You could say Mark Miller’s heart is in healthcare. But it’s a generality that deserves a little explanation. Fresh out of undergrad, the new accountant had signed on with Arthur Andersen, ready to start his career. The twenty-three-year-old was at new-hire school in St. Charles, Illinois, when he felt an awful pain in his chest. He ended up in the emergency room with what he was told were the early signs of pneumonia. Miller flew back home with the aid of oxygen and visited a family primary care physician. It wasn’t exactly pneumonia.
The week of speaking with Miller marked the twenty-eighth anniversary of his nearly dying. “Nurses were trying to get a pulse and my blood pressure in my extremities, and they couldn’t get anything,” Miller remembers. “It turns out I had two liters of fluid buildup in my pericardium, the sack around your heart, and it was compressing down on the organ. They say if I had gone to sleep that night, I probably wouldn’t have woken up.” Miller wound up with a nine-inch needle in his chest draining fluid, and one of the more dramatic gateways to healthcare financial expertise one could imagine.
Now CFO and treasurer for UNC Health Care, Miller says his early brush with death helped provide a clearer direction for where he wanted to spend his time professionally. “When you go through something like that and you’re left sitting around just hearing your heartbeat, you wonder, why am I still here? How do I make sense of this and continue on?”
Back at work, Miller was kept close to home, and in doing so, became acquainted with Arthur Andersen’s small healthcare practice. “Back then the largest clients in our Charlotte office were Mission Hospital out of Asheville and Mercy Hospital in Charlotte,” Miller remembers. “After the initial healthcare first year staff person transferred to another office, I went to our scheduling person and said I would be happy to step in and take on those healthcare jobs.”
“Selfishly, I thought that in working with those clients, I’d be close to a hospital if anything else happened to me,” he adds, laughing.
Fast-forward nearly thirty years, and the healthcare expert has amassed financial expertise for the largest and most prestigious providers in North Carolina: First with Duke University Health System and Novant Health. Miller joined UNC Health Care in 2016 first as senior vice president for finance and later promoted to his current CFO role.
The CFO has a knack for identifying and developing talent, but his tendency to help bring along future leaders isn’t so much a company mandate, but a personal one. “If these people coming up have their next opportunity within our system, that’s great. But if that happens to be outside because we don’t have what they’re ready to take on, then so be it. Just as long as everybody doesn’t do it on the same day,” he jokes.
Miller says one of his proudest accomplishments is the CFOs he’s helped develop for other organizations, and those who have left for a time to develop their skill set and come back as even higher performers.
“When you go through something like that and you’re left sitting around just hearing your heartbeat, you wonder, why am I still here? How do I make sense of this and continue on?”
It’s not just talent development that has been impacted by Miller’s work at UNC Health Care. The finance team helped right the ship at the UNC Health Care owned High Point Regional Medical Center before a successful win-win transaction that saw the hospital handed off to Wake Forest Baptist in 2018. “It was initially a financial challenge and, for so many reasons, this made sense for everyone involved,” he says. “It was good for Wake Forest, good for UNC, and it was good for the community.”
The finance team was able to go to the bond market both in November of 2019 and January of 2020 to borrow over $400 million for a string of high-profile projects including a surgical tower, a cancer center, and a brand-new hospital.
While these new facilities will help enhance quality of care, Miller and his team have worked to win a coinciding battle: enabling patients to afford that care. A 2019 study showed that one in four consumers skipped medical care due to its cost. And with the coronavirus pandemic displacing people from their jobs—and, subsequently, their insurance—UNC found “scalable, non-discriminatory, cost-effective” solutions to provide financial assistance to its consumers.
Since September 2019, UNC has partnered with AccessOne to expand affordability options across patient payment plans.
“Our mission is to improve the health and well-being of North Carolinians. This extends beyond high-quality care and into consumer satisfaction and financial flexibility,” Miller explains. “We’ve expanded our clinical lifeline through our generous financial assistance program and our flexible payment program for patients with high deductible insurance plans. We also continue to grow our estimation services program, enabling patients to have a better perspective of their out of pocket costs and reducing the risk of an unexpected medical bill.”
Like its patients, COVID-19 has proven a challenge for UNC Health Care, like all health organizations—but, there is a difference. Despite the multi-hundreds of millions of dollars lost by locking organizations down and cancelling elective surgeries, UNC has managed to keep its workforce on the clock.
“Somebody did ask me that it seemed like many other organizations were letting people go, so why weren’t we,” Miller says. “I said, ‘Because we’re not them. We’re UNC.’ The money that we have in the bank, we got there because of the efforts of all of our coworkers. We are here for them when they need it most, and we were very deliberate from the beginning that protecting our team financially, with continued employment, and physically, with needed PPE and processes, were of high priority.”
BDO congratulates Mark Miller, chief financial officer of UNC Health, on his accomplishments and well-deserved professional recognition. As a long-standing strategic partner of UNC Health, we share Mark’s passion for top-quality in patient care, operational resilience, and one seamless approach towards excellence in financial reporting to the market.