Deloitte’s Tina Wheeler navigates health care industry in COVID age

You’ve been with Deloitte for 30 years and now promoted to national health care leader responsible for 8,000 employees, 350 partners in dozens of offices in the U.S. What is your day like?

I’m an audit partner by day. I still provide audit services to clients in the provider and payer industries. Two and a half years ago I took over as the West Michigan managing partner. I lead our Grand Rapids office. My third hat, the last seven years I’ve become the U.S. and global health care audit leader. I help our partners and managing directors navigate new accounting and auditing issues as they arise. We are working so hard, 10-12 hour days. It’s a different work. We’ve really been trying to focus on the health and well-being of our people and helping them navigate (the impact of the virus).

You were in the Deloitte office at the Renaissance Center for years. Do you live in Grand Rapids now?

Let’s just put it this way. I’m in Michigan. When I was asked to take over the managing partner role, I still had significant clients in Detroit to serve. I have a home in Novi. I still have an apartment in Grand Rapids, but with COVID, our offices are closed right now. I grew up in a small town, Marshall, in a lake house. I grew up on a lake. I’m all about if you can get a paddleboard or a water ski, I’m there.

How has COVID-19 affected your job and client work?

We’re such a large global firm. The example I’d like to give is whether you were at our Chicago office, or New York office, we’re on high floors and in big skyscrapers and have to navigate elevators. With the social distancing, we don’t want to put our employees at risk. We’ve been really careful. I started working remotely in mid-March. I was thinking summer, after the Fourth of July holiday, we’d be back. Then I said after Labor Day. Now, Jan. 4 is the date we’re targeting. We don’t know. If there’s a second wave everyone’s going to make different choices. I took the test and I didn’t have antibodies, but knock on wood, I haven’t had it. I’ve been cautious. I use hand sanitizer. I wear a mask. I do feel like maybe, inevitably, we’re all going to get it in some fashion.

Is Deloitte still hiring? Has it slowed because the work has changed?

We just started our first-year hires at the end of September. We have another round coming in early December for audit. The whole onboarding process has changed. It’s all Zoom meetings. We’ve given subsidies for some of our younger employees to go out and get better office chairs because many, the ones we employ right out of college, do not have the best place to work at home.

The accounting and consulting field has always been a traveling road show, meeting clients and looking at the books. How do you do your job virtually?

First and foremost, whenever you take on a new role, it’s important that you get to know people. I’ve got a lot of people to meet. I know many of the partners and managing directors in health care, but reintroducing myself and making those connections is so important so we can have a great relationship, and I can help them grow our business, our clients. It’s a unique challenge taking on a role like this in a virtual world. In the old days, pre-COVID, I would have been traveling across the country, meeting with our teams, our people in person, and doing the same with our clients. We do a lot of Zoom and to stay in touch, I’ll send them an instant message and say, “How are you doing?” Everybody’s just trying to learn this new virtual world and how to manage it.

What are the key health care issues your clients are facing this year?

The providers are all recovering from big financial losses because of the drop in patient volumes and fewer procedures. We’re just focused on COVID. Detroit was a hot spot and there were specific health systems that were hit pretty hard. The payers all had claims volume that went down significantly. They’re trying to navigate when and how things will ramp up. With pharma and the life sciences companies, on the other end, they’re trying to develop vaccines and work on therapeutics.

How will the health care industry change because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

There’s a huge focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and the responses are different depending on the specific segment of the health care industry. It’s been interesting to see how the pandemic has been a catalyst for telehealth and virtual health and how that became an imperative during this pandemic. We are now where we would be five years from now. The technological disruptors have been fascinating. You are going to see more mergers and acquisitions and consolidation in the industry. Health systems will continue to get bigger and managing all that data for their businesses will be important. Next year, Jan. 1, the pricing transparency rule comes that requires hospitals to publish their rates and price information. That’s pretty controversial and a big thing I have to navigate. Health systems need to continue to understand patients and their buying patterns so they can quickly adjust. There will be continued disruption and health care organizations need to be nimble and flexible to use change for your benefit.

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