Houston Methodist CFO on the importance of being more than a 'numbers' guy

Kevin Burns is executive vice president, CFO and chief business officer of Houston Methodist, an eight-hospital system with more than 26,000 employees. 

In his role, which he began in April 2012, Mr. Burns oversees financial services, including financial reporting and budgeting, treasury, revenue cycle functions, information technology, facilities management and supply chain services.

Before joining Houston Methodist, Mr. Burns was both the CEO and CFO of the University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz. He also was a partner at accounting firm Arthur Andersen.

Mr. Burns said that he is very pleased with his career journey, which started at an Arabian horse farm called Lasma Arabians where he had an accounting job. 

"Looking back at it, I'm glad I didn't start in public accounting," Mr. Burns said. "It's been a terrific career. I look back on it with satisfaction."

Here, Mr. Burns shares with Becker's the most pressing issue hospital CFOs are grappling with, Houston Methodist's top financial priority for 2022 and advice he'd offer to his peers. 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What is the most pressing issue hospital CFOs are facing right now?

Kevin Burns: The short answer is margin pressure and inflation. This margin pressure is being driven by increasing labor and supply chain costs. This is hitting all of us in the industry. For example, in our supply chain, we are expecting an increase in costs anywhere from 4 percent to 6 percent next year, and supply chain is our second largest cost. We are also seeing a rapid rise in labor costs. Demand is high for workers because COVID-19 volumes are up, while we are also seeing a static labor force, or even declining labor force.

At Houston Methodist, we are focused on ensuring adequate staffing and ensuring staff have enough supplies and resources to keep them safe.

Q: What is one of Houston Methodist's top financial priorities heading into 2022?

KB: Houston is a growing and thriving community, and we are blessed [at Houston Methodist] to be in a growing market. As a result, one of the financial priorities is adequately positioning ourselves in the market we serve. We have a strategic capital investment plan, which involves making sure we are in the right market locations and are making investments accordingly to best serve this community. 

In terms of capital projects to support this growth, we are working toward approval of a new tower in the Texas Medical Center. It would replace an older building and establish a comprehensive modern tower with expanded imaging services as well as other inpatient and outpatient services.

Q: What skills are essential for health system CFOs to thrive in today's healthcare landscape?

KB: The CFO today can't just be a numbers person. They must be very focused on people, support culture and understand business acumen. I've been lucky to be surrounded by a very strong group of leaders that is sensitive to company culture. As CFO, you must help support and maintain that culture. It's also important for CFOs to understand processes like information technology and innovation. It is also your responsibility to help the organization set the stage to be successful in the future. 

Q: Based on your experiences, what is the best way to present a hospital's finances to the board?

KB: When you're sharing financial information with any party, make sure you're providing context, not just numbers. Providing context helps them understand the numbers. Explain unusual items and what is routine. Help them understand what this information might mean for the future. We also always strive with our board and leadership team to be very transparent. We want them to know what is working, where we may need help and to let them know that we are all in this together. Transparency is a word that often gets overused, but finance leaders need to make it a priority.

Q: What advice would you share with another hospital or health system CFO and why?

KB: Whether you're an experienced CFO or a younger, less experienced CFO, strive to understand operations and listen very carefully to your peers. Get to know your CMOs and CNOs. Also, listen to your patients. We have an obligation to listen to them and help improve their access to care.

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