The Richard L. Clarke Board of Directors Award typically is bestowed for contributions to healthcare finance, but the circumstances of the last 20 months spurred the HFMA Board to go in a different direction with its choice this year.
During a ceremony at its 2021 Annual Conference, HFMA presented the Richard L. Clarke Board of Directors Award to frontline healthcare workers. A team from Allina Health in Minneapolis, site of the conference, accepted the honor Tuesday, Nov. 9 on behalf of frontline healthcare staff nationwide.
Although the Clarke Award recognizes individuals who make significant, positive contributions to healthcare finance or the financing of healthcare services, this year’s honor was meant as a salute to the immense sacrifice and the overall contribution to healthcare of frontline workers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The recipient group encompasses a wide range of healthcare team members, including physicians, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, bedside nurses, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, dietitians, environmental services personnel and many more, according to an HFMA news release.
“For nearly two years now, our frontline healthcare workers have been committed and courageous in leading the fight against an enemy that is more prevalent and deadly than any we’ve seen in a lifetime,” Aaron Crane, FHFMA, CPA, MHA, Chair-Elect of HFMA and executive vice president of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, said during the ceremony.
“While most of us try to stay out of the virus’ way, they face it head-on — day in and day out — in order to provide care and comfort for their patients.”
A period of massive adjustments
Among the team accepting the honor was Clara Zamorano, MD, a critical care intensivist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, part of the Allina system.
“Formerly, we had a very manageable risk with bloodborne pathogens, etc., that we knew how to deal with,” Zamorano said. “With COVID, we've had new uncertainty, especially [when] the pandemic began. We didn't know much in the beginning about transmission [or] virulence, but now we've been able to mitigate this risk and live with it on a daily basis. We’ve become accustomed to this risk.”
Clinical roles have become more complex.
“Clinicians have had to lead the way in becoming stewards of our resources, from PPE to patient beds and resources such as ventilators and other tools that we use to treat patients,” Zamorano said. “Critical care teams across Allina have helped shape policies and procedures surrounding the use of PPE, scarce medication and other scarce resources.
“We have had to become safety role models within our own system and within our lives in the community. We have to wear masks, exhibit good social distancing and get vaccinated. Our teams look to us for guidance on how to gauge the importance of adhering to recommendations.”
Other members of the team on hand to accept the award spoke about the health system’s intensive response to shortages of crucial gear and equipment and its efforts to conduct large-scale community outreach during the vaccination phase.
“I was able to partner closely with folks across the system for us to really be able to bring COVID vaccines to communities that typically are an afterthought,” said Vivian Anugwom, manager of health equity and inclusion with Allina.
Finance has played a vital support role in helping clinical teams meet daunting new challenges.
Nicholas Mendyka, Allina’s vice president for system finance operations, said his team’s responsibilities in planning, financial oversight and internal controls had to change drastically.
“Talk about an identity crisis,” he said. “In the last 18 months during the COVID 19 pandemic, each of those responsibilities were challenged in ways that we've never seen before. Planning transitioned from primarily a yearly activity to a weekly activity, with cross-functional teams mobilizing daily to tackle our most critical and urgent challenges to care delivery. Almost overnight, our performance expectations for the year became irrelevant.”
Lisa Shannon, Allina’s president and COO, said the true achievement of frontline healthcare workers will be even more apparent in hindsight: “There is something from this that we are all going to look back on and say, ‘Not only did we do it, but we did it with class, in a way that is going to propel us into the future.’”