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Preplanning for pandemic response

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | September 16, 2020
Business Affairs Risk Management
From the September 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Donna Drummond is the senior vice president and chief expense officer for Northwell Health. She spoke with HealthCare Business News about the economic challenges the Coronavirus has created and how her organization has worked to meet those challenges.

Northwell is located in New York, the state that was the first epicenter for the pandemic in the U.S. According to Drummond, the healthcare organization went from zero COVID patients to 3,500 in a matter of days. If one were to grasp for a silver lining, it might be that where other businesses, even some hospitals across the country – were furloughing or laying off employees, Northwell was tapping into a reserve of professionals. “We reached out to clinicians who were working in non-direct patient care,” said Drummond. “Physicians who had become informatics leaders were asked if they wanted to come back. We reached out to retired employees and they came back. We did very little furloughing. We redeployed anyone with a clinical background, and our nonclinical staff on our shared services side, as well as in our hospitals, we had working remotely.”

That isn’t to say that it’s been easy, even once you get past the fact that staff was caring for thousands of patients who had a virus we’re still learning more about today. Northwell ceased elective procedures early on and closed its ambulatory practices, keeping urgent primary care, urgent orthopedic and some other treatment options open. “We were hit very hard financially, but we had to do that to accommodate the significant influx of COVID-positive patients,” said Drummond.

The organization did take action to help mitigate the loss of revenue. Drummond said that much of the work to make the shift was already familiar to staff due to very active efforts to track and plan for natural disasters and other catastrophic events. Northwell’s location meant the organization felt the impact and gained experience from events like the September 11th attacks and Superstorm Sandy. “We unfortunately have had a lot of practice in gathering and planning our emergency preparedness,” she said.

The group met prior to having even one COVID-positive patient. Inventory was reviewed to ensure there was the necessary supply of PPE and that policy was in place for when the first patients started to arrive. Backup plans were created to guarantee staff would be able to keep themselves safe while treating patients. “We created a clinical operations team that was accessible on a moment’s notice. So if I contacted them and said I was having trouble getting isolation gowns and I wanted to use hazmat suits, our infection control leaders would evaluate them,” she said.

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