This HFMA member makes the hard calls both day and night—as a hospital CFO and as a basketball referee.

Refereeing high school and junior college basketball isn’t all fun and games; it’s also about fitness and philosophy, HFMA member James J. Heilsberg is quick to point out. 

To be able to run up and down a court for several hours, several nights and weekends, during the season, Heilsberg, FHFMA, CFO, CIO, and facility planner for Whitman Hospital & Medical Center, Colfax, Wash., adheres to a workout routine even in the off-season, which at times has included the P90X and Insanity workouts and even yoga. 

A long-standing member of the Washington-Alaska Chapter, the 6’5” Heilsberg has been refereeing girls’ and boys’ high school and men’s junior college basketball for 10 years. Though he’s a latecomer to refereeing, his passion for basketball started early. He played center on his winning high school varsity basketball team in Colfax and then a few years on college scholarship. Afterward, despite a busy work schedule and family life, the basketball bug was still biting. 

With his demanding profession, refereeing basketball games provides a flexible alternative. “As a referee, you can devote time after work hours,” Heilsberg says. “Often, you can schedule which games you’ll work at in advance, and it’s not an every night commitment, so you can find a way to make it fit and still stay connected with a sport you love.”

Basketball referees have to pass a state test to referee at the high school level and another test if they want to referee college playoff games. What might be more important, however, is having a thick skin to handle the comments thrown toward refs by coaches and others, Heilsberg says. There’s also what refs call the “eye test.” 

“You have to be in shape and be able to get up and down a court,” Heilsberg says. “You want to be seen for the calls you make; you don’t want your physical appearance to be a distraction.” That’s why you might notice a lot of refs have close-shaven hair, he says, so they don’t stand out.

Looking to up his refereeing game, Heilsberg started attending referee camp three years ago. The experience led him to some revelations regarding not only refereeing but also his work in healthcare finance. 

“With a three-person refereeing crew, you theoretically have the ability to see a play from three different angles,” he says, “Each person is responsible for a primary look, and the others have secondary looks. Each referee of the crew also has responsibility for an area of expertise, so at times they need to referee a play with another person.”

The key to making a good call in refereeing and in healthcare finance is getting an open look. “You have to understand what the play might do and then move in a direction that you’ve learned is the best place to get—and keep—a good look,” he says. “Otherwise, if you’re unable to anticipate what might happen, you get a ‘closed look.’ In that situation, when referees try to make a call, chances are, the call they make is a guess—and studies show that when referees guess, they get it wrong a huge percentage of the time. The same can be true in health care.”

After a game, refs will re-review the calls made and reexamine the rules, often with other referees who have more understanding, to try to gain more perspective. “The more philosophies and experience you bring to the table in understanding the right call for a given situation,” he says, “the higher the chances that the right decision will be made if the situation presents itself again.” Referring to both refereeing and business, Heilsberg says, “You have the best chance to make an even better call when you take the time to become better informed and keep open yourself to other people’s perspectives.”

Publication Date: Monday, April 01, 2013

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