As CFO of one of the nation’s largest hospital management companies, Steve Filton understands the challenges hospitals face.
Mr. Filton has served as executive vice president and CFO of King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services since 2003.
He joined the company in 1985 as director of corporate accounting and in 1991, he was promoted to vice president and controller.
Mr. Filton spoke with Becker’s about some of the challenges facing CFOs and his top cost-containment strategies.
Question: What is the greatest challenge hospital and health system CFOs faced in 2018? Do you expect this to be their biggest challenge in 2019 as well?
Steve Filton: I think effectively we’re in an environment where our payers have all concluded that costs and medical spending have to be reduced, and a lot of that burden ultimately falls on providers, like hospitals and doctors. As a [result], I think hospitals are tasked with the difficult goal of continuing to provide the highest quality care in more efficient ways. I think that was the biggest challenge last year and will be the biggest challenge this year. I think, frankly, for the foreseeable future, that’s the challenge of being a provider in today’s healthcare environment.
Q: How do you feel the CFO role has evolved in recent years?
SF: I think CFOs have a particularly challenging role in that our organizations explore the ways to deliver high quality care that’s best for our patients and try to create an environment that is satisfying for our employees. We as CFOs then say, ‘How do we accomplish these things and remain efficient and remain profitable?’ [That way organizations] can continue to do all the things we have to do as far as investing and reinvesting in the business and continuing to be competitive with our labor force and do all the things that allow us to continue to run high quality facilities, which in many cases involve significant expenditures.
Q: What are your top cost-containment strategies?
SF: I think a lot of our cost-containment strategies are focused on what I describe as driving the variability out of our business. I think so many other industries and businesses are accustomed to delivering their products and services in very standardized ways that are determined to be most efficient. I think healthcare has sort of long resisted that, and as a [result], we have lots of variability in the way that we deliver services in our various geographies. Various clinicians will deliver services differently. And I think we could benefit by following the lead of some of our peer industries and becoming much more focused on … delivering all our care and service in that standard way in accordance with best practice protocols. Driving out excess utilization and driving out rework and re-dos and errors — those things I think are a significant focus of getting the hospital industry to be more efficient and cost-efficient.
Question: During your tenure at UHS, what has been one of your proudest moments as CFO?
SF: What I take great pride in is the growth of the company. When I joined the company in the mid-1980s, it had maybe 35 [or] 40 hospitals around the country and maybe $500 million of consolidated revenues. This coming year we’ll have well over 300 domestic facilities and another 100 or so in the United Kingdom and over $11 billion of revenue. And what I’m proud of is not just the growth of the company, but … the way the company has grown and yet really adhered to its core principles. When I joined the company 30 some odd years ago, it was very committed to high quality patient care and to the satisfaction to our employees. And honestly, if anything, I think the company has recommitted itself to those core principles over the years, and to be a much bigger company [and] not have abandoned our core principles, at least for me, is a source of great pride.
Q: If you could pass along one nugget of advice to another hospital CFO, what would it be?
SF: I tell the folks who work with me and for me all the time that it’s so important to behave every day with the highest level of integrity. I think at the end of the day you can’t replace that. People, I think, will give you a lot of leeway if they trust you, if they believe that you’re behaving transparently and with great honesty. And so I encourage everyone who works for me to do that, and I certainly endeavor to try to do that as best I can. And it’s tough. There are all kinds of pressures on folks in a financial role in this sort of environment. But I think if you behave with integrity, everything else will follow from that.