My last column. I have rewritten it dozens of times in my head. I couldn’t settle on a thought or a theme that seemed appropriate. Then I remembered the HFMA board dinner with Sue Petru, a past National Board member.
The occasion was our winter board retreat in Tampa this year. It’s our custom to invite past board members who live near the retreat location to join us at group dinners. Sue Petru and her husband Jim, who had retired to a nearby city, accepted our invitation enthusiastically. I had gotten to know Sue after her board term ended, and I spoke with her at least annually as she sought the latest addition to her collection of HFMA chair theme pins. (She has all but one — the very first pin. Kudos to 1997-98 Chair Ron Anspaugh for starting this cool tradition.) In short, she has become one of my HFMA friends.
To fully appreciate this story, you need some background about Sue: Over the course of her career, Sue held senior financial executive positions with several healthcare organizations, including SSM Health and Group Health Plan in St. Louis, and Rockford Health System in northern Illinois. In her working days, Sue was a tough, sharp and hard-working executive who gave a lot to HFMA, and to the First Illinois Chapter, where she served as chapter president, and expected a lot in return. All as it should be.
Well, I wish I had a picture of Sue when she walked into that room for dinner in Tampa. Her expression was one of pure, unfiltered joy. The joy of being with HFMA friends, some of whom she was meeting for the first time. The joy of sharing a common kinship. Sue’s smile that evening was reminiscent of the thousands of HFMA friendships that have developed and flourished over the years. The circumstances that lead to these friendships vary, but the essence of their origin stories is the same.
In this last column, I could have done several things. I could have reprised my “hard truths” messages about the need for change in healthcare. That didn’t feel right. I could have rattled off a list of HFMA’s accomplishments during my 11-year tenure. That’s not my style. I could thank a bunch of people, but there’s not enough space to thank everyone. So I decided to close by highlighting what matters most at HFMA: Connecting with people. We refer to it, in jest, as our “secret sauce.” It’s not really a secret. It is, however, what sets us apart.
In an era when medical technology and artificial intelligence are moving forward at warp speed and when remote work, social media and keyboard courage make forging real connections more difficult, my parting message to our members is this: Never forget the HFMA secret sauce of connecting with others. Never forget that joyful “Sue Petru smile.” Although you weren’t there, you know that kind of smile when you see it. When it’s your turn to close out the career chapter of your life, it’s the connections you made with others that will stay with you.
A final note: I come from a family of eight children. After we kids grew up and had families of our own, my mother used to end big family gatherings or group phone calls by saying: “Love you all.” In the spirit of HFMA’s secret sauce, I can think of no better way to sign off. Thank you for 11 amazing years. Love you all.