Katherine E. DeGrande, the downhill skier, won't be taking home Olympic gold for racing the slopes of Austria and Aspen. But DeGrande, a math whiz from Olathe, Kan., already has earned her colleagues' recognition for mastering the slippery slopes of healthcare finance.
Throw a mogul in her way and DeGrande will glide over it. Throughout her career, the 40-year-old vice president of finance and chief financial officer at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., has adapted easily to unfamiliar terrain.
"One of Kathy's exceptional abilities is to adjust to different situations," said Thomas Langenberg, senior vice president of finance and CFO of Kansas City-based Health MidWest, Research Medical's corporate parent.
In 1986, for example, when DeGrande was hired as controller of Health MidWest, overseeing 35 for-profit and not-for-profit healthcare organizations, she was handed the additional title of vice president of finance for the system's troubled physician-sponsored HMO. DeGrande had never managed the finances of a healthy HMO, let alone one "under some pretty heavy-duty fire," she said.
DeGrande tackled incurred-but-not-reported claims, worked with the insurance department and prepared the plan for sale. Essentially, her job was "clean it up and make sure it was as we represented it." While physicians didn't recoup 100% of their investment when the HMO was sold to Principal Health Care, the deal turned out better than expected, DeGrande said. She declined to disclose the sale price.
"I think I learned that it's still a people business, that ultimately it comes down to trust and relationships and communication," she said.
Colleagues say DeGrande's poise, leadership skills and analytical abilities have played no small part in vaulting her to a prestigious healthcare finance position. In mid-1991, Langenberg hired her for the top finance post at 470-bed Research Medical Center, Health MidWest's flagship institution.
In addition to managing the operations of Research Medical, which has annual net revenues of $214 million, she is responsible for finances at Research Belton (Mo.) Hospital, both hospitals' foundations and the Research College of Nursing.
She also juggles a number of system-level projects for Health MidWest, such as coordinating all patient management and accounting functions as part of the conversion to a single financial system. Currently she's working to consolidate laboratory functions.
DeGrande grew up on a farm in the town of Gardner, Kan., population 6,000, where her father raised corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle. Her mother, an accountant, handled the books of an ammunition plant.
At Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, DeGrande studied actuarial science, a program that drew very few women. "I really liked math. I was good in math," she said. In 1977, 31/2 years after enrolling, she graduated with a double major in accounting and insurance. DeGrande said she moved out of the technical, numbers-oriented major because she was more interested in management.
For three years, DeGrande worked for a small accounting firm in Olathe, just long enough to get her CPA license. In 1981, having audited a few hospitals, she jumped at the opportunity to move into a supervisory role as chief accountant at St. Mary's Hospital in Kansas City.
In 1984, she was promoted to manager of accounting and reimbursement at the hospital, which since has been sold and closed, before being lured away to a more senior position at Health MidWest. DeGrande had recently completed her MBA in management and law at the University of Kansas and felt she was ready to make the leap.
"I was blocked where I was," said DeGrande, adding that she sought more "upward mobility."
As immediate past president of the Healthcare Financial Management Association's Heart of America chapter, DeGrande's leadership skills have been noted by national chapter leaders. This year she was appointed to the HFMA's Matrix, a grooming ground for national leaders.