Ever since Mary T. “Mamie” Wakefield was 16, when she first cashed out the day’s receipts on the register at the gas station where she worked and was thrilled to get everything balanced to the last penny, she knew that she wanted to pursue a career in accounting and finance.
Now, as senior vice president and chief financial officer at Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest hospital system – and with a much more difficult challenge in balancing the bottom line than at the gas station – she still loves crunching numbers.
“This is my ideal job. I love being CFO,” Wakefield said. She spent the first 17 years of her career as an accountant working with KPMG. She joined Lifespan in 1997, and has served as CFO since 2002.
Her impact on the hospital’s finances has been impressive. When Wakefield arrived in 1997, the system was reeling from a $50 million loss. Under her guidance, the system’s financial underpinnings were stabilized. During the last 10 consecutive years, from 2001 through 2011, Lifespan has realized operating gains.
Over this same period, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s ratings for Lifespan’s bonds for Rhode Island Hospital, The Miriam Hospital and Bradley Hospital have improved from BBB and Baa2 to A- and A3. As of March 6, Moody’s downgraded its ratings for Lifespan to Baa1 from A3.
Lifespan’s return to financial stability enabled the system to invest in nearly 2,000 additional employees and to make more than $500 million in capital improvements, as well as upgrades in new equipment and technology to facilitate better, safer patient care and an enhanced work environment.
One of the secrets of her success, Wakefield said, is her ability to translate the numbers into a compelling story. “When I came to Lifespan, there was a whole world of people who didn’t like numbers,” she said. “They didn’t enjoy working with them.”