A post-pandemic future: 6 hospital leaders envision how their roles may change

Erin Asprec, executive vice president and COO of Memorial Hermann Health System, said her health system's focus for once the COVID-19 public health emergency ends centers on recruiting, retaining and reenergizing staff and enhancing patients' experiences.

Ms. Asprec and five other hospital and health system leaders shared their insights with Becker's via email in February on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their role and what they will focus on when the virus is no longer an acute crisis.  

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length. They are presented alphabetically.

Question: What will the new normal look like for your role post-pandemic?

Erin Asprec. Executive Vice President and COO of Memorial Hermann Health System (Houston). As we look to a future in which we are no longer in a pandemic, but rather COVID-19 has become endemic, we will focus on retention and re-recruitment of staff who left during the pandemic (an issue I imagine most hospitals will need to address). We will also engage programs to help refocus and reenergize our staff on the fundamentals of providing safe, caring, personalized and efficient services to our patients, be it in times of crisis or otherwise. Finally, we will continue to execute on our strategic priorities, integrating the many lessons learned during the pandemic. These include a focus on physician alignment and supporting a network of high-quality physicians, as well as boosting our capability to take better care of our patients across the continuum. We are creating and executing on an integrated digital experience and an ideal consumer experience, all while working to deliver on our promise to provide value, emphasizing outcomes and experience at a reasonable cost through our service line framework. And, as always, we continue the work to achieve our vision of creating healthier communities, with an expanded emphasis on addressing social determinants of health.

Brett Behan. COO of Banner Baywood Medical Center and Banner Heart Hospital (Mesa, Ariz.). The role of hospital executives will continue to be challenged as we shift into the endemic phase of COVID-19. To succeed, we will need to continue to pivot from some pre-pandemic norms. A top priority will be optimizing our workforce as we face significant shortages across healthcare professions. We must work to eliminate unnecessary tasks and be intentional about our approach to caring for the community through enhanced care delivery models. We will need to leverage the use of technology like telemedicine to ensure timely care, as we work to alleviate backlogs and see how we can further integrate technology into patient care. This technology will help us understand how the digital revolution for patients will continue to expand with how they interact with their own care. We have seen a quicker shift toward ambulatory care and need to have strong partnerships between hospitals and ambulatory care settings to create capacity and ensure timely care. As a COO, we will continue to ensure that our facilities have strong operational performance while recognizing we can also strategize differently, while managing high costs and limited capital. Typically, healthcare has taken a while to implement change; however, this pandemic has taught us that rapid cycle improvement can be rapid and successful. Our new normal post-pandemic will require us to think differently, work differently and focus on these new priorities. 

Ian Dunn, MD. Chief Physician Executive for OU Health and president of OU Health Partners (Oklahoma City). We will look back on COVID with great humility and sadness — but an incontrovertible truth is that part of what hopefully will be its epitaph is that it's been an accelerant in the evolution of our healthcare systems. As executives, it is our job to master this topography and to prioritize and operationalize those advances in the "new normal," which we feel will advance the care of our patients. As has been well said in our forums, this means mastering the technological means of healthcare delivery like virtual care and remote patient monitoring; being very creative about the derivation of new forms of care delivery in the hospital that are affordable but still patient centered; but also, being extremely attuned to the invisible emotional wounds our caregivers bear in the wake of COVID that in many cases may mean a new flexibility around hybrid work environments and wellness. The inclusion of all staff and learners in these initiatives has never been more important.

Charles Miceli. Network Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer for the University of Vermont Health Network (Burlington). The new normal requires establishment and recognizes dependence on risk management of supply chain by senior leadership, including the boards of directors. There is an industry cultural sea change with the establishment of resiliency collaboratives with suppliers, providers and [group purchasing organizations]. Increased development of public/private relationships including and spanning [HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response], state governments, other health systems and emergency management leaders is occurring and is beneficial to the healthcare supply chain ecosystem.

Christopher O'Connor. President of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health. The post-pandemic environment will put enormous stress on the healthcare field. With significant challenges in our workforce and inflationary pressures that we haven't seen in 40 years, the operational demand will be extraordinary. The imperative to innovate and find new and more efficient ways to do our work will be essential. One example of this innovation, spotlighted by the pandemic, has been the enormous popularity and effectiveness of telehealth and telemedicine. As Yale New Haven Health emerges stronger than before, that collaborative synergy and what else lies ahead will bring us closer together not only as a healthcare provider, but closer to all we treat and care for.

Mark Wallace. President and CEO of Texas Children's Hospital (Houston). As the healthcare industry enters a post-pandemic world, we have to think differently than we ever have before. We must remain dynamic and ensure we don't lose sight of our vision with a renewed focus on long-term viability. We need to look past short-term strategies and invest in all of the components that have made us who we are and that will set us up for success. By investing in our mission, our people and our culture, we will in turn invest in the patients and families we serve — not just tomorrow, but for years to come. As the nation's largest pediatric and women's hospital, it is Texas Children's responsibility to reach, create and strive for what is ahead.

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