CEOs reveal biggest pandemic surprises, inspirations

Early last year, hospitals and health systems began battling COVID-19 as cases spread across the country. Now, about a year later, they continue to face many challenges in treating coronavirus patients and handling the financial effects of the pandemic and healthcare worker exhaustion. 

Through it all, there have been some inspiring moments from communities and staff, as well as a brighter light on healthcare inequities and disparities, CEOs told Becker's Hospital Review.

Here, hospital and health system CEOs share their biggest surprises or inspirations during the public health crisis. 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Lloyd Dean. CEO of CommonSpirit Health (Chicago): When the number of people affected by COVID-19 started to grow rapidly last spring, I knew that our organization had tens of thousands of incredible people ready to step up and take care of everyone who needed care. However, when I look back now over these months, I am absolutely in awe of them. Day after day, no matter how difficult, no matter how devastating, no matter how dire, they serve our communities, they deliver on our mission of healing. Even now, while other health systems report widespread vaccine hesitancy among their staff, our nurses, respiratory therapists and other healthcare professionals are proving once again they are different. In fact, so many of our nurses and respiratory therapists and others say they are getting the vaccine because they know they are role models for others. Indeed, they are role models for all of us.  

Audrey Gregory, PhD, RN. CEO of Detroit Medical Center: Our patients, the people in the communities we serve, and our community partners have always been committed to the Detroit Medical Center. However, during this pandemic, the level to which they have demonstrated that commitment was one that I had not anticipated. Whether it was helping a neighbor in need; praying for our team members; donating laptops so patients could connect with loved ones in the hospital when visitations were not possible; ramping up production of critical PPE, or providing food to front-line workers, our community stood strong and displayed a caring spirit that has been inspiring. As we worked through the challenges of the pandemic, the Detroit community made it clear to the Detroit Medical Center that we were not alone in this fight. 

Sarah Krevans. President and CEO of Sutter Health (Sacramento, Calif.): The pandemic exposed how much public health influences everything in our society — the health and well-being of people and families, public safety and even our local, regional and national economies. 

A robust public health infrastructure is critical to ensuring that our nation has an organized and proactive response to slow and fight the development of disease. Sutter knows a lot about the value of an organized response to a crisis. We've faced numerous wildfires and other emergencies over the past several years, so when the pandemic hit, we were ready to quickly mobilize all parts of our integrated network and initiate a coordinated response to COVID-19 to protect our patients, communities and staff.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority communities also highlighted what has been a systemic issue of inequity in healthcare in this country. While Sutter has been working for many years to address health equity, all of us within healthcare — providers, insurance companies, policymakers and regulators — must find better ways to provide more equitable outcomes for all and overcome injustices in the nation's healthcare system.

This article was updated at 10:14 a.m. CT on Jan. 28.


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