The MA-RI HFMA Chapter honored five long-term volunteers with Lifetime Membership at the annual awards dinner in May. These five volunteers, Robert Ellertsen, FHFMA, Kathleen Maher, Gerry O’Neill, FHFMA, Thomas Pearson, FHFHMA, and Thomas Zubricki, have devoted countless hours to helping our chapter succeed. This is the second in a series of blog posts spotlighting our newest Lifetime Members. You can read our first installment featuring Gerry O’Neill, FHFMA here.
Robert Ellerston, FHFMA, a 42 year member of HFMA, has spent his career in healthcare finance with 18 interim healthcare finance roles. His most recent role was Interim Chief Financial Officer, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Over his career, Robert has served in multiple leadership roles with HFMA and gained a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares with us below. Congratulations on your lifetime membership, Robert!
HFMA: What is your favorite annual event?
Robert: There are two. First, the Annual Awards Dinner in Boston for the chapter. It is the best opportunity to connect with people I have known for a long time. Second, the Annual Conference, formerly the Annual National Institute, for national HFMA. Every one I attended was a great educational and networking experience.
HFMA: Why did you join HFMA?
Robert: By luck and effort I became a hospital CFO at age 30, but I knew then there was a lot I needed to know. To help, I decided to join HFMA. Participation in HFMA greatly helped me do a much better job and connected me to many other people in healthcare finance. When a good opportunity to make a change came up eight years later from people I knew through HFMA, I was prepared to move on.
HFMA: What is your favorite memory from HFMA?
Robert: My favorite memory is the day in 1982 when I learned I passed the Fellowship Exam. The exam was extremely tough at that time and most persons who took it failed. It was given only once per year. It was not unusual for a person to take it every year for several years, fail each time, and then give up. Like many persons who took the exam back then, I failed it on my first try. However, I was totally overjoyed when a letter arrived the next year with the news that I had passed. Yahoo!
HFMA: How has HFMA impacted your career?
Robert: Attending and participating in meetings kept me up-to-date on the current opportunities and risks in healthcare finance. Reading the monthly national journal and the local newsletter cover-to-cover for several years helped educate me and kept me informed too. Studying for the certification exams in finance, patient accounts, managed care, and physician practice management strengthened my ability to work in those areas. There was so much that I “didn’t know that I didn’t know” before studying for each. Serving on the chapter board connected me to wonderful people who helped me a lot. Serving on the national board of examiners and national board of directors did the same
HFMA: How has HFMA impacted you personally?
Robert: The knowledge and confidence I got from HFMA allowed me change my career track mid-career, away from conventional hospital employment and into two types of healthcare financial consulting: reimbursement recovery (especially for Tricare and Medicare) and interim management. With financial responsibilities for my family it was tough to move away from a type of work where I got a regular paycheck every two weeks. The move was worrisome for me, especially at first. But I believe the information, experience, and support I received from my activities in HFMA gave me more personal confidence and made me more prepared for changes. Despite insecurities I had when I changed my career path, the move worked out well, thanks in part to HFMA.
HFMA: What do you do for fun outside of HFMA?
Robert: Although my family is spread out over the USA, I try to be with family members as much as I can, especially with my new grandson, who is almost one year old. I have pictures. I’m playing a lot of tennis and my backhand seems to be getting better, finally. As a volunteer, I am on the board of directors and am the CFO of a non-profit assisted living facility, The Scandinavian Living Center. It is on the leading edge of that type of care. I recently created photo biographies of my mom and my dad (I am the child who wound up with all of their photos and other stuff) and made copies for my family members. I learned a lot about my parents while doing that.
HFMA: Who have been some of your mentors within HFMA?
Robert: Joe Gagnon, who was the CFO of Children’s Hospital when I first met him, strongly recommend that I join HFMA and get active immediately. He was a former president of the Massachusetts Chapter and one of the first persons in the chapter to be a Fellow, so he knew HFMA well. He was smart and kind. He gave me a lot of help and created some opportunities for me for many years along the way.
HFMA: What words of advice do you have for a new HFMA member?
Robert: What Joe told me long ago. Get involved. Join one or more committees. Write articles or make presentations. If you do, you will be better in your current job and have much better opportunities to advance in your career. And you will meet great people and have great times while doing this.
HFMA: What does achieving lifetime membership mean to you?
Robert: I greatly admire those who attained this already, so I’m really proud to join them.