Clinical Center welcomes new CFO
How Sunil Vasudevan aims to ensure sound economics to support the hospital's mission of excellence in quality of care, patient safety and patient experience
Sunil Vasudevan assumed the role of Clinical Center chief financial officer in June. Today, he oversees an annual operating budget just shy of $700 million and leads nearly 350 employees, who manage financial operations, procurement, and the Department of Clinical Research Informatics, that includes Health Information Management.
It's a big job, but one Vasudevan seems uniquely well-qualified for. With advanced degrees in biomedical engineering and healthcare finance and management from McGill University and Johns Hopkins University, the healthcare executive spent the past seven years as senior director of finance at Suburban Hospital.
There, Vasudevan demonstrated his ability to navigate complex problems in a complex healthcare system and regulatory environment. Maryland is the only state in the country that sets fixed revenue budgets for hospitals, an approach designed to reward health care outcomes over fee-for-service billing.
As part of the Johns Hopkins Health System, Vasudevan also grew familiar with the environment of an academic research hospital. The mission, he says, is the same: deliver excellence in quality of care, patient safety and patient experience. His role as CFO now is to provide the fourth key pillar to that mission: sound economics.
"It's like a four-legged stool," he says. "For a hospital to operate … it has to be balanced, even if the financial leg may be thinner."
In simple terms, the role of a CFO, Vasudevan explains, is to gain a complete picture of the resources used in an organization in order to inform decisions on how those resources are best to be employed.
"To do that, the CFO has to understand the operations and … what drives the operations," he says, "and then be the consultant and support to leadership when they make decisions."
Which is why one of the first things Vasudevan did in his new role at NIH was to spend his first two months "making the rounds" of the Clinical Center, meeting and talking with as many department heads and NIH stakeholders as possible. The executive says he wanted to hear from staff what they do, what is working and (presumably) what isn't.
"Where I really try to dig into is the process side," he says.
It may sound counterintuitive, but managing a budget, Vasudevan says, is really about understanding people. "[With] a CFO, you think of calculators and printing reports and tons of paper. But it's more about building relationships—understanding the person and their motivation around how they operate and manage the operations and then working with them to come to the optimal decision."
Vasudevan says he defers to the Clinical Center's subject matter experts as the experts. His role is to help them succeed.
Outside of work, Vasudevan is an avid sports fan, reader of historical fiction and busy father of two high-school-age students. He frequently joins them on wilderness Boy Scouting expeditions. This summer, they paddled Minnesota's Boundary Waters, and Quetico Park in Canada over 10 days.
He was at their age when his own professional interest in the health care field began. He experienced an extended hospital stay during a critical year of high school.
"Being in that environment for a long time and understanding the care and what happens, that kind of piqued my interest," he says.
"Healthcare is one place where you see the impact you provide by just walking the hallways, where you see the patients being taken care of and how you contribute to them," Vasudevan says today. "Not in a direct way, but in an indirect way. So that really [is] what continues to drive my interest and passion."
- Sean Markey