When he’s not at his healthcare finance job, HFMA member Jeffrey W. Shutak, CHFP, is likely on a mountain—or dangling off one.

Shutak immediately fell in love with the White Mountains when he took his position as director of patient financial services at Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H., 15 years ago. A runner and triathlete, Shutak knew his joints couldn’t sustain that type of exercise in another 15 or 20 years. With a hiker’s paradise five minutes from his home, Shutak soon found activities he loves even more—hiking and trekking, ice and rock climbing, and mountaineering.

Shutak soon began hiking every weekend and meeting lots of people on the trail while developing his trekking skills. It wasn’t long before he joined a couple of clubs and put his resume out as a volunteer leader. Today, he leads at least four groups. 

Shutak hits the trail two days a week all year round, plus some weekday evenings during the summer. “I reserve Sundays for my own hike, starting at 6 a.m. and doing eight hours of hiking in the mountains, just enjoying the view and the solitude and meeting people,” he says. 

He leads group hikes, all on a volunteer basis, on Saturdays. “Leading hikes gives me an opportunity to teach somebody else and share my experience, just as I learned from others’ experiences while hiking,” he says. “Plus, the group hikes get me out on the mountain and the group out there, too, so it’s a win-win situation.”

Shutak also has taken hikes with groups internationally, in South America, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Africa. Those group hiking experiences have sometimes provided almost too much adventure, from crossing rivers up to his neck in Kenya with 10-foot crocodiles swimming nearby, to coming face to face with a 500-pound lion on the trail, to being robbed by 11 bandits with AK-47s high up in the mountains in Peru. 

This past September, he came down a mountain in Chamonix in the French Alps a little too fast. “Because I wasn’t being secured properly by one of the guides there, I actually experienced a 100-foot fall. I managed ‘self-arrest,’ where you stop the fall yourself,” Shutak says. “I was sliding down the rope so fast, no one saw me, and I got third-degree burns right down to the bone on both hands. But I was able to stop myself probably about 10 feet before I hit the bottom.”

He was taken to a French emergency department (ED) and underwent four days of treatment and follow-up care. He got another shock when he received the hospital’s total bill—for $79. “Don’t even bother with an itemized bill,” he told an apologetic receptionist. “I will gladly pay.” He joked that at most U.S. hospitals, $79 “would probably cover a couple of Band-Aids.”

The treatment Shutak received made it possible for him to return to hiking and trekking in only one day. The ED staff were experienced at recognizing and treating wounds and injuries for climbers, and gave him a special pair of gloves that had antiseptic and gauze and padding inside. “The next day, I was able to wear the gloves and climb,” he says. He had to forgo climbing the Matterhorn on that trip, but will return in August to cross that peak off his list. 

Paradoxically, his mountain hiking and climbing perils give him a better perspective on work. “I can handle the stress that everybody’s experiencing in health care with sequestration and the 2 percent cutback,” he says. “There’s a big difference between opening an email and seeing that reimbursement is going to be cut, and hanging off a cliff at 3,000 feet and being worried about your life.” 

For Shutak, there’s always a new trail. If any hfm readers are traveling in New Hampshire, he urges them to look him up for a hiking adventure. Contact him at As Shutak says, “I always have my backpack ready by the door.”

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 01, 2013

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