HFMA's new Chair, Greg Adams, FHFMA, will encourage healthcare finance professionals to believe in themselves, the mission of their organizations, and the possibility of a better future for the industry.
Steve Adams remembers the time his older brother, Greg, pitched a perfect game as a 12-year-old.
Steve and Greg were both on the same Little League team that hot July day, as Greg threw strike after strike, promptly seating each batter who stepped up to the plate.
For the first few innings, Steve, who was 10, was thrilled to watch from the infield as Greg commanded the mound with his precision pitches. But as the innings wore on, Steve, who was positioned at third base, began to feel a little nauseated, knowing how close his brother was to sealing a perfect finish.
"All I could think was, 'Please don't let them hit the ball to me. Please don't let me blow this for him,'" Steve remembers. As it turned out, no one on their team fielded a single ball during the game. Greg struck out every batter he faced-18 in all. But even though Greg had single-handedly held the team to six scoreless innings, he didn't claim the team's victory as his alone. "He knew we couldn't have won without the runs our team scored, too," Steve says. "He valued the contributions each of us made to the game."
From an early age, Greg Adams has understood the importance of working together as a team and of appreciating the ways in which each person's individual strengths can help a team succeed. Now more than ever, he says, a spirit of teamwork and a winning attitude are needed to enable healthcare organizations to succeed.
"In health care today, it sometimes seems as if healthcare finance professionals are being asked to do the impossible," says Adams, senior vice president and partner, Panacea Healthcare Solutions, Inc, and a member of HFMA's New Jersey Chapter. "The industry is preparing for an influx of millions of newly insured patients in a reform environment where payments are shrinking and expectations around quality are growing. In a nutshell, we're all being expected to do more with less-and to do it better than ever before.
"It's important for healthcare finance professionals to realize that we create our own opportunities by recognizing what we can do in health care here and now to work toward our shared goal of improving lives," Adams says. "That's what my theme as HFMA Chair, 'Believe to Achieve,' means: to believe in the possibility of a better future, no matter how great today's challenges may seem. Although it sometimes feels like the wrong time to be working in health care, now is the right time for those who recognize that where there is major change, there are also major-league opportunities."
The Need for Teamwork in an Era of Change
Adams' theme as HFMA Chair, "Believe to Achieve," encompasses what he views as the keys to success for healthcare finance professionals, their organizations, and those they serve.
"By choosing to believe that together, we can solve the problems that have challenged our industry for so long, we can find a place for ourselves and our organizations in the new environment and help shape the future of health care," Adams says.
Adams' theme has four key elements.
Believe in your mission. Believing in an organization's mission means remembering why healthcare finance professionals do what they do, and knowing that their individual roles-though they may be behind the scenes-are integral to the successful achievement of that mission.
Believe in each other. Just like in sports, behind every accomplishment, every "winning basket," there is someone who has "passed the ball"-someone whose performance was integral to the accomplishment and who reminds us that accomplishments are never the work of one person, but always the work of a team.
Believe in yourself. Healthcare finance professionals need confidence in their ability to step out of their comfort zones into new roles and responsibilities. High-functioning leaders and teams are willing to try difficult things and willing to learn from their mistakes.
Believe in the possibility of a better future. Healthcare finance professionals can choose to believe that a better future is within reach, and to dedicate their professional lives to making that happen.
Adams points to many examples of "Believe to Achieve" in health care today:
- Hospitals and physicians developing new ways of working together for the benefit of the patients they serve
- Physicians, other clinicians, and administrators teaming up to help patients avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and to make healthcare encounters safer than ever
- Providers and payers collaborating to ensure appropriate health services are provided at the right time, in the right place, at the right cost
"As healthcare finance professionals, we have a lot of opportunities to influence the changing healthcare scene," Adams says. "It's commonly accepted that the healthcare system we have today is not sustainable. When you look at the changes that lie ahead-payment reforms, such as bundled payments and value-based purchasing, and the need to drive greater value in health care-the opportunity to be at the front end of such reforms and to influence how an organization responds to the challenges ahead is pretty exciting."
Adams and his wife, Mary Ann, live in Toms River, N.J. They have four children: Gregory, Laura, Lisa, and Matthew. One day, while searching through his son Gregory's old sports clothes for a shirt to wear to the gym, he came across a shirt from Gregory's high school baseball days with the motto, "Believe to Achieve." As he read the faded words on that old t-shirt, Adams, who has a passion for sports such as basketball, baseball, football, and golf, was struck by the similarities between athletics and healthcare finance. "It hit me, right then and there, that this is a theme, a message, that is perfect for this time in health care," Adams says.
"As in sports, no single individual can have all the skills and expertise needed to be successful today. Each player's perspective is limited by his or her vantage point and skill set," he says. "As any coach will tell you, those who have a different view of the court and different strengths than you do can see opportunities, execute strategies, and make plays that you can't. In health care, it takes a team with a diverse skill set that crosses disciplinary and organizational lines."
From Athlete to Respected Strategist
Sports analogies come naturally to Adams, who spent much of his childhood on the basketball courts and baseball fields in his hometown of Newark, N.J.
Adams, his mother, and his siblings-his older sisters and his younger brother-lived in a 15-story apartment building. The apartment was so small, he and his brother had to share a pull-out bed in the living room until Adams left for college. "It was tight quarters, and there wasn't a lot to keep us occupied inside that apartment," Adams says. "At a young age, I discovered I could walk five minutes in any direction and find a basketball court. Often, I'd spend hours practicing and playing at the court at school.
"The lack of structure in playground basketball could be frustrating, but it taught us how to make decisions. It taught us the importance of working together as a team. And it taught us how each
person's individual strengths could help the team succeed," he says.
Back then, there weren't a lot of organized sports for kids his age. Adams quickly learned that if he wanted to play a pickup game of basketball with boys in the neighborhood, he had to be good enough to be picked for a team. And to continue playing on any given day, his team had to keep winning-or leave the court to make room for another team.
Adams learned a lot of life skills during those neighborhood basketball games-skills he's used in his work in healthcare finance. "I learned how to work as part of a team, and the importance of recognizing the skills that different people bring to a team," he says. "When you step onto the court, you have to be able to work with others, understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, and recognize your own strengths and weaknesses as well. I realize now that we were also learning to make decisions. There were no referees, so we had to set the rules for the games on our own and come to some agreement on what was a foul, how many points we were playing to, and more. Those experiences built my ability to make decisions as I got older, both as part of a team and individually."
John McDonald, who went to college with Adams at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J., and was one of his fraternity brothers (they belong to Sigma Phi Epsilon), says Adams showed an aptitude for leadership at a young age. "Greg Adams is one of the most rational, level-headed people I've ever met. Even as a college student, he was very focused on what he was doing-much more so than the rest of us at that time," McDonald says. "Greg was a person people looked up to. He had very good organizational skills. Over the years, he's become someone who brings people together. He still organizes events to bring our fraternity brothers together, even though we have been out of school for 35 years. That speaks highly of his leadership skills."
As he grew up, Adams never imagined he'd seek a career in healthcare finance. In fact, he figured he'd follow in the footsteps of his father, godfather, and uncle and seek a career in law enforcement, a path his younger brother chose as well.
"I majored in accounting, and I thought I could put my accounting skills to use as a member of the FBI's white collar crimes unit," he says.
Adams applied for a position in the FBI and took a battery of required tests to pursue what he thought would be his dream job. But after he graduated from college, the federal government enacted a hiring freeze-and Adams was put on the FBI's waitlist. He ended up taking a job with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey in the company's provider audit department. The job was to audit hospitals for the Medicare and Medicaid programs. It was there that Adams received strong training in healthcare finance-"And that door opened many others," he says. "I met people in hospitals throughout the state-including the CFO who eventually hired me into my first hospital job."
A couple of years later, the FBI contacted Adams. The federal government hiring freeze was over, and the FBI wondered if Adams was still interested in pursuing a career with the bureau. But by then, Adams had begun to build a career in healthcare finance, as well as a family. "I decided it was best to stay in health care. It was a field I had come to love, and the dynamics and opportunities of a career in healthcare finance were a better fit for my family."
In 1978, Adams joined Beth Israel Hospital in Passaic, N.J., as assistant director of finance. At that time, a new, prospective payment system-the DRG system-was on the verge of being rolled out by Medicare, and was scheduled to be introduced in New Jersey in 1980. Some longtime healthcare finance leaders decided they didn't want to deal with the grief that would come with the conversion to a new payment system, and left the field altogether. "And that's how I became a CFO at the age of 27," Adams says. Three years after he joined the finance department of Beth Israel Hospital, Adams was appointed the hospital's director of finance/CFO.
Adams thrived in an environment of increasing challenges for healthcare finance professionals. In 1983, he joined Wayne General Hospital in Wayne, N.J., as vice president, finance/CFO; five years later, Adams was appointed vice president, finance/CFO for Jersey Shore Medical Center and Modern Health Affiliates in Neptune, N.J.
Adams also was actively involved with HFMA's New Jersey Chapter. He developed a close friendship with a fellow HFMA member, Fred Stodolak, a healthcare consultant whom Adams had met through their work with the New Jersey Chapter. Stodolak provided guidance to New Jersey hospitals regarding reimbursement reforms that were being implemented. In the early 1990s, Stodolak- who by this time had become neighbors with Adams after Adams accepted the position in Neptune-offered Adams a unique opportunity to join his company, KA Consulting, as executive director, with responsibility for overseeing finance consulting services for hospitals.
"It was the right time in my career for a change," says Adams, who worked for KA Consulting for 10 years. "Throughout my career, I've had a number of experiences where I've been in the right place at the right time, professionally. I've had opportunities to be involved at the management level in healthcare finance, and I've found those experiences very fulfilling. They've given me opportunities to grow and to use my decision-making skills in ways that benefit the mission of healthcare organizations, which is to improve quality of life for the communities they serve."
Upon the sale of the consulting company, Adams was given the opportunity to become the senior vice president and CFO for Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J., where he spent 10 years. Now, Adams and Stodolak are collaborating again-this time, as partners in the firm Panacea Healthcare Solutions, a healthcare consulting and software development company.
"What I admire the most about Greg is that he's very innovative and progressive. He's always been willing to pioneer new ideas, whether they are consulting related or software related," Stodolak says. "We've known each other since we were just out of college; we've worked in a partnership capacity, in two businesses, and in a client-vendor relationship over a span of about 30 years. It's been exciting to watch him grow over the years, and to see how respected he's become in the industry."
How HFMA Can Position Members for the Win
In health care, it may not always be easy to recognize teammates because the players wear different uniforms, Adams says. Some wear the white coats of clinicians; some wear suits; others wear scrubs. But no matter which "field" of health care a hospital employee is "playing on," it's important to remember that each member of the organization is on the same team, he says.
"It's time to support one another to achieve our shared goal of improving lives," he says. "Believe in each other and recognize the strengths that each person brings to the team."
At HFMA, members are part of 68 teams that are made stronger from the diverse perspectives and talents that each of our 35,000-plus team members bring to the organization-from all over the country; from organizations of all shapes and sizes; and from every specialty within healthcare finance.
"There are roles for all of us on the new healthcare team," Adams says. "Those who understand the ins and outs of current payment structures will need to step up and learn new payment models and mechanisms as we move toward payment across care settings and over time. Those who have come to know the patient populations in their communities will need to reach out to others as millions of Americans become eligible for insurance coverage through Medicaid and the new state-based insurance exchanges in the years ahead. And those who have clinical knowledge and expertise will be challenged to help us improve the quality and value of care we provide."
HFMA can be the coach or team member that healthcare finance professionals need to help them meet the challenges they face.
For example, HFMA's Value Project will work toward helping hospitals develop organizational capabilities in four broad areas: people and culture, business intelligence, performance improvement, and contract and risk management. There will be many sub-capabilities associated with each of these four areas, the scope of which will require contributions from all members of an organization's healthcare team.
"There are so many opportunities for us-as healthcare finance professionals and as an Association-in today's era of change," Adams says. "Together, we can make this a championship season-a season in which we all have reason to celebrate the decision to devote our professional lives to health care."
Adams speaks at HFMA's 2010 ANI: The Healthcare Finance Conference with U.S. Sen. Bill Frist,MD (R-Tenn).
Adams is pictured in his little league uniform and with his wife, Mary Ann, and three of their four children, sporting the uniform of their favorite baseball team.
Greg Adams is pictured with (from left to right) his son Matt, wife Mary Ann, son Gregory, daughter-in-law Aly, daughter Lisa, and daughter Laura.
More About Greg Adams
Teammates: Adams and his wife, Mary Ann, have four children.
Off the court: Adams is an avid golfer. He's a lefty, something he's teased for on the greens from time to time, his friend and neighbor, Matt Cook, says. "He's the only one in our group who can never borrow a club because he's a lefty," Cook says.
Playbooks: Among his favorite books are A Sense of Where You Are, Bill Bradley; Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964; Wooden on Leadership, John Wooden; The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw; American: Beyond Our Grandest Notions, Chris Matthews; Probable Tomorrows, Marvin Cetron and Owen Davies.
Background noise: Adams' favorite musicians include Bruce Springsteen ("I went to two of his concerts when his band closed Giant Stadium"), Billy Joel, Credence Clearwater Revival, and John Fogerty.
Minor-league positions: Jobs that Adams held during college include construction work (he worked for his uncle's company one summer; "I was doing manual labor, and at the end of the summer, my uncle, who had never gone to college, told me, 'Stay in school. You'll never make it in construction.' He was right") and nightshift custodian for a grocery store (he waxed the floors at night).
Favorite sports team: The New York Yankees (Adams owns a seat from the original Yankee Stadium). Adams' goal is to one day attend a Yankees fantasy camp.
Favorite athletes: Mickey Mantle, former slugger for the New York Yankees; Jerry West of the Los Angeles Lakers; Peter "Pistol Pete" Press Maravich, a Louisiana State University basketball player who went on to play for three NBA teams.
Favorite movies: "It's a Wonderful Life;" "12 Angry Men;" "Forrest Gump;" "Animal House;" "Pulp Fiction."
Publication Date: Wednesday, June 01, 2011