Meet the Online MHA faculty: A Conversation with Wendi Barber
Can you tell us the story that brought you to your career in healthcare?
I didn’t set out to become a CEO. I always enjoyed accounting and finance, and have a heart for service. Being part of a non-profit healthcare environment combines the two passions.
Throughout my career, I found ways to contribute to the organization and give back some of my experiences. That mindset led to opportunities to learn and grow and became a driving force throughout my career.
My story has a common theme of service. I look for ways to make an impact, contribute, and grow along the way. I am motivated to collaborate with our clinicians and leaders and ease their burdens with an impactful partnership, management education, and a simple recruiting process.
What do you wish you knew when you started your career in healthcare? Can you share a story?
Coming from an accounting and an MBA background, a lot of our theory and principles are black and white. Unfortunately, the world is not black and white—there is not always an absolute right or absolute wrong. It is key to understand the gray areas of life and to work together to find the best solution.
What are the essential traits and experiences for financial leadership in a health system?
- Be a servant leader: As a non-profit healthcare leader, I am here to serve patients and those on the front line. I support, guide, and collaborate with them.
- Communicate: It’s not just about speaking, it’s also listening. As a CFO, there is a misconception that our job is to say: ”No, we can’t do this or that.” But, in reality, the CFO’s job is to think, “How can we work effectively within the confines of what we have?” A leader finds ways to communicate goals, visions, and parameters.
- Set clear expectations: It is essential to set expectations and accountability and align both staff and leadership with our department’s goals.
What is essential knowledge for a financial executive in healthcare?
The CFO role continues to change. It used to focus heavily on finance and accounting. Today, it has evolved into more of an operational role and, in my experience, requires an operational mindset. We partner with our clinical leaders, and when we discuss topics such as risk-based reimbursement, population health, or fee-for-service performance, we are discussing topics that tie into our clinical measures and cost containment, all of which rely on a firm knowledge of the operational aspects of healthcare, as well as the financials.
For example, patient experience and satisfaction have a direct influence on our financials. I partner with my Chief Nursing Officers to understand our quality of service and how we drive and improve our patient care. Understanding the operational methods put in place ties back to the hospital’s financial bottom lines.
Looking back, what are the catalysts or inflection points in your career?
I spent 15 wonderful years on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. I was part of a large health system with 20 different hospitals in four states. However, we were, quite literally, in the middle of the ocean. At the time, large organizations were less centric than they are today, and even though we were part of a network, we managed the backend accounting accounts, payroll, and revenue cycle on our own.
Being on an island, and having the opportunity to manage a lot of the functions in a medium-sized hospital, afforded me exposure to various aspects of the healthcare continuum. I gained experience with managed care contracting, compliance, professional service agreements with physicians, employment agreements with providers, physician health organizations, joint ventures, and ambulatory surgery centers. The experience is a key inflection point in my career.
Are you working on any exciting new projects? How will they impact the world?
I believe we are making a difference in our community as we drive and improve patient care in our communities. Healthcare is an industry where a tide raises all boats, and we drive each other to continue to raise the bar, improve our communities, and enhance our patient care. At Kettering Medical Center System, we believe population health management is key to keeping our communities healthy. We are partnering with Google in an initiative called OneFifteen, a treatment facility to help battle the opioid crisis and various health initiatives to support those in need in our communities. Some of our accomplishments include collaborating with Homefull and its mobile grocery truck to provide fresh produce to our community, supporting the Good Neighbor House and Primary Health Solutions so residents have access to affordable dental and healthcare, partnering with Jenel Ross and the Norma J. Ross Foundation to establish a program to help West Dayton women receive mammograms, offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing, and funding a six-week community-based math and literacy program for 250 low-income, underserved children from West Dayton.
Ultimately, we work together and impact our community in amazing ways.
Where do you see the future of finance in healthcare?
The future of finance in healthcare is evolving to rely more on operational efficiencies as well as financial knowledge and accounting acumen. If we do not understand how operations work, or how we care for our community in different ways, then we don’t understand the flow of money. It’s exciting to see the blend of the two disciplines in the future.
Why NYU Wagner?
NYU Wagner has a strong public community focus and mission of service and giving back. It aligns with who I am. I love teaching and sharing my experiences to help the next generation of leaders in healthcare.
What makes your course stand out? What will students learn from your class that they wouldn’t learn anywhere else?
I teach Managerial Accounting. It’s key to leadership and understanding how the entire healthcare system works and how leaders can make a difference. I try to include my life experiences and current healthcare events in every class.
For example, if we are working on a financial profile or a new service line, and are assessing trauma for our institution, I will bring up our proforma and analysis and highlight how we can change our financial assumptions or volume assumptions through the proforma.
Bringing real-life examples of how we operate at Kettering and other health systems is an incredible application for our students.