'It's about gathering all the essential data so we can make qualified decisions': Q&A with Porter Health Care System CFO Jeff Daneff

Jeff Daneff is familiar with the evolving CFO role.

He currently serves as CFO of Valparaiso, Ind.-based Porter Health Care System, where he oversees 2,200 employees across two hospital campuses, seven outpatient facilities and an in-house ambulance company. Prior to joining Porter in May 2017, he was CFO of Terre Haute (Ind.) Regional Medical Center. He also previously served as the assistant CFO/controller at Oro Valley Hospital and Northwest Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz., after beginning his healthcare career with Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives.

Here, Mr. Daneff discusses the challenges facing CFOs today and what he enjoys about his role.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity. 

Question: What skills are essential for a health system CFO in today's healthcare climate, beyond traditional financial and business acumen?

Jeff Daneff: I think it's the ability to make justifiable decisions promptly. The pace of healthcare right now is such that you don't necessarily need to be first to market with a new idea, but you need to be able to make quick decisions, particularly if the data is there.

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

JD: I would say the greatest challenge is in educating the rest of the team. We have to tend to this hospital in the same fashion a farmer would treat their crops. In order to do that, you need to know the constraints and limitations of your resources. In the farmer realm, we call that the soil. But we need to know the constraints because our hospital is not able to take on every service or initiative, whether it's joint ventures [or something else]. So, it's how you educate the team on, "This is our hospital. This is what may make sense for us to get into." It's about gathering all the essential data so we can make qualified decisions and not simply play the tit-for-tat game of, "Well, the health system down the street got this new piece of equipment, so we should get it too in order to stay competitive."

Q: As the healthcare industry shifts to value-based payments, what is the biggest challenge your system is facing? What strategies are you employing to meet this challenge?

JD: There are internal and external strategies. The external is always going to be your competitors and the landscape there. You can imagine outside of every for-profit hospital is a myriad of nonprofit hospitals that could begin competing or could set up satellite offices in our area as it pertains to competition. On the internal side, the biggest challenge is turnover in the administration realm. Since I've been here, we've had a 100 percent transition in administrators — new CEO, CFO, COO, CNO, and new chief quality officer — all of this has happened in the last 12 months. So, the biggest thing for us [as Porter leaders] is to take all of our external experiences and come in here with a clean slate and an open mind of, "What do we see that's working? What do we see that can be put up as a prioritization down the line?" When you have this many new leaders in a hospital, you see many areas of opportunity, but it's really prioritizing what's going to fit within the overall strategic plan and what makes sense in the short term versus the long term.

In the wake of those challenges, what do you enjoy most about being CFO?

JD: I like most the ability to translate data into opportunities and to translate those opportunities into action. As much as CFOs focus on expense initiatives, I would say the CFOs I know really enjoy doing the revenue enhancement [analysis] and figuring out how to grow the hospital organically. The misnomer in this industry is that you have to hire, acquire, start new service lines to grow, but most missed opportunities I’ve seen are in not tending to existing resources or service lines.  

Q: Do you have anything else to add about the CFO role today?

JD: There's a quote I think goes well with the CFOs of today by David Livingstone, who said, "Sympathy is no substitute for action." It'd be real easy for us [as CFOs] to just always focus on expenses and [let others at the hospital] take care of patient care and quality initiatives, but I think it's part of my job to try to help out in taking on some of those initiatives, whether it's coordination of care management or in readmissions efforts.           


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