Article | Leadership

Ready for the moment: After her historic appointment as HFMA Chair, Tammie Jackson is eager to get to work on key healthcare issues

Article | Leadership

Ready for the moment: After her historic appointment as HFMA Chair, Tammie Jackson is eager to get to work on key healthcare issues

It’s “serendipity,” said Tammie Jackson, FHFMA, CHFP, that she’s moving into the role of HFMA National Chair at this moment in history.

As the healthcare industry and the world at large increasingly focus on issues of social justice, Jackson on June 1 becomes the first Black person to serve as Chair in HFMA’s 75-year history.

Even though the timing is happenstance, Jackson is eager to seize the opportunity to make an impact in FY21-22.

“This year, I would like us to begin to answer, ‘Now what?’ We have arrived at an inflection point and have a real opportunity to determine what our ‘better’ looks like and to move forward boldly,” Jackson said.

"HFMA has always been, for me, a safe place to learn and a safe place to ask questions," says Tammie Jackson, FY21-22 National Chair. (Photo by Marshall Clarke)

A ‘bolder’ theme for a changed world

The opportunity for bold action in pursuit of a better healthcare system is something Jackson, vice president of go-to-market strategy and sales with TransUnion Healthcare, wants to emphasize over the next year. But such a message is different from what she initially envisioned as the theme for her Chair tenure.

That’s because Jackson was supposed to become Chair in June 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck a few months prior, HFMA asked FY19-20 Chair Mike Allen to remain in his role for a second year.

Before that decision was made, Jackson had chosen “Lead by Design” as her Chair theme for FY20-21. In an industry being rocked by change — even pre-pandemic — healthcare organizations could navigate choppy waters by relying on sound, informed decision-making, she explained.

That notion certainly still applies. But given what the industry has endured over the last 15 months, Jackson thought a different theme was appropriate. She settled on “Bolder. Brighter. Better.”

“It just felt as though we needed a north star — a more optimistic outlook,” Jackson said. “Whereas ‘Lead by Design’ was much more of a call to action, this one is also an acknowledgment of what we’ve been through and then forward-thinking:  Where are we going?”

The industry, still dealing with a global pandemic, has been forced to quickly assess problems, improvise solutions, plan, execute and then repeat, she explained. Organizations have taken bold steps during the pandemic to maintain sustainability and serve consumers. Now they can use those lessons to keep pushing forward and emerge with a brighter outlook and better ways of doing business.

6 things about Tammie Jackson

1. The launch of her career in the healthcare industry wasn’t by intent. In an earlier stint with TransUnion, she worked in the legacy credit business, and the sales team was organized by industry. Jackson ended up with healthcare because she was “the low man on the totem pole and nobody else wanted it.”

2. She joined HFMA to start building a knowledge base. Early in her career, Jackson began attending monthly meetings of the Gulf Coast Chapter. “It wasn’t about sales or even networking,” she said. “I was just learning about the industry.”

3. She derives fulfillment from mentoring and coaching. In her role as go-to-market leader at TransUnion, Jackson oversees an organization that includes direct and channel sales, client management and sales operations. “TransUnion is a safe place where people can learn, feel comfortable asking questions and not be afraid to ‘fail fast’ — that’s the culture I want to foster,” she said.

4. Her original Chair theme reflected her life’s credo. “Lead by Design” — which was Jackson’s planned theme before the pandemic-induced, year-long delay of her Chair tenure — represents how she approaches her life and career. “Bringing a level of consciousness to the decisions that we make every single day, all day long, really opens up your world,” she said. “Instead of feeling subject or victim to everything that happens to you, it empowers you to make decisions and own those decisions.”

5. Her hero is her late mom, Paula Kingsbury. “She was a role model for what it means to be a strong, independent woman,” Jackson said. “She raised two kids, pretty much all on her own. She bettered herself through education and worked herself up the ladder at her job. In addition to the importance of education, my mom taught us values that weren’t material and provided us with a faith foundation, which is really important to me.”

6. Her greatest achievement is her son, Christian. “I think I raised a pretty incredible kid. He's passionate about giving back and currently is working for Conifer while he goes to seminary and also runs his own 501(c)(3). Say what you want about this millennial generation, but they want to — and will — change the world. I'm proud of who Christian is becoming and enjoy watching him mature and dream.”

— reporting by Crystal Milazzo, HFMA senior editor

Tammie Jackson with her son, Christian, and her dog, Leyla. (Photo by Marshall Clarke)

 

Changing the complexion of the industry

Issues of diversity, equity and inclusion represent an area in which bold steps continue to be called for, Jackson said. Many companies and industries have been more closely examining their performance in that sphere since the death of George Floyd in May 2020, and the topic resonates in healthcare because of documented disparities in access and outcomes.

Jackson hopes to use her Chair year to explore ways for HFMA to encourage greater diversity in healthcare finance. That’s an important step toward ensuring the industry mirrors its patient populations, a key to achieving culturally competent care.

“Because our membership reflects the complexion of the healthcare industry in general, it’s not very diverse,” Jackson said. “When traveling as an [HFMA] officer to various chapter meetings, I could literally go to three or four meetings in a row and be the only person of color.

“As a membership association, we can sit back and go, ‘Well, we reflect the industry, so there’s not too much we can do about that.’ Or we can try to dig in and provide tools and resources to help. There are opportunities certainly that we can help to foster.”

HFMA can circulate tools and best practices and establish measures of accountability. The goal would be to help organizations first understand the value of cultivating diversity with respect to all underrepresented groups, and from there examine why they may be falling short. Possible issues include biases that inadvertently may be present in tools, conferences and curricula, Jackson said.

“Whether it’s forums or courses or certifications, even some kind of an assessment that we’re able to package,” Jackson said, “are there things that we can put together that can really help organizations move the needle?”

She added, “This is not a challenge where you just say, ‘Oh, by the way, there are jobs over here,’ and then all of a sudden there’s this diverse group. It’s a really, really tricky problem. I can’t change — nor can HFMA change — the diversity of provider organizations. But what we can do is give them tools to assess where they’re at. Give them a road map as to how they might be able to change that.

“It may take longer than many of us would like, but we have to be bold and put the goals out there. That’s how we get better.”

Tammie Jackson career highlights

Current Position

  • Vice president, go-to-market strategy and sales at TransUnion Healthcare

Education & Certification

  • MHA, George Washington University
  • BS, Finance, Florida Atlantic University
  • Certified Healthcare Finance Professional
  • Fellow, HFMA

HFMA Service

  • Board of Directors
  • National Advisory Council
  • President, South Texas Chapter
  • Member, First Illinois Chapter and Gulf Coast Chapter

HFMA Awards

  • Founders Medal of Honor
  • Frederick T. Muncie Gold Award
  • Robert H. Reeves Silver Award
  • William G. Follmer Bronze Award

A solution-oriented mindset

Such approaches epitomize Jackson’s intent to help HFMA further establish itself as a solution-based organization and an engine of innovation.

“HFMA has always been, for me, a safe place to learn and a safe place to ask questions,” she said. “It has allowed me to tap into incredibly resourceful and super-smart people, and really tap into a pool of innovation.”

Membership in HFMA means access to “knowledge and tools that become your own. I always encourage people that it’s a way to invest in yourself.”

Jackson likes to reflect on HFMA’s theme for the past fiscal year: “Your Challenge. Our Mission.” That pledge will remain relevant as the industry emerges from the pandemic and practical, actionable solutions become increasingly vital in areas such as the social determinants of health (see the sidebar below).

“How do we do things better? How do we do them faster? How do we do them most cost-effectively? Those are the questions I would like us to ask,” Jackson said.

“HFMA is perfectly positioned to convene stakeholders that can begin to put together the playbooks that can answer those questions. When presented with an issue, we can help collect the different ways that that problem is being solved, distill down the best ways to solve it, and then be able to push that out and share it.”

Key issues facing healthcare professionals over the next year

In her role with TransUnion Health, Tammie Jackson spends ample time mulling ways to mitigate the impact of social determinants of health (SDoH). As HFMA’s new Chair, she hopes she can help disperse solutions throughout the industry.

“I'm incredibly passionate about true community-based population health management, really trying to improve the health and wellness of the communities we all serve,” Jackson said.

Jackson says solutions to SDoH issues start with frank appraisals. Inequities are entrenched in the U.S. healthcare system and have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to sit back and look at ourselves,” Jackson said. “We have to be honest about the biases that may be inherent within our own systems and policies and ensure they do not create or perpetuate disproportionate access to care.”

Tackling SDoH is just one of many urgent challenges that the industry is facing. Jackson hopes HFMA also can make an impact in the following areas.

Cost effectiveness of health. As anyone who follows the healthcare industry knows, many hospitals were struggling financially before the pandemic and have endured significant setbacks since. Achieving a sustainable recovery will require the industry to consider new ways of operating, Jackson said. “Whether it's care-related services or whether it's functions within a revenue cycle, [the pandemic has] really helped us to isolate those things and get honest about how to deliver them most effectively.”

Value-based payment. Jackson said the industry’s transition to value needs to accelerate even amid ongoing challenges. “Everyone still has to continue to deliver care while we're figuring all this stuff out,” she said. “It's hard to kind of change the engine on the plane while it's flying. And so I see us as being a real resource to hospitals in being able to do some of that work.”

Surprise billing. This issue long has been a shortcoming in patient billing practices, Jackson said. “We can’t seem to get a patient-friendly bill out the door.” Recently passed federal legislation may help, she said, but healthcare providers should strive to be more proactive about implementing consumer-oriented best practices than they traditionally have been.

The healthcare workforce. Before the pandemic, Jackson said, “It would have taken us years to make that kind of a quick pivot” to remote work. The innovation seen over the past 15 months is laudable, she said, but now healthcare finance leaders need to establish a long-term model while also striving to support clinicians and other staff who have been dealing with higher rates of stress and burnout.

 

A ‘surreal’ situation

While preparing for the responsibilities that await her over the next year, Jackson has taken time to appreciate the opportunity. In a landmark anniversary year for HFMA, her appointment is another milestone.

“It feels very surreal,” Jackson said. “I would have never imagined myself in this role, and I wonder if somebody had come before me, maybe I would have been more easily able to imagine it.

“I hope I can help start a conversation that puts us on a different path. Maybe if people see somebody that looks like me in this role, that will allow people to feel like there’s a place for them too, that there’s a place to engage, that there’s something that they too can achieve.”

About the Author

Nick Hut

is a senior editor with HFMA, Westchester, Ill. (nhut@hfma.org).

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