FIU HCMBA team takes top honors in South Florida healthcare challenge.

FIU HCMBA team takes top honors in South Florida healthcare challenge.
Left to right: Annette Alexis, Germa Clarke, Orlando Soto, Maureen Lillis and Julia Martinez
Left to right: Annette Alexis, Germa Clarke, Orlando Soto, Maureen Lillis and Julia Martinez

Winning first place in the prestigious South Florida Healthcare Executive Forum’s case challenge was a thrill for the five Florida International University (FIU) Healthcare MBA students on the victorious team.

Yet what will remain when the applause fades is the experience of crafting, with the guidance of Visiting Assistant Professor Paulo Gomes, an answer to a vexing problem: How can a traditional healthcare facility leverage excellent patient care as a competitive advantage?

“It was a great team effort working with fellow students and our faculty advisor,” said Maureen Lillis, who lead the team.

The Student Case Competition, put on by the South Florida forum, a chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives, is an annual event where teams are invited to craft a solution to a particular healthcare issue. Barry University, Florida Atlantic University and FIU fielded teams this year. The presentations and judging were held April 9 at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale. Along with Lillis, the winning team included Annette Alexis, Germa Clarke, Julia Martinez and Orlando Soto.

Gomes’ input was key, said Lillis, a registered nurse and senior executive with a managed care plan. “He challenged us to go back and look at the mission (of the organization),” she said. The team pursued an analytical approach, Lillis noted, delving deeply into the data: “It was a perfect use of what we were learning in school.”

Aiding the group were mentors from Cleveland Clinic Florida: CFO Keith Nilsson and Finance Director Joanna Dutton.

The case study involved a real North Carolina healthcare center with excellent patient care that wanted to help control revenue by providing health insurance, or partnering with an insurer. While the case and data were archival, the students applied current and emerging healthcare funding models to the problem, including those under evaluation by Medicare and Affordable Care Act regulators and participants.

Making the most of what is best.

The FIU team offered four alternatives. The one that made the most sense for the center is called “value-based purchasing” where the funding entity provides a financial incentive for good patient outcomes. This let the health center “stick to its knitting,” as Lillis put it, by focusing on what it does best — patient care — while partnering with an insurer. Federal agencies and the private sector are scrutinizing the method as a way to make the most of healthcare dollars.

Gomes, who teaches technology operations management in the HCMBA program, said he wanted students to focus on the health center’s vision, administrative abilities and viability from an operational and financial viewpoint. “We wanted to make sure this is something that can be implemented — they have the financial resources to do it and get an adequate payback,” he said.

Gomes noted that he learned as much from the students, who have various background in healthcare and related sectors, as they did from him. “They know the industry in great detail.”

That seemed to be the secret sauce in the winning entry. “I think it shows the students have the ability to analyze a problem and figure out a solution in the real world,” said Mercedes Bradley, director of Health Management Programs at the FIU Chapman Graduate School of Business. “Instead of just having an idea, they were able to put those ideas into a solution that was financially feasible.”

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