Leadership in a time of uncertainty with health care leaders

From PPE shortages, the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing shortages and wildfires, 2020 has thrown as many curveballs as it could to the health care industry in Washington. Gary Kaplan, CEO of Virginia Mason, Ketul Patel, CEO of CHI Franciscan and Beth Johnson, CEO of Coordinated Care, joined us as the final keynote of our 2021 Washington State of Reform Virtual Health Policy Conference to talk about the lessons they have learned in this unique year.


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“It has been really fast paced, but I think one of my takeaways and learnings is the speed of change, and how rapid the environment has evolved and changed,” said Kaplan. “We as leaders, and I think all of us in the health care industry, needed to develop new skill sets related to navigating fast paced, real time change.”

This year has been one that health care leaders have had to learn to work collaboratively instead of in competition, Kaplan said. This collaboration has allowed them to share resources that were in short supply, like PPE and vaccine doses, Patel said.. 

“I’ve spent more time with competitor CEOs in the last year, than I have in the last 25 years,” Kaplan said. “From that came great relationships, and great learnings.” 

Washington’s health care industry, in particular, seemed to work collaboratively — from sharing PPE, vaccine doses and doing testing for each other when needed.

“I think that is so unique in this state,” Patel said. “Being part of Common Spirit, and seeing how other organizations have worked around the country. I don’t think that I have heard the kind of collaboration that we have here, elsewhere.”

This year has in a lot of ways been a “flashpoint” for change for the health care industry. Patel said that before the pandemic CHI Franciscan saw about 10 patients for virtual visits per week, but since the start of the pandemic they have had almost 250,000 virtual visits.

That trend has been seen nationwide, Johnson said. There has been a 1,500 percent increase in the use of telehealth nationally, and in Washington the increase has been 1,800 percent. 

“That is something that we can’t lose, from a convenience and access standpoint,” said Johnson. “Particularly from a Medicaid perspective, where there might be transportation issues, childcare issues or things that [make this] a great option for people to use.” 

Johnson wants to ensure that fair reimbursement for telehealth visits are a top priority for leaders because the service has become vital to patients and providers. Telehealth filled a hole in payments caused by the cancellation of in-person visits and elective procedures.

Staffing is the main coronavirus-induced crisis, Patel said. Hospitals are struggling with this issue around the country.

“The fact that we are a larger health system in the state, and certainly nationally, we have been able to draw resources from around the country to be able [to get health care workers] to come here,” said Patel. “But now everybody is challenged for getting travel nurses to come no matter what kind of economic value you put on bringing [them] here it’s very difficult to do.”

This issue of having a deficit of workers is going to force health systems to be creative in getting their workforce to stay with them, like creating new educational opportunities for them, said Patel. He is also concerned about staffing issues going forward.

“I don’t think that coming out of this pandemic we’re not going to see the kind of love to come into that occupation,” said Patel. “Given what it’s causing in terms of fatigue and constant issues around the pandemic. So we’re gonna have to be creative.”