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Toby's Take: Healthcare Finance 101

Scott Glasrud, winner of the Legacy Award at the 2023 Hall of Fame Awards at The University of Kansas Health System

June 26, 2023

Before you panic, I’m not really writing about the money side of healthcare. Here or anywhere else. I’m writing about how brilliant it was that, once upon a time, executives at The University of Kansas Health System sat down with people like me who know little about the intricacies of either (finances or medicine) and described them in layman’s terms.

Call it Healthcare Finance for Dummies if you want. The great thing about those series of books is the people who read them aren’t dumb at all. Your teacher back in the day was right. The only dumb question is the one not asked.

In this story, we’re going back 25 years to 1998, when the Kansas Legislature established The University of Kansas Hospital Authority. That act separated then-KU Med hospital from the University of Kansas Medical School to become its own entity.

One of my favorite memories was doing lunch-and-learns with Bob Page. The only downside was we talked all the time and didn't eat lunch. But I was surprised at how many people showed up to those events and wanted to learn finance. Scott Glasrud

Former CFO, The University of Kansas Health System

Learning to grow

The 2 teachers in this case were Bob Page, who later became health system president and CEO, and the chief financial officer at the time, Scott Glasrud.

"One of my favorite memories was doing lunch-and-learns with Bob Page,” Glasrud remembers. “The only downside was we talked all the time and didn't eat lunch. But I was surprised at how many people showed up to those events and wanted to learn finance."

The health system awarded Glasrud the vaunted Legacy Award at the 2023 Hall of Fame Awards this month.

Glasrud headlined 4 other recipients this year:

Partner in Excellence Awards

  • PYA – a consulting firm involved in many of the health system’s partnerships over the years, including the recent integration of Olathe Health into The University of Kansas Health System.
  • Friendship Inn – a home not far from our 39th and Rainbow campus that offers inexpensive lodging to the families of patients who need a place to stay near our main Kansas City campus.

Catalyst Awards

The Bloch and Patterson families are so well-known in Kansas City and throughout the nation for their philanthropy. But we didn’t always have donors like that. In fact, since the health system – as it operates now – was basically born in 1998, we have a long way to go to catch up with other institutions that have had decades upon decades to build up reserves.

Starting out and making this thing work required everyone pulling in the same direction. And some cramming sessions.

When Page and Tammy Peterman, president of the health system’s Kansas City division, tell their story in their book “Proud But Never Satisfied” and to audiences everywhere, the Healthcare 101 memories always come up.

“We did basic healthcare finance 101 for leaders in the hospital because we came out of a state system where the idea was, if you have a dollar in your budget, you spend that dollar,” Page said. “You don't want to have money left over at the end of the year. Otherwise, your budget gets cut.“

Glasrud would say, time and again, Page recalls, “Now, that system's gone. You know what? It's OK not to spend every dollar in your budget."

The support of family and friends

These Hall of Fame dinners focus on family. The health system is a family, and the reception beforehand sounds as loud as any family reunion. It’s like pulling teeth to get anyone to sit down so we can start the program. A charming feature this year at the Glasrud's table was Jason Glasrud, Scott’s older of 2 children. He’s now the health system’s director of economic development. Together with his colleague, Sherrie Gayed, Jason’s team is charged with supporting a plan for growth around the 39th and Rainbow location campus over the next 20 years, including housing, transportation and retail space.

“The University of Kansas Health System means a great deal to our family,” Jason told me. “Certainly, Dad’s long tenure as CFO and my relatively new position at the health system have a nice symmetry. But I’m most proud to be working at the premiere academic health system in the region and a place where great things are ahead. I always remember that Dad was a foundational part of that success.”

That’s leaps and bounds beyond what Page and Glasrud were dealing with during the “survival years.” Jason is glad to build on his father’s legacy.

“The Hall of Fame event was a tremendous evening with remarkable stories of individuals and organizations who have had an outsized impact on the health system over the years,” he said. “But it was particularly meaningful to have my dad as this year’s Legacy Award recipient and hear the stories from his colleagues on those early days following the creation of the Public Authority to what the institution has become today. I’m glad Bob told the audience Dad’s mantra, ‘You can’t shrink your way to greatness,’” which is good to remember.

You know what would be fun? Getting the band back together. What if Glasrud came back to teach those classes again? Judging from how much fun he’s having in retirement, I’m guessing he’d pass. If the classes ever return, I’m guessing the first question will be, “What’s next?”

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