Stephen Rinaldi astutely recognizes the UNC Health system where he serves as senior vice president and chief revenue officer (CRO) as more than a hospital and more than a health system. It’s more like a city. UNC Health serves over thousands of meals a day and handles upkeep of thousands of beds and has a supply chain that exceeds $120 million every single month.
“Healthcare is unique in many ways. Consider that you have an incredibly sized supply chain operation and a massive patient accounting function,” Rinaldi relays. “All necessary to support the complex clinical care we provide for North Carolinians. The number of subject-matter experts and specialists necessary are not seen in many other industries.”
Rinaldi has been part of that story since coming to UNC Health in 2014. While his healthcare and financial experience runs deep, he’s also the rare type of CFO who spent fifteen years working every Friday night from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. as a paramedic. He likely wouldn’t sleep upon returning home Saturday morning and would be coaching travel baseball for his kids shortly thereafter.
“Wherever I am living, I just always wonder how I can provide value in my community,” Rinaldi explains. “Over the years as a paramedic, I’ve delivered babies and reversed cardiac arrest but I’ve also worked complex traumas and SIDs cases all of which are extremely stressful and emotional. Through my experience in patient care, I feel better able to connect with our amazing care providers and remain grounded in our mission.
“I believe that patient care at any level helps provide this perspective,” he continues. “You see the world in a different way, and I think that’s had to inform the way I lead.” Although not practicing as a paramedic now, he remains a member of the State Emergency Medical Response Team, which can be activated in cases of natural disasters or similar events.
Rinaldi says his community commitment, one that he has certainly carried to UNC Health, began when he was working as a bank customer sales representative in college. It wasn’t yet the almost entirely digital economy of the present, and Rinaldi spent his days connecting with loan seekers, business operators, and people from every walk of life.
“It really was that idea of talking with the mechanic, the butcher, the baker,” Rinaldi says. “You understand everyone plays their own role in the community, and everyone comes together to make that community move.” This foundational perspective rings true in healthcare, where many disciplines must come together to be successful and assure quality patient outcomes.
In North Carolina, the anticipated expansion of Medicaid later this year will provide a wider health safety net to its communities, and Rinaldi says it’s a critical moment to help educate the public on the resources they will be able to access. An entirely new population will have the opportunity to seek primary care, preventive care, and gain access to a healthcare system that is still so often outside the reach of marginalized communities. Although UNC provides free care for North Carolinians who qualify, patients without insurance often do not seek care; and access limitations or other social barriers can be unsurmountable.
“For many people, the emergency room has been their only recourse, and any way you look at it, that is not an appropriate use of emergency resources,” Rinaldi says. “We want to provide people with long-term primary care that will provide better healthcare outcomes for years to come.”
Rinaldi is also examining ways in which robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to make the lives of the two thousand people he oversees easier and more engaging.
When it comes to the back-and-forth of medical authorizations, Rinaldi explains that both RPA and AI can help secure insurance authorization for procedures or treatments without employees having to repeatedly log into a portal or call insurance companies when they could be doing more patient-centric and meaningful work.
For example, UNC Health’s tech continually updates the patient journey to keep track of the multiple transactions that happen between provider, insurance, and authorizations.
“This kind of work just isn’t that enjoyable to do all day long,” Rinaldi says. “It’s like that episode of I Love Lucy with the candy conveyor belt. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the volume, and this helps our people to focus on what matters most. If we replace repeatable tasks with technology, our skilled teammates can focus on higher level problem-solving.
“Let’s go back to the emergency room,” Rinaldi adds. “You have patients coming through in a variety of situations into a variety of units. They might have developmental disabilities and are unable to communicate. They might be unable to breathe. This is about the patient experience and making sure those we care for our supported through their financial experience as well as their clinical course. That is a part of compassionate patient-centered care.
“Post care we are able to leverage insurance discovery where the information was not collected,” Rinaldi continues. “Using RPA and AI technologies we can obtain the needed information without necessarily needing to engage the patient. Given the stress they are already experiencing this can avoid an untoward financial experience.”
That compassion also extends to Rinaldi’s leadership. The East Coaster says he had to undergo a sort of leadership evolution with relocation. The culture of the Northeast tends to be very direct, and he was mentored in a command-and-control culture. This isn’t valued the same way in here, where consensus and collaborative partnership are cornerstones of the operating model.
Adapting to the culture and community are critical elements of being a successful leader. Rinaldi continues to work with an executive coach to this day and identify opportunities to grow. This commitment to continuous learning and improvement is a cornerstone of his servant leadership.
“The way I speak to people and present information is very important to me,” Rinaldi says. “It can be easy to get lost in the process, and I need to be open to feedback and work toward continuous improvement myself if it’s behavior I want to see in others.”
But it’s easy to see why Rinaldi is where he is. You’re likely to see the executive doing a nightly round at one in the morning, because he wants these teammates to know they are appreciated and to determine what they need to make their jobs easier. “The overnight shift is a different world,” Rinaldi says. “And he knows a lot about if from his years working the Friday overnight.
“I’ll even sit down with people and try and help register a patient, but I think everyone is happier if I don’t,” Rinaldi says, laughing. “But I just want to understand where people are coming from to help them be more successful. Sure, there’s a lot of finance stuff you need to know. But it’s really more about understanding and connecting with people.”