He was the hospital's financial auditor. Now he's its CEO.

When Brian Barta walks into a room, the first thing he does is start asking questions. 

He learned the practice as a financial auditor — enter openly, collect data, gain as much information as possible before setting a plan in action. Now, he's using that same approach to crack into a different realm as CEO of Winfield, Kan.-based William Newton Hospital. 

It's not a trajectory you see every day. But being an auditor-turned-CFO-turned-CEO has its perks. 

Mr. Barta told Becker's he stumbled into the hospital arena by chance. He studied accounting in college, and took his first  job at a small firm in Topeka, Kan., specializing in healthcare. In his first role as a staff accountant he performed audits and Medicare cost preperation for medical facilities throughout Kansas and northwest Missouri —  which is precisely where he found his niche. 

"I really fell in love with critical access hospitals," Mr. Barta said. "Being from a small town, it fit me and my personality, and I knew that's where I wanted to go." 

Eventually, he decided to move from helping many facilities bit-by-bit each year to finding one facility where he could devote his full, continuous attention. In 2016, he took the leap and became controller of Iola, Kan.-based Allen County Regional Hospital. 

In 2018, Mr. Barta was approached by William Newton Hospital, which was looking for a CFO. He used to be the hospital's auditor, so was familiar with its culture and the support it received from the community. He stepped up to serve as interim CEO in June per the board's request, and decided to apply for the full-time position. 

"It was something that was not really an aspiration of mine, necessarily, because I do love the finance side of it," Mr. Barta said. However, becoming CEO allowed him to stretch his financial capabilities in new ways, he found. 

He is intimately familiar with regulatory items, especially for CMS — which is crucial in a rural setting, he told Becker's. Roughly 45 to 50 percent of Kansas critical access hospitals see aging patients on Medicare as their main population base. His deep understanding of Medicare Advantage Plans and how they can cause financial harm to critical access hospitals allows him to better advocate for his own. 

That knowledge allows him to communicate more effectively with his team, too. 

"It helps give me the ability to explain the 'why' behind a lot of things," Mr. Barta said. "A lot of people don't understand the regulations for reimbursement around the critical access hospitals — and they think we could just move our therapy department downtown, and everybody will drive by it, and we'll get more patients. Yes, but the second we move it more than 250 yards from the main campus, we will lose cost reimbursement from our physical therapy department. Although it is a wonderful idea and I wish we had the ability to do something like that, we know there's a certain criteria that has to be met." 

"I think I have that [explanation] asset to bring to the group, even more so than some of the other finance people in healthcare who rely on accountants and auditors to provide that kind of guidance," Mr. Barta continued. "I lived that lifestyle, giving those recommendations to facilities, and now I'm able to bestow that on William Newton Hospital."

During his first year as CEO, Mr. Barta seeks to gain more stability at the hospital, both to reduce reliance on agency staffing and to provide a better patient experience. 

"Even though I'm a 'finance person' as my background, my heart is always in the quality and serving the patient first — and knowing that has to be our primary focus, and all the other details will fall into place once that has been achieved," Mr. Barta said. "When you're able to provide that high-level patient care and quality, that's what is going to lead to financial stability and financial success." 

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