It's been a year of sweating bullets in the healthcare finance profession.
A cascade of red ink flowed from 1998 operations. Bad-debt writeoffs mounted. The federal government's fraud-and-abuse juggernaut continued. Ask any healthcare chief financial officer how things are going, and, more often than not, he or she will almost certainly concede that it's been pretty rough lately.
Even the Healthcare Financial Management Association is feeling the heat. At 35,000 members, the Westchester, Ill.-based professional association has flat growth, compared with consistent 1% to 3% growth in recent years.
Amid relentless reimbursement pressures and mounting complexities in running a financially viable healthcare organization, the industry's leading membership association for finance professionals is scrambling to remain timely and relevant.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword," says HFMA President Richard Clarke. The current environment puts a crimp in the budget of the financial professionals to which the association sells services, he observes. On the other hand, he says, "people need more training and tools."
To that end, the HFMA will offer a broader range of programming at this year's Annual National Institute in Anaheim, Calif., June 20 to 23. The lineup of 90 concurrent sessions and 175 speakers features, for example, includes more courses for the post-acute sector, an expanded poster session in the exhibit hall and continued emphasis on physician practice issues.
ANI attendance is expected to reach 2,000, about the same as last year's program in Nashville. The exhibit hall will feature more than 200 companies and 15% more exhibit space. Last year 212 companies were represented.
The HFMA is continuing its popular pre-conference sessions. Attendees can select from nine full-day programs, set for June 20, ranging from the basics of managed care to cutting-edge capital planning strategies.
The theme of this year's meeting, chosen by the HFMA's incoming chairman, Richard Henley, is "Leading with Integrity: the Bottom Line." It speaks to the role financial executives play in compliance, ethics and the industry's image, Clarke says. Henley is executive vice president and treasurer of Vassar Brothers Hospital, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
The ANI's opening session kicks off Monday, June 21, with a keynote address, "The U.S. Healthcare System: Past, Present and Future," delivered by Princeton University economist Uwe Reinhardt.
A roundtable, "Balancing Leadership, Ethics, and Integrity: A Socratic Dialogue," is set for 9 a.m. June 22. Harvard Law School's Charles Nesson will moderate the debate. Panelists are Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist, Emily Friedman, a healthcare ethicist and author, Sister Geraldine Hoyler, Catholic Health Initiatives' senior vice president of finance and treasurer, and Alan Yuspeh, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.'s senior vice president for ethics, compliance and corporate responsibility.
Closing the meeting at 3 p.m. June 23 will be Robert Cooper, an adviser, educator and lecturer on leadership issues. He'll drive home the need for finance executives to be better leaders as they cope with the pressures of a changing industry.
Change is also what the HFMA is about. This month the association launches an intensive, nine-month self-examination of its mission, strengths, weaknesses and relevance to the industry. Connie Cape, vice president and CFO of Mercy Memorial Hospital Corp., Monroe, Mich., and the association's chairman-elect, will lead a strategic planning committee assigned to answer the question: "Where should we be going, and what should we be aspiring to become?" Roughly $200,000 will be devoted to the project, which will involve focus groups and surveys. A variety of consultants will be hired to assist on various phases of the project.
"This is much more detailed than anything I've ever been involved in," Clarke says.