CEO Perspectives: The Pandemic’s Impact On Texas Health Systems

Eighteen months after COVID-19 began wreaking havoc, North Texas healthcare CEOs share how their experiences battling the disease have changed their organizations.

COVID-19 began taking hold of the nation in the spring of 2020, putting those in the healthcare sector on the front lines of the battle against it. Leaders were called upon to be more agile, innovative, and resilient. As their frontline workers fought to save lives, administrators scrambled to develop and implement policies that would protect patients—and their own personnel. The challenge tested them like nothing had before. For D CEO’s healthcare news site, I recently sat down with system leaders to get their thoughts on the last year-and-a-half—how it forever changed them, their companies, and the industry. Here’s what they had to say.

Erol Akdamar

Medical City Healthcare

“It quickly became evident that the COVID-19 pandemic 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 the 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. What we learned was that there were going to be spikes and valleys as we move through this pandemic and that we needed to be prepared to respond in both scenarios. We relied on data science and projection models to the best of our ability, and because we are part of HCA, a nationwide company. We had the visibility to see what was happening in other markets as they spiked, accelerated, and decelerated.”

Barclay Berdan

Texas Health Resources

“Back in 2014, when we had our experience with Ebola, we observed the environment moving from science, to social science, to science fiction. We knew that was going to happen with COVID-19 because we’ve seen it happen before. That helped us anticipate how we could deal with some of the lack of information or misinformation picked up in the media and on social media. We’re seeing the same kinds of things now, so we had to put in place a way to vet information and decide whether that would impact how we were caring for patients. What advice were we giving to physicians and employees as well as the public? We had a way to ingest that information daily and then, on a very rapid turnaround basis, get information out about what was truth and what wasn’t. We spent time thinking about the essential institutions for communities.”

Dr. Fred Cerise

Parkland Health and Hospital System

“The situation called us to quickly adapt in two big ways. The first was the scientific response: Trying new drugs, expedited trials, and the early authorizations to push out the drug. To go from a new disease to a vaccine within a year is just unheard of. The other part of the speed of response is how services are structured and delivered. We all had to adapt as we got information— whether it was how to cohort patients or what your PPE policy will be. What do you do beyond the walls of the hospital in terms of public health measures? What I learned when I went through Katrina was that during a crisis, there is no time to be hesitant and guarded in your response—you have got to jump in. What has impressed me is people’s willingness to do what has to be done. People get into healthcare to make a difference, and this is a defining moment in our careers.”

Chris Durovich

Children’s Health

“When the pandemic started, our organization was already focusing on continual improvement as a pediatric care provider. We have invested further in technology and processes to support our patients and team members during these challenging times. The pandemic accelerated our development of technology and its use. We are leaders in using telemedicine. Prior to the pandemic, we were already partnering with nearly 30 independent school districts and more than 220 schools across North Texas as part of our school-based telehealth programs. As COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S. and across North Texas, we were well-positioned to expand these services, which became vital at a time when many children and families were not able to come on site for care. We rapidly converted 74 clinics that normally see patients in-person to virtual appointments.”

Robert Earley

JPS Health Network

“How do you create a preliminary telehealth visit with the home- less population, or the most vulnerable populations, or a community that doesn’t have the fiber optics and capabilities that technology affords them? COVID was almost a discriminatory virus in the sense that it hit the weakest, so if you had challenges going into COVID, your chances of adverse or difficult outcomes were far greater. It amplified the challenges we have in communities where we’re not offering the healthcare that’s readily available. It made us at JPS look at issues that are corollary to healthcare, such as these people living in a food desert where they have no vehicle to transport them. COVID said, ‘OK, I’m going to show you your societal problems.’ If we don’t learn our proper lessons from COVID, then that’s a huge mistake. COVID points to the frailties of the human and in healthcare.”

Rick Merrill

Cook Children’s Health Care System

“Our organization is comprised of local board members and leadership. We don’t have to raise up the flag to someone at corporate to get approvals—we can make quick decisions when we need to. Our board gave me and our executive team carte blanche to do what we needed to do when we needed to do it: They supported us when we needed to pivot to en- sure that our patients were given the best possible care and that our employees were safe. That also was part of that decision to make sure we gave everyone full pay through this pandemic—even our 450 employed physicians, some of whom were at home for a period of time. We did not have any layoffs or staff reductions. That was a big plus for us, and it speaks volumes to our culture and who we are. When we come to work, we leave our personal selves at the door and walk into this organization.”

Jim Scoggin Jr.

Methodist Health System

“The pace, magnitude, and duration of this pandemic were and, frankly, still are, unprecedented. When I think back to the beginning of the pandemic, I am amazed by the sheer number of decisions that had to be made in almost real-time. We would make a decision and communicate that decision based upon the best information at that moment. Often, we would then get different directions from various national and local health officials requiring significant modifications, some- times the same or the next day. Everybody was doing the best they could with the information they had; however, it was all staggering, at times. This is the closest thing to a prolonged crisis that I have ever dealt with in my healthcare career, and in the case of this pandemic, I’m proud to say that the Methodist Health System family grew even closer and stronger.”


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