What leaders should know: Hatfield Medical Group CEO talks pandemic surge in Arizona

Healthcare leaders should consider the pandemic an opportunity to reinforce their organization's core values, said John Woolley, president and CEO of Chandler, Ariz.-based Hatfield Medical Group.

Mr. Woolley told Becker's about leading Hatfield Medical Group — an organization with nine clinics that focuses on value-based care in the greater Phoenix area — amid the pandemic.

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

Question: As a leader in an area hard-hit by the pandemic, what would you want other leaders to know to prepare for/prevent local surges?

John Woolley: Aside from obvious operational preparation such as ensuring adequate [personal protective equipment], creating contingency plans around staffing, etc., I would want leaders to look at their pandemic response as an opportunity to reinforce core values. As part of our pandemic response, we've had to change some workflows, which was easier to do in the service of something we have always sought: excellent patient outcomes. Our culture informs our workflows and those workflows, pandemic and all, will help us grow from five clinics to 50 over the next five years.

Q: How are you reassuring staff about their own safety against the virus?

JW: First, it has been critical that we have followed and relentlessly communicated federal, state and local guidelines. Second, we have listened to our teams on the ground so we can make decisions with the best and most information possible. Finally, it's about a culture that engenders trust. Delivering high-quality primary care requires teams trusting one another. Our team trusting each other and following the guidelines have been critical to putting patients first while still staying safe. Our teams on the ground have truly been heroes through this entire situation. 

Q: What has been the biggest challenge your organization has faced amid the pandemic?

JW: The biggest challenge has been uncertainty — uncertainty around changing guidelines, availability of testing and personal protective equipment, financial performance, etc., all of which has impacted our ultimate goals of staff safety and patient outcomes. We've found that the most effective way to combat this uncertainty has been through frequent, clear and radically transparent communication, across multiple channels to both team members and patients.  

Q: What are some trends you are seeing in COVID-19 cases among older patients?

JW: As a primary care group that specializes in care for adults on Medicare, we are keenly tuned in to this question. Here's what we're seeing:

  • Telehealth is not just a trend. It is here to stay and seniors are embracing it.
  • Seniors can have atypical COVID-19 symptoms. We've asked our patients to let us know of any changes in their health or comfort so we can get what they need if they are indeed COVID-19 positive.
  • COVID-19 has opened up the channels of communication about chronic but manageable conditions with our patients. They know preexisting conditions can put them at risk for COVID-19 complications and are responsive to conversations about the effects on their health.
  • Successful medical care for adults on Medicare relies on a team. The family and caregivers for some of our older patients have seen the value of dedicated insurance specialists, care coordinators and transitional care managers. Family support and appreciation for our high-touch model of care has been a bright spot amid the pandemic.

More articles on leadership:
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American Hospital Association names chair-elect designate
CEO of West Virginia health system tests positive for COVID-19

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