Incoming President Delivering Address to Hometown Crowd

Incoming AHIMA Board President Cassi Birnbaum, MS, RHIA, CPHQ, FAHIMA, is delighted to be delivering her presidential address tomorrow in her hometown of San Diego.

“It really is special. My family all lives in San Diego now and my daughter will be flying in from New York. I have cousins that are going to be attending and an elderly aunt so it will be really nice,” Birnbaum said.

Midwestern Roots

San Diego has been Birnbaum’s home since 1979 when she came to California from the Midwest to pursue her health information management (HIM) career. Born and raised in Des Moines, IA, Birnbaum received her RHIA from the University of Kansas. At KU, she was in the first graduating class that took the test for ICD-9-CM.

But Birnbaum’s appreciation for all things healthcare also originated in Des Moines, where her aunt helped her get her first job at a local hospital while in high school. It was there that Birnbaum worked as unit secretary and then in the medical records department through her teen years and during college breaks.

After college, Birnbaum found an abundance of HIM opportunities in San Diego, so she made the move west. For 15 years she worked at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, serving as the director of health information, clinical documentation improvement, and as chief privacy officer. She joined PEAK Health Solutions in 2011, where she serves as the senior vice president of HIM and consulting. Birnbaum also previously served as the director of quality resource management at Scripps Health and Palomar/Pomerado Health System.

Additionally, she has served as an adjunct faculty member at San Diego Mesa College since 1993, where she has taught quality management courses and implemented the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT Electronic Health Record Workforce curriculum program.

Volunteering to Make a Difference

Birnbaum’s professional growth has always been “wrapped around my volunteer role and the importance of pushing our key initiatives and making sure that we raise the profile of our members and volunteers,” Birnbaum said. This, she feels, is the best way “to gain influence and really make a difference.”

She is as passionate about her volunteering positions as she is her day job. Prior to being voted AHIMA’s president/chair-elect, Birnbaum has held other prestigious volunteer roles, including her service as an AHIMA board director from 2009 to 2012.

She is a past president of the California Health Information Association (AHIMA’s California component state association), and received its Distinguished Member Award in 2009. She was the co-chair of the CCHIT Privacy and Compliance Workgroup, and co-chair of the California Healthcare Association’s Health Care Informatics and Information Technology Group.

Birnbaum said she enjoys being able to lead—as opposed to follow—through these leadership roles and said she always works to ensure HIM is being represented as the healthcare industry evolves.

The demands of being AHIMA’s president are considerable, especially for someone with a full-time job and a family. Although Birnbaum has an empty nest at home—she and her husband Dean have two adult children, Eric and Elyse—she’s as busy as ever. Although her husband is a pilot for UPS, she jokes that she spends more time on a plane than he does.

Birnbaum says her colleagues and clients at PEAK understand the importance of her role with AHIMA and the time she’ll be devoting to it.

“When I’m at meetings and out of the office, everyone really understands my role and involvement,” she says. “The clients that I’m dealing with are our members. They’ve been very understanding of the importance of AHIMA, so it’s really the best of both worlds.”

Making HIM Personal

Birnbaum’s convention speech will discuss her role in establishing an endowed research scholarship in memory of her brother, Joel Nagorner, with the goal of supporting evidence-based research in HIM. Nagorner died four years ago after a 20-year battle with cancer. Nagorner shared Birnbaum’s frustrations with trying to collect and keep track of crucial medical and medication records as they both navigated systems that were not interoperable.

AHIMA’s efforts to keep the final ICD-10-CM/PCS implementation date on track for October 1, 2015 is also personal for Birnbaum. Her son, Eric, who is working toward a career in HIM himself, hit a snag in his career when preparing for an AHIMA coding credential. Eric was getting ready to take the ICD-10-based test, studying up on the new code set, when the delay was announced this year.

Birnbaum looks forward to tackling ICD-10 advocacy in the year ahead.

“I’d like to make sure I’m doing everything within our control and sphere of influence to try to be successful” in keeping the go-live date for ICD-10 on track, she said. “We cannot be successful with our other initiatives until we make that transition.”


Catch up on the news and get insights from AHIMA’s 86th annual Convention and Exhibit held September 27-October 2 in San Diego, CA. For a complete list of event coverage on the Journal of AHIMA website, click here.


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