Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — In an interview with Invest:, Allegheny Health Network President and CEO Cynthia Hundorfean talked about the ways in which healthcare systems around the nation have been impacted by the pandemic and how Allegheny has been managing these unprecedented times. She also talked about the valuable teamwork found within the local community and the future of virtual healthcare.
What have been the most significant lessons learned during the pandemic?
It’s been life changing. It showed our entire organization how well we could work together as a blended-health family. We made sure we all supported each other. What we were able to accomplish was amazing. Our mass vaccination campaigns were very impactful. It was tough work but being able to take part in the community, especially in those that are underserved, and provide vaccinations was life affirming. There were a lot of local companies that stepped in as well to help us accomplish things we couldn’t do on our own.
Instead of the healthcare systems within western Pennsylvania working independently, they came together for the first time to approach the pandemic collectively and help each other out so that we could all stay on the same page. Not having conflicting messages was very helpful to the community.
In terms of operations, at one point, 80% of our outpatient visits were done virtually but we have slid back down to a lesser number as all healthcare systems have. Our goal is to keep as much care available virtually as we can for the convenience of patients.
How has the demand for your services changed over the course of the pandemic?
When the pandemic hit, demand went down as many elective surgeries had to be deferred and ambulatory visits had to be stopped, which was a trend seen nationally. It’s different now than it was before. Many of the patients we are seeing are sicker because of the previously deferred care and our ICUs are extremely busy, which is the experience of most healthcare systems these days.
Have you had to make any infrastructure changes in response to the pandemic?
Structurally, we didn’t have to do too much in response to the pandemic other than maximizing the resources of all of our hospitals. We use our system to its fullest and have a transfer system that monitors all the beds in our system between hospitals. We moved a lot of things around to accommodate the constantly evolving patient and clinician needs related to the pandemic.In terms of overcoming challenges, we learned a lot from other healthcare systems and the approaches they were taking. We took advice from each other to learn and adapt effectively as we went along.
How did the pandemic change things for you in regard to healthcare costs?
Cost is definitely a concern for everyone, as it has been for years. We work with Highmark insurance, which provides us with a lot of information and a detailed perspective for our clinicians to compare costs, create commonality and reduce cost of care. We’ve been focusing on that in particular through our clinically integrated network and it has served us well. The push to go to value-based care is also a big part of our strategy for success as a blended payer & provider health organization, and that requires a focus on costs and greater efficiency of care wherever possible.
How have you been managing the labor shortage?
It has been very difficult for the most part and the shortages of nursing professionals and other critical health professionals can definitely be felt throughout healthcare. We have a multi-phased strategy to recruit and retain staff, including the two nursing schools that we own and operate; the majority of graduates stay within our system. I also think that if we can increase the volume of foreign-trained nurses coming into the United States that would help immensely. We have had success with that pipeline before but things have slowed down a lot recently.
What have been some important developments in terms of growth and partnerships?
We partner with leading academic and health care organizations like Carnegie Mellon and Johns Hopkins, as well as a lot of unconventional partners as part of our community response to the pandemic, such as MSA Safety, which provided our caregivers with industrial grade, reusable elastomeric respirator masks during the pandemic and Dick’s Sporting Goods, PNC Park and the Pittsburgh Pirates, which provided us with large spaces and staff to hold mass vaccination clinics. At this point, I believe we have done around 370,000 vaccinations through those efforts. Everyone has stepped up to accomplish a common goal.
What are your goals for the future?
There is going to be a greater demand for convenient patient care. We’re going to push as much as we can to our patients’ homes or into their communities. We’re focusing on the people who need care but don’t know where or how to receive it, particularly those in marginalized and underserved communities. We are also focused on social determinants of health and other factors that contribute to an individual’s overall health and wellness.This kind of healthcare model is going to help many people find the right assistance and services they need to be their best.
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