COVID-19 began taking hold of headlines and the economy about a year ago in Dallas. While it will forever impact almost all industries, the healthcare sector was the front line of fighting the disease and had to be more agile, innovative, and resilient than ever.
D CEO Healthcare is sitting down with health system leaders to reflect on how the last year changed them, their health systems, and the industry forever. Read on for insights, takeaways, and silver linings surrounding fighting the pandemic from Erol Akdamar, president of Medical City Healthcare.
How did your mindset change as the pandemic settled in?
“It quickly became evident that this was not a sprint. As the North Texas cases began to multiply over time, the dynamic nature of the situation was going to be more like a marathon… As we moved through the pandemic, we moved through several different phases. Initially, we were in a preparation phase. And then, as we began to see the spike, there was a response phase, and I am proud of how our team stepped up to the challenge there. The learning there was that there were going to be spikes and valleys as we move through this pandemic and that we needed to be prepared and have the ability to respond in both scenarios.”
What stands out to you as you reflect on the past year?
“The dedication of our physicians, our nurses, and our colleagues inspired me this past year. In the face of the unknowns—the uncertainty, the fear, the clinical challenges of a new disease process, almost daily, if not weekly, changes on guidance from the CDC and others—the compassion, the dedication, and the resilience of our staff in the face of that: They rose to the challenge and truly cared for the community. We’re committed to the care and improvement of human life—that’s our mission statement—and this past year looks different in terms of the challenges that were brought forward.”
How was your system uniquely well-positioned to handle the pandemic?
“We relied on data science and projection models to the best of our ability, and we are part of HCA, a nationwide company. We had the visibility to see what was happening in other markets as they spiked, accelerated, decelerated, and went down. One of the overarching themes was our ability to look across the country coast to coast and to learn from the other markets within the company. That gave us some visibility. We were on daily calls with the other system leaders in the market…we were all dynamically sharing our learnings. I was able to share learnings and innovations from across the country with my colleagues to best position the outcome of our patients in our community. The lesson I learned is that size can matter and that leveraging resources for support and solutions helps. We learned the importance of dynamic inventory management and the supply chain process. The whole industry was caught with a great need for PPE, face shields, respirators, etc. With the importance of a solid supply chain and being part of a large company, there was a depth of relationship and duplicity across many relationships that I think positioned us well.”
What were your priorities as the pandemic took hold of DFW?
“Early on, we wanted to protect our people, to keep them safe with the tools and equipment that they needed to be safe. We wanted to keep them employed, so that they didn’t have to worry financially about their personal situations in a time of uncertainty. On the safety side, it’s things like personal protective equipment and access to the learnings of the CDC and others in terms of what we should be implementing, and visitation was an issue—how we might approach that. We did not furlough any staff or lay any staff off. That was not the case for every health system in the country, and we’re really proud of the way that we protected our people.”
What did the past year teach you about how the healthcare industry is changing?
“The theme of what will change in healthcare moving forward that we’ve learned is agility. We’ll be able to move quicker as an industry and in our decision making. We’ve learned that it can be accelerated: We’ve learned that we can innovate faster. We can change the historical way care has been delivered, and change the settings that it’s been delivered to increase efficiency and improvement. And then we learn quicker to innovate and challenge historical thinking—even how we care for specific disease patterns. I think that’ll happen quicker in the future.”
How was this year for you as a leader?
“I would say this is the single most challenging year in my almost 29 years of doing hospital management. I’d also say it is probably one of the more gratifying years as well, in terms of how we rose to the challenge. Personally, it was exhausting. [My fear] was similar to the fears of others. With a large scope of responsibility and the need to respond in a way that was above and beyond to best support our associates and best support our physicians in our medical staff, to be responsive, and to do the things that the community needed us as healthcare providers to do, [COVID] affected me personally. Early on, before we got our sea legs, so to speak, the uncertainty was pretty palpable.”