henry Ford CFO Robin Damschroder on the importance of engaging with colleagues

Robin Damschroder has served as executive vice president and CFO of Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System since August 2018.

She was the system's interim CFO eight months before taking the job permanently.

Ms. Damschroder also held executive financial and operation leadership roles at Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan Health System and Livonia, Mich.-based St. Joseph Mercy Health System.

Additionally, she was associate controller at Henry Ford earlier in her nearly 30-year healthcare career and was an audit engagement leader at Deloitte. She also founded Catalytic Focus, a consulting and business advisory services firm.

Here, Ms. Damschroder shares one of her proudest achievements as Henry Ford's CFO, discusses the system's financial strategy and offers advice for other hospital finance chiefs.

Note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: Since becoming permanent CFO of Henry Ford, what has been one of your proudest moments?

Robin Damschroder: Recently, Henry Ford's credit rating was updated from an "A3" to an "A2" by Moody's [Investors Service]. They were working on that prior to my arrival, but a lot of the work we put in around improving margin performance has paid off. I'm excited for the Henry Ford team to make that happen.

Q: What is the greatest challenge hospital and health system CFOs face today?

RD: The greatest challenge in all of healthcare and at Henry Ford remains not just bending the trend on cost, but reducing the real total cost of care. The move to value and risk-based contracting shifted the paradigm from the old measures and metrics — be they financial or operational — that we used to hold ourselves accountable. It's a shift to get everybody focused on the total cost of care or cost per member per month when you're on the provider side and not just in the health plan world. We're fortunate at Henry Ford — [which includes HAP, a Michigan-based, nonprofit health plan] — to have both sides of an integrated delivery system and to be able to leverage our capabilities and the population health capabilities that we build around integrated care.

Q: How do you overcome this challenge?

RD: We are spending a lot of time with our employed and affiliated physicians, assisting in the redesign of care and workflow models that allow them to affect population outcomes, consumer experience and lower costs.  As a CFO, I'm spending more time in that arena with my colleagues to ensure that infrastructure for data analytics and care management infrastructure are in place and we are evaluating new technologies that not only change care delivery but transform the consumer experience.  Increasingly, part of my time is dedicated toward our consumer-facing capabilities in revenue cycle that allow people to make decisions about their care, including the launch of online pricing estimation and ease of understanding and paying for their services. 

Q: What philosophies, events or people influence your leadership style?  

RD: A lot of people over the years influenced my leadership style. I like to be inclusive and collaborative, and that comes from being transparent. That's transparent about the data. I like to share the same information that I drew upon to reach my conclusion so that other reasonable people would come to the same place or challenge assumptions to ensure that we come to the right outcome.  Key mentors in my life have underscored the importance of being inclusive, being collaborative and causing the conversation. And to cause the right conversation, you have to share the data and be transparent about your intentions and your interest.

Q: Henry Ford has brought in multiple new leaders this year, such as a new chief development officer and CEO of community care services. How do these leadership changes affect your role as CFO?

RD: [In filling] these [types of] positions on a leadership team, [Henry Ford CEO] Wright [Lassiter III] really looks at how we work together and how we complement each other. As CFO, I really like to be supportive and be their business partner in the work that we do. [The goal is that] I'm not just the CFO  signing off on the budget, but when they have a business problem they're trying to solve, I'm a colleague they come to for ideas as well. But I think from a leadership level and setting a senior table, Wright's done a great job [bringing in new leaders] as people have retired or sought other positive opportunities for themselves. He continues to look at our team from [the perspective of], "how do we operate at a high level of excellence together?"

Q: If you could pass along one nugget of advice to another hospital CFO, what would it be?

RD: What has made me successful at Henry Ford as well as other organizations is engaging my colleagues in achieving our performance goals. That means you have to get out of your office. It means you take the time to offer some creative or innovative solutions. And bringing that to bear with your colleagues means your organizations can usually rise to those challenges — not just rise to them but succeed. Get out there every day and engage with your colleagues and be able to listen to the challenges they have.


More articles on healthcare finance: 

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Texas House OKs greater billing transparency at freestanding ERs: 7 things to know
UPMC's revenue climbs to $5.1B in first 3 months of 2019

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