Essentia Health's Amanda Hines on leadership & the importance of mentoring

Amanda Hines has risen through the ranks of patient finance at Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health, giving her a unique perspective on effective leadership.

She joined the 14-hospital health system in 2014 overseeing self-pay and financial counselors in the organization's central region. A few years later, she was promoted to patient financial services manager, overseeing all Essentia Health markets.

When the health system director of patient financial services retired in 2018, she moved into the interim director position until she was promoted to the role permanently the next year. 

Here she discusses advice for aspiring female leaders, the importance of mentorship and more.

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

Question: You have taken on roles of increasing responsibility at Essentia Health. What advice do you have for other women who aspire to work in hospital leadership?

Amanda Hines: Know what you want. Make sure you have a vision for yourself, for your career. It's hard to grow within a team or organization if you don't know where you want to be or what you want to be doing. Early in my career, I never expected to be in this type of position. I went to school for radiological technology. But I decided I know this is what I want to do, and I knew where I wanted to go. Once you figure that out, you focus on making sure you know your work, your business better than anybody else, and you set goals that align your personal development with your organization's values. That way you can keep yourself moving forward in the same direction as your organization.

It's also important to develop solid relationships with co-workers and your leaders. If you surround yourself with good people who you can lean on and learn from along the way, it really helps your career trajectory. You've got a good solid support system and you have people to learn from.

Don't be afraid to take initiative and showcase your talent, because the more you put yourself out there, the more you're going to get recognized. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. You own it, you apologize, you learn from it, and you move on doing things a little bit differently. I think aspiring leaders stand out because they can do all those things respectfully. 

Q: What skills have you learned from your career that have helped shape you as a leader? 

AH: I think humility is something that makes a good leader. You obviously want someone who's knowledgeable in their line of work, but you also want someone who can motivate and inspire and mentor people. Ultimately, someone who can be humble can communicate. They're honest. They have some compassion. Those tend to be components that make a successful leader. I've seen leaders sometimes who take credit for work that may not have been related to their efforts. I remember being on the other end of that sometimes, and that didn't always feel good. That's something that's anchored me to my core values, which is being an honest person, being a good leader and making sure I stay humble and know it's not one person who makes or breaks a successful team or organization. It's multiple people. I think great leaders are often surrounded by a great team.  

Q: You developed and mentored five supervisors (all but one had no prior experience) who now have moved into leadership roles for other healthcare organizations. Why is mentoring important for you? 

AH: I want to make sure I'm supporting my team. One way I can recognize that for myself and my growth as a leader is seeing whether those I've mentored along the way are doing well, are being successful. I'm proud of that. I'm happy for them. I'm happy to know it may have been a small part, but it was some part I played in making sure there are others out there who also were able to learn and grow and develop their careers and turn into good leaders. 

Q: CMS' hospital price disclosure rule took effect in January. What is your organization's price transparency strategy?

AH: Our strategy is taking care of our patients and providing them with the best care possible. A key component of making sure we're providing excellent care and experience is sharing cost information up front. My department oversees a lot of the back-end piece. We manage patient statements. We manage the call center. So, we hear feedback from patients when there are unexpected costs associated with their care. I see it firsthand where it has affected patients with their ability to get well. We don't want pricing or cost to be a barrier for people to be well and get healthy, so we're a huge proponent of price transparency. It obviously allows patients to compare prices, make sure they have an idea of what their cost of care is going to be so they can make that informed decision regarding their healthcare needs.

Our organization has been working hard to make sure we have everything to comply with the price transparency rule. We have our standard pricing information available online. There's a list of most common shoppable services. We were able to get automatic price estimates up and going for our radiology and surgical areas. Then, creating itemized statements with the description of charges for inpatient stays. We were able to work through all of that. 

Q: What is the biggest lesson you've learned in the last year that you would pass along to other hospital revenue cycle leaders? 

AH: Our last year certainly has revolved around COVID-19. It was difficult and required many resources and experts from all areas of revenue cycle to make everything work. Through my leadership career, one of my things I'm adamant on is making sure we're testing things and there's a process change to make sure it's working appropriately. With something like COVID, where the information was so patient-forward, patients were aware of what the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act stated, which was that there was no cost-sharing for tests and treatments. It was very public, so we had to make sure our processes were on point to support the public's expectation and the government's expectation that we would be manning the cost-sharing portion appropriately. We've had to test. There were always new rules coming out. Sometimes we didn't have time to test everything as good as we wanted to or as we had hoped to do. You can't shut down for three months to get something figured out and then try to pick it back up. It just doesn't work that way in healthcare.

I think this last year we learned all components of your revenue cycle are necessary when you need to make a big change like that. You can't really get the information and cycle it down to an area and hope for the best. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of communication. It takes all key revenue cycle players to manage something like this COVID billing process successfully. It was difficult, but I think making sure communication all the way up and all the way down happened. You must get everybody on board because everybody has their hands in the pot when it's something like that. Everybody must be aware, and they must know what's going on to make that process successful.  

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