Strategic Planning

Navigating through a pandemic: Digital Annual Conference session to explore how health systems are responding to COVID-19 now and over the long term

January 22, 2021 12:48 am
  • A featured session July 15 during HFMA’s Digital Annual Conference will provide insights from three health systems on short-term and long-term strategies for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The session will examine how hospitals should prepare for post-pandemic disruption, such as the expansion of telehealth.
  • A feature of the panel will be the diversity of markets represented, each with a different story to tell.   

COVID-19 has disrupted healthcare not only operationally, but also by triggering a reset and reimagining of strategic planning as the industry emerges from the pandemic.

That perspective will be explored in-depth during a featured session July 15 as part of HFMA’s Digital Annual Conference. The session, “Navigating Through a Pandemic,” will kick off the July cohort of conference activities, with presentations on financial and revenue cycle strategies taking place throughout the day and on July 17.

In “Navigating Through a Pandemic,” a panel of health system leaders from diverse markets will share their experiences. Participating will be Michele Cusack, senior vice president and CFO with Northwell Health in New York City; Jim Dietsche, CPA, the COO and CFO with Bellin Health in Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Ann Paul, DrPH, chief strategy officer with St. John Health System in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The moderator will be Chad Mulvany, FHFMA, director of healthcare finance policy, perspectives and analysis, with HFMA. In this Q&A, he previews some of the insights that attendees will be able to glean from the discussion.

Chad Mulvany, HFMA

Q: Broadly speaking, how is the pandemic forcing hospitals and health systems to rethink organizational growth strategies?

A: I think how it will impact each of them is going to depend on a number of local factors. What does their balance sheet look like coming out of this? What was the impact of COVID on the organization in terms of clinical culture and staff burnout? What was their prior strategy and how have market dynamics shifted as a result of COVID?

What about assumptions about changes in purchaser behavior post-COVID? Given the substantial increase in unemployment and the likely decrease in employer-sponsored insurance, will that make employers more aggressive in some of their efforts to either demand lower prices or push toward value-based contracts? So it’s a whole host of things.

I think it will depend specifically on the market, but as we listen to each of these organization’s stories and perspectives, we’ll be able to tease out strategies and tactics that can be applied in any setting.

Q: What should hospitals know about the increased potential for disruption of the healthcare industry post-pandemic?

A: There are a couple of different ways to think about it. As we’ve seen in the press, a number of remaining independent practices, particularly primary care physician practices, are under substantial financial duress. These organizations are now more likely going to need partners.

And I think the question is: Will it be health systems that they look to partner with, and do health systems have the wherewithal to help them, or will it be health plans? We’ve seen a number of markets where progressive health plans have been offering sort of a lifeline to these organizations in exchange for a deeper relationship on value-based models.

Another example would be telehealth. We’ve obviously seen a mass expansion of telehealth as a result of the pandemic. I think most expect the changes to be made permanent, not just by CMS but by commercial payers. What does that mean when your primary care office visits can happen from anywhere, and how does that change referral patterns?

And then there’s a lot of concern about whether or not some of the smaller hospitals and health systems will be viable as stand-alone entities. What does that do for system-to-system competitive dynamics as these organizations look for partners?

Q: The panelists come from a diverse group of markets. What’s the benefit of that for presenting a range of pandemic-related perspectives?

A: It will be interesting certainly to hear the experience of Michele Cusack from Northwell Health, given what the Greater Metro New York area has been through — they’ve kind of been through their spike and their first wave. They’re trying to get their operations back to normal. They’re trying to make up for lost volume of nonemergent services. What does that mean from a staffing level and how they’re sort of transitioning surge capacity back to normal capacity?

It will also be interesting from the perspective of Tulsa. A lot of states are currently going through a surge. I think Oklahoma sticks out as one that’s certainly seeing a rise in caseload, and the Tulsa area is no different. So it will be interesting to hear how Ann Paul and her team are working with the other hospitals and health systems in the community and also the public-health assets to try to coordinate responses and make sure that they’ve got the appropriate resources in the appropriate places, and that there’s good access.

One of the things that will be interesting about having Ann as part of this conversation is her background is in public health, and she sits on the board of the local public-health agency. So she’ll have a wealth of insight as to how the delivery system can collaborate and align with the public-health system.

And I don’t want to give Jim Dietsche short shrift because the folks at Bellin have done some very impressive things over the years. They just think about things differently and are incredibly disciplined at executing on their strategies.

Q: What will be some of the key takeaways from this session for attendees?

A: Prior to the pandemic, all health systems were going through some type of strategic transformation effort. And so really what this session is hoping to explore is how the pandemic has impacted those efforts — what lessons they’ve learned from the pandemic that they can apply to those transformation efforts to help accelerate them

We also really want to understand what organizations’ approaches to alternative payment models will be coming out of the pandemic, whether they’re more likely to embrace them or whether, because of depleted balance sheets, they might be less likely to embrace them.

And then, just speaking of balance sheets — in the moment, what types of measures are organizations taking to ensure that they’re financially resilient and have the capacity and the bandwidth to deliver care to COVID patients, but also to ramp back up when the coast is clear and address that backlog of nonemergent services?


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