Innovation and adaptation: What this could mean for education post-pandemic

Innovation and adaptation: What this could mean for education post-pandemic

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read September 2020 — The pandemic forced educational institutions to pivot all of their operations to a completely virtual landscape. Many university leaders were planning on returning to normalcy at some point in the upcoming months, but that looks increasingly unlikely. The keys to a successful academic future are in the hands of those educators who are willing to adapt and use innovative technology to their advantage. 

For the majority of universities the rapid transition into an entirely digital world came as a rude awakening. It showed just how fragile the framework of higher education could be without a contingency plan in place. Nevertheless, within days institutions like Drexel University and  Rowan University worked tirelessly to develop new strategies that would not only keep them afloat but would help unify the educational community.  

“Between the financial impact of COVID, the demographic changes, the situation in terms of bringing international students here, and with so many constraints on the system … institutions are really going to have to step back and begin to rethink their model because the sector is not going to be spared continued disruption going forward,” John Fry, president of Drexel University, told DrexelNOW. “More than ever, partnerships — or joint ventures, or mergers, or whatever you want to call them — are the way to go. I think the sector is going to see an almost healthcare system-like response to what’s going on. Healthcare started on its own consolidation and rethinking its model decades ago and it’s obviously still in the middle of it. I think it’s time for higher ed to go through the same types of dynamic changes. I think you’re going to see fewer institutions. I think you’re going to see more networks of institutions. I think you’ll see more hybrid, more online. Hopefully we keep face to face, but that’s just part of what we do.

As Fry mentioned, in the years to come, almost the entirety of higher education’s traditional model could be shifted, not only the logistics concerning profitability but also the student’s overall learning experience. Despite implementations caused by COVID-19, it seems as if a new institutional network was inevitable. Even before the recent pandemic, consumers have been transitioning into the digital realm. Students and parents had started craving alternative options for higher education that involve more flexibility, innovative delivery models and seamless transitions between face to face lectures and online learning. 

Universities are starting to require students to download applications like the DUO, a two-factor authentication system, that helps with the onboarding process. The software works with third-party technology providers to verify a student’s identity. Biometric tools, commonly used by financial technology corporations, are also gaining popularity in this space. “New users will now be asked to take selfies before uploading them to the (UK fintech company) Curve platform alongside pictures of their driver’s license, passport or other official ID documents. FinTech will then use its partner’s biometric capabilities to compare the two images and verify potential customers’ identities,” according to PYMNTS, a B2B platform for the payments industry. 

During this period of evolution, sound insights and collaboration between the public and university leaders will be pivotal for the education sector’s success. To learn more about the future of education in South Jersey, register now for the Invest:South Jersey 2020 Virtual Launch Conference. The conference takes place on Oct. 8 at 11:30 a.m. The virtual conference will feature two robust panels, including “Innovation and adaptation: What this could mean for education post-pandemic,” moderated by Marlene Asselta, president of Southern New Jersey Development Council, and featuring Frederick Keating, president of Rowan College of South Jersey, Monica Adya, president of Rutgers School of Business at Camden, and Barbara Gaba, president of Atlantic Cape Community College. 

To learn more, visit:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_z34pLBUwQlSCObV80dyE7w

Students face remote learning in return to school

Students face remote learning in return to school

By: Beatrice Silva

3 min read August 2020 — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so does the number of universities keeping their physical doors shut this school year. The University of Notre Dame Princeton University, and Rutgers-Camden Business School are just some of the institutes that announced their decision to go fully online. 

Just as businesses needed to pivot during the pandemic and subsequent recession, educational institutions also had to find a way to adapt. “It is an unprecedented event that took us all by surprise,” Dean Monica Adya of Rutgers-Camden Business School told Invest: South Jersey. “We established a COVID-19 task force that includes all of my cabinet members, to look at how to proceed. One of the first things we did was to look at our emergency management plan that tackles infectious diseases, among other things. We focused on operational and communication measures. The former is relative to academic and business continuity. As Gov. (Phil) Murphy enacted the executive order stating that no one was to come to campus, we moved to an online format for all classes. Fortunately, several of our programs were already entirely online. Many of our students were already taking a combination of online and in-class programs, making them familiar with the online platform. We are sparing no resources or action plans to make sure our students get through this semester. We are also launching discussions about recovery, how we are going to help people who are out of work to get back into the workforce, and what specific programs and certificates they will require for that to happen in the shortest of terms.” 

Most students experienced a taste of distant learning back in April when schools were forced to close after lockdowns were issued across the United States. However, that doesn’t make it any easier for undergraduates, postgraduates, and faculty members to pick up where they left off. “We had some challenges on the student side because many students, although we think of them as a digital generation, had difficulty making the switch to online learning.  We’ve worked through much of this but it took some time,” Mike Mittelman, president of Salus University, told Invest: Philadelphia.

Innovation and technology play a huge role in how higher education continues to operate. Virtual learning experiences have replaced physical classrooms and face to face lectures. The new format has left some students feeling overwhelmed and quite frankly ripped off. At Rutgers University, more than 30,000 people have signed a petition started in July calling for an elimination of fees and a 20 percent tuition cut, according to The New York Times

Student housing is another topic of debate in the education community. While some institutional leaders don’t believe it’s safe, others argue that students don’t have anywhere else to go.  Schools, like The University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, are allowing a limited number of students back on their grounds but under strict conditions. Most schools that are letting students live in dorm rooms or attend in-person classes are actively enforcing social distancing, face masks and have provided COVID-19 tests. At Drexel University, international students or students who are experiencing financial hardships will be the only ones allowed to live on campus. 

Along with the many challenges the pandemic caused, it also created new opportunities. COVID-19 pushed educational institutions out of their comfort zones. To stay in business, universities adapted to new technologies and even formed a few alliances along the way. “This whole industry has shifted very, very quickly, so that shows that there’s flexibility, it shows that there’s resilience,” John Fry, president of Drexel University, told the Philadelphia Business Journal. “Those adaptations are incredibly valuable assets and institutions should hold on to that and not say, ‘Once this is over, we can go back to the way it was.’ Going back to the way it was, I think, is not a good idea.” 

South Jersey, Philly Industrial real estate a hotbed for investors

South Jersey, Philly Industrial real estate a hotbed for investors

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read August 2020 — Even before the pandemic, billions of consumers had already been shopping on e-commerce sites like Amazon for years. But the pandemic is accelerating the platform’s growth as more and more people pivot away from physical stores. Shoppers say that there is something extremely gratifying about clicking a button and having a product delivered to their door the very next day. That’s music to the ears of those in the industrial real estate segment, as companies see an increasing need for distribution space.

When COVID-19 started to rapidly spread around the world, digital buying was no longer just a trend but a necessity. U.S. online sales grew 76% in June, reaching $73.2 billion that month, according to Digital Commerce 360. As a result, industrial real estate became even more of a hotbed for investment. Warehouses and distribution centers provide companies like Walmart and Target the local space they need to get purchase orders out to their customers quickly and efficiently.

To offer consumers fast shipping, a large majority of the industrial real estate is located near key transportation hubs like seaports, highways, railroads and airports. That’s one of the reasons why a handful of out-of-state investors like Peter Lewis, president and founder of Coastal Realty LLC, have started building their industrial portfolios in the Northeast. Lewis explained to the Philadelphia Business Journal why his firm has increased their industrial properties in South Jersey: “These middle-market companies are going to start transitioning to becoming much more sophisticated online,” he said. “They have to. What that means is they’re going to require more warehousing, which is what our property offers. I continue to see a real demand for warehousing in densely populated areas. It’s going to be all the way from the 4 million-square-foot guys to the 2,500-square-foot guys,” said Lewis. Coastal Realty recently teamed up with Walton Street Capital to buy a 32-building industrial portfolio in Pennsauken. 

 

South Jersey and Philadelphia are lucrative areas because of their unique placement between Washington and New York. “The overall demand for warehouse space has continued to remain strong, especially with the uptick in e-commerce and the expectation by the consumer to have goods in their hands as quickly as possible. When Amazon Prime was introduced, two days for delivery seemed fast and quickly became the norm. We are now finding that next-day delivery, if not same-day delivery, is an integral part of the supply chain that is driving a lot of companies to look for warehouse space in South Jersey. The new speculative and build-to-suit development in our market has been mostly in the northern parts of Burlington County and the southern parts of Gloucester County,” Ian Richman, senior managing director of Southern New Jersey Colliers International, told Invest: South Jersey 2020. 

As long as there is a continued increase in consumer spending, the demand for retail space and other commercial activities like distribution centers, in theory, should rise. 

To learn more, visit: 

https://www2.colliers.com/en

Startup ecosystem has a new Silicon Valley: Philadelphia

Startup ecosystem has a new Silicon Valley: Philadelphia

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read July 2020The term “startup” may bring to mind a group of motivated mid-20-year-olds huddled together in a high-tech office somewhere in Silicon Valley. However, the southern part of San Francisco Bay is no longer the only hotspot for young, ambitious people. The Philadelphia Business Journal recently reported that Philadelphia has one of the top emerging startup ecosystems in the United States, according to a new study from the Startup Genome. Although startups are often small enterprises, the role they play in economic growth is extensive. With new entrepreneurs come new ideas, new innovations and new competition for bigger corporations. 

 

While all startups have the ability to transform into a big business, there are many differences between the two. Along with having different visions for growth and sustainability, startups also tend to have a unique relationship with funding. Unlike a traditional business, startups often rely on capital from outside investors or venture capital firms. Running out of money is the second-most common reason for a startup’s failure. An estimated 29% of startups fold because they ran out of cash, according to CB Insights. With that being said, more and more entrepreneurs are opening up shop in Philadelphia because it has a diverse population, an urban atmosphere and most importantly affordable rents. 

“People who do tech startups in Philly still feel that giddy sense of wonder and magic that comes from starting something totally new. We don’t take it for granted. We still feel lucky and grateful to be doing what we’re doing. We’re scrappy. Philly tech is the way I imagine Silicon Valley must have been before the personal computer boom, the first internet boom, and the second internet boom made startup success feel like a foregone conclusion. In the Valley, most employees don’t remember those days. In America, we’re used to thinking of the East as the past and the West as the future. But when it comes to tech, the tables are turned. The Valley is experienced and satisfied. Philly is young and hungry,” Michael Idinopulos, a social business pioneer, wrote in a blog originally for PeopleLinx, now FRONTLINE Selling, and reposted on Robin Hood Ventures

Startups and small businesses are also a crucial part of Philadelphia’s economy. Startups have been proven to boost employment patterns, which leads to more job opportunities. In 2019, small businesses created 57,377 net jobs. Firms employing fewer than 20 employees experienced the largest gains, adding 34,585 jobs, according to Pennsylvania Small Business Economic Profile. Other than economic growth, startups also tend to revolutionize technology. Exyn Technologies, founded in 2014 by Nader Elm, is just one of the many startups using research to create technology designed to keep more people out of harm’s way. Exyn Technologies pioneers autonomous aerial robot systems to improve operational efficiencies and safety for data gathering in underground mining. 

“I think it is interesting as we are watching the use of drones following the emergence of COVID-19. A lot of companies have started testing and demonstrating the capability of using drones to disinfect public areas. I think that is super relevant and very important not only for this pandemic, but it also shows how the industry at large is adopting autonomous tech in all kinds of environments. Also, it is fascinating to think about autonomous inspections and data collection for heavy industry,” Joe Snodgrass, field engineer at Exyn Technologies, told My Dear Drone. 

 

A deeper look into how Philadelphia’s economy is recovering

A deeper look into how Philadelphia’s economy is recovering

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read – Philadelphia is the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the United States. Its diverse population, affordable rents and urban atmosphere make it an ideal location for entrepreneurs to open up shop. So much so, that small businesses make up 99.7% of its economy, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. The city was on a strong growth course before COVID-19. However, that all came tumbling down when all non-essential businesses were ordered to shut down in Pennsylvania on March 19. 

 

In an effort to limit the damage to the national economy, the federal government rolled out the Coronavirus Aid and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27. Part of the act, a loan called the Paycheck Protection Program, has played a particularly important role in Philadelphia’s recovery. The program set aside $349 billion for small business loans intended to help them stay afloat and keep their people employed during the pandemic. Within weeks, the federal aid was exhausted and small businesses were once again left with uncertainty. A second glimmer of economic hope presented itself  when Gov. Tom Wolf allowed Philadelphia to transition into the yellow phase of his recovery plan on June 5. Stay-at-home orders were lifted and in-person retail was again allowed. Despite rising coronavirus cases, most businesses were eager to open their doors under regulated CDC guidelines. 

Two weeks into Philadelphia’s reopening a new obstacle landed in the city’s lap. Some businesses experienced looting and vandalism due to nationwide protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nine minutes. On June 11, Philadelphia announced a new grant and loan program for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 shutdown and damages from recent lootings. The Restart PHl Loan Fund from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. will be primarily for minority-owned businesses in low-income areas. The $3 million in loans to small businesses can cover costs for things like inventory, technology, staffing and employee training. Philadelphia also announced a $1.4 million “Restore and Reopen Program,” which will provide grants to independently-owned businesses that have suffered from property damage.

“These efforts are intended to provide equitable and immediate relief to ensure our small businesses can sustain themselves and return in a manner that allows them to thrive,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement. 

It may be too early to tell how the region’s economy will fare as it heads into a post-COVID-19 landscape. However, there is one sector that is expected to thrive as a result of all of this. Now more than ever before technology has proven to be a vital aspect of everyday life. One key advantage the industry has is the ability to have its employees work remotely, unlike retail and food services. The tech sector could even play an essential role in igniting the reconstruction of the local economy, according to the Greater Philadelphia Economy League.

 

Spotlight On: Rodger Levenson, Chairman, President & CEO, WSFS Bank

Spotlight On: Rodger Levenson, Chairman, President & CEO, WSFS Bank

By: Max Crampton Thomas

2 min read June 2020 — For 188 years, WSFS has served its community by staying true to its values and managing for the long term.  Ultimately, the true measure of the value of any company is how it responds during periods of adversity. WSFS Bank moved to a work from home and drive-through model during the COVID 19 pandemic to continue supporting its customers. It also involved itself deeply in federal aid programs, such as the PPP for small businesses, while looking forward to a reactivating economy, according to CEO Rodger Levenson in an interview with Invest:.

What have the last 12 months been like for WSFS in the Philadelphia region?

In March of 2019, we closed the acquisition of Beneficial Bank, which was a huge milestone for us. It marked our significant entry into the Philadelphia border region. This was followed by a well-done, award-winning marketing campaign that introduced the WSFS brand to the community in a thought-provoking way, sharing our nickname, which was really consistent with the way that Philadelphians view banks and where it is very hard to differentiate yourself.

 

We married all that with Beneficial and what they brought to the community. We waited until six months after the close to do the systems and branding conversion because we thought it was important to allow ourselves some time to get customers, associates and the community acclimated to our name and become familiar with us. We thought that because of the size of this market, there was value in taking some time.

 

At the same time, and as part of the Beneficial combination, part of the strategic rationale was to start in a significant way to really deal with the trend in banking over the last few years, which is this shift away from physical delivery channels like branches and more into digital channels – a trend that has been accelerated by the current environment. We used cost savings to invest heavily in our technology overhaul. Not that we had an offering that was lagging behind our competitors, but we saw the need to move faster than we had in the past.

 

What has been the bank’s strategy to adapt to the situation stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The company has done well. We are serving our customers, we are supporting each other, we are supporting the community. Like everybody else, we’ve had some challenges through this environment, but I would tell you that we are managing through this very well. We are really pleased at how the company pivoted and adjusted how we do things.

 

I think this is a by-product or a combination of some good planning resulting from our business continuity plans. We clearly had not planned for an extended scenario or a pandemic, but we had plans in place, we had groups that had done offsite, remote workdays and things like that to be prepared. When we made the decision on March 16, to work from home, it was certainly an adjustment, but we weren’t starting from scratch.

 

On the retail office side, it was not a hard decision to go to drive-thru only. We saw that it was clear that we were dealing with a major health situation and the safety and well-being of our customers and associates; that was our No. 1 priority. We made the call and we went from 90 branches to 72, which were those that had drive-thru capabilities. After a few weeks of that, seeing our customers’ increased use of different channels like mobile, and to keep our associates safe, we adjusted even that footprint. We put together a different model in which our associates who were working at those locations, instead of working a five-day week, started working on four-day on, four-day off teams.

 

How involved is the bank in federal aid initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)?

We were really pleased to be a participant in the PPP program from the Small Business Administration and serve our customers. When the dust settles from this program, we will have processed just about 5,000 loans and just a little bit under a billion dollars. 

 

At the end of the day, that’s almost a billion dollars that we put into the regional economy. If you look at the spreadsheets and the people who received those loans, many were $10,000 to $25,000. These were real people who were in need, who did not have the resources that other people had. Hopefully, a lot of it will be forgiven. We did that whole loan program with everybody working from home and more than 200 associates working seven days a week.

 

What role will the bank, and the sector in general, play in reactivating the economy?

I think the banking community is really doing everything possible to support our customers and get them through this really difficult stage to bridge them into what hopefully will be the opening up and recovery in the second half of the year.

 

As things move forward and we open up our ability to continue to support those customers with additional lending requests, among others, we are going to do everything we can to support them and the community. We moved $3 million into the WSFS Foundation, which supports nonprofits in the region, and we did that because so many of those nonprofits are struggling right now. I think that is the beauty of the community banking model.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.wsfsbank.com/

Spotlight On: John Lawrence, President, Mid-Atlantic Territory at Aetna, a CVS Health Company

Spotlight On: John Lawrence, President, Mid-Atlantic Territory at Aetna, a CVS Health Company

By: Max Crampton Thomas

2 min read June 2020 —  Founded in 1853, Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified healthcare benefits companies, serving an estimated 46.7 million people. President of the Mid-Atlantic Territory John Lawrence spoke with Invest: about the company’s role in the battle against COVID-19.

How is Aetna assisting individuals, employers and providers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? 

As part of CVS Health, we have a presence in communities across the country and interact with one in three Americans every year. When facing a health crisis like COVID-19, we’re uniquely positioned to understand where the needs are and how to address them. To support our members, we’ve waived the cost-sharing for testing and in-patient treatment of COVID-19, offering no-cost telemedicine visits until June 4, waived charges for CVS Pharmacy home delivery of medications; and waived cost-sharing for all primary care visits for Aetna Medicare members. 

Similarly, for plan sponsors, we’ve introduced an Employee Communications Toolkit that they can use to communicate the support available to their employees; offered a Special Enrollment Period Opportunity for insured plans; and developed a cost modeling calculator to help self-funded customers estimate the cost impacts of COVID-19. For providers, we’ve taken numerous actions to help reduce the administrative burden. 

 

What role will Aetna play as the state looks to slowly reopen its economy? 

Dramatically increasing the frequency and efficiency of testing to help slow the spread of the virus is critical for responsibly reopening the economy when experts tell us it’s safe. We operate large-scale COVID-19 rapid test sites in five states, which were opened in a matter of weeks through partnerships with the Department of Health and Human Services and governors in Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island. Most of the parking lot sites can accommodate up to 1,000 tests per day using the Abbot ID NOW COVID-19 test which provides immediate results. Since May, we’ve been offering self-swab tests at select CVS Pharmacy locations in parking lots or at drive-thru windows.

 

What accommodations to your network of primary care doctors and specialists did you have to make to handle the influx of patients due to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

 

For primary care doctors and specialists in our network the issue was twofold: staying in touch with their patients and doing so in a way that kept them and their patients safe. Telemedicine was the obvious answer, and we assisted our physicians in adopting or expanding their ability to offer telemedicine services. To further encourage the use of telemedicine, we waived co-payments for all virtual encounters. This included services for members in high-deductible plans, anticipating the guidance subsequently received from the Treasury Department. We also added additional payment codes and rates to reimburse our network doctors at the same rate for in-person and virtual visits.

 

Recognizing that some of our community of healthcare providers and clinicians are facing financial and administrative strain throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we took a series of additional actions to allow them to focus on delivering high-quality patient care. These actions include a commitment to prompt and accurate claim payments; helping hospitals prioritize COVID-19 patients; enabling greater capacity with healthcare providers; ensuring full provider reimbursements for waived member cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and treatment; and providing behavioral health support. 

 

What are your initiatives to address urgent health and safety needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in communities across Philadelphia? 

 

The less visible but escalating mental and emotional crisis is the “second curve” of the pandemic, and CVS Health is proactively addressing this urgent crisis through the launch of a mental well-being program. So many people are dealing with the physical effects and the mental trauma, stress, fear, anxiety and isolation as a result of the pandemic. On May 4, CVS Health launched a nationwide effort and committed $1 million in charitable support to help address those realities and we’re connecting people with no cost mental well-being resources and counseling services. In the first phase of the program, we’re particularly focused on healthcare workers, essential workers and seniors. 

 

When facing a health crisis like COVID-19, we’re always working to understand where the needs are and how to best address them. We are continuing to reinforce the importance of social distancing and proper hand-washing measures especially as local communities return to business as usual. Through all of our COVID-related efforts, our goal is to help slow the spread of the virus and save lives. 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

 

https://www.aetna.com/

Spotlight On: John Fry, President, Drexel University

Spotlight On: John Fry, President, Drexel University

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read April 2020 — As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the United States, educational institutions suddenly were faced with the need to move online. Drexel University President John Fry outlines his school’s experience, expectations for commencement ceremonies and how Drexel is helping medical professionals and the public to fight the outbreak.

How have you seen the faculty and student body handle the transition to all online classes and education? 

The hallmark of the spring quarter and semester at Drexel University has been the shift to online instruction for undergraduate, graduate and professional students, with an option to choose pass / no pass over traditional grading. Given mere weeks to prepare, our faculty and instructional technology team have done transformative work — enabling professors to conduct more than 3,200 course sessions that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, would have been taught face-to-face in a classroom or lab setting. We saw a remarkably smooth virtual classroom experience for thousands new to this form of instruction, with positive feedback from students and faculty; and more than 100 laptops loaned out by the Drexel information technology department to students, faculty and professional staff to support their studies, teaching, research and administration while away from the campuses. In addition, our faculty have offered help and best practices to their colleagues while working on their own courses.

What efforts and initiatives are coming from Drexel University in regard to aiding medical professionals and the public in the fight against COVID-19? 

Drexel’s Rapid Response Research and Development Fund was created to support urgent action, launching more than a dozen projects focused on health-related research and development. The work supported by this fund runs the gamut, from producing new medical masks and face shields, to creating a new app to track infections, to vaccine-related research and chronicling the mental health impacts of the pandemic. In addition, we have offered rooms in two of our residence halls for doctors, nurses and other health-care personnel working in the Philadelphia area who wish to remain close to their hospitals.

 

How will the university handle graduation this year for those students who are slated to graduate at the end of the spring semester? 

We certainly are not going to let the pandemic prevent us from celebrating achievement. A university-wide commencement, along with one for the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, will likely be held in the fall. Our College of Medicine isn’t waiting: Its virtual graduation ceremony will take place Friday, May 29, with planning help from student representatives from the MD program and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies. Our College of Medicine Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient will be Katherine A. High, MD, co-founder, president and chief scientific officer of Spark Therapeutics.

What is your message for the university’s student population and faculty who are sheltering in place and waiting for a return to normalcy?

The devastating and sweeping impact of the coronavirus pandemic has left no one untouched. At the same time, I am confident that the Drexel community is navigating the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic with increasing success. In that spirit, I want to encourage our students and faculty to focus as much as possible on all that is positive about our response to this extraordinary period in our history.  

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://drexel.edu/

South Jersey and Philadelphia transition into online learning

South Jersey and Philadelphia transition into online learning

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read April 2020 —Jefferson Health is a multistate, nonprofit health system, including teaching hospitals, centered in Philadelphia. CEO Dr. Stephen Klasko details how earlier actions helped its hospitals get ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of preparation. Klasko also outlines the actions he would like to see from the state and federal governments to deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

What accommodations have you made to handle the influx of patients due to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

No one was totally ready for this pandemic, but Jefferson Health – all 14 hospitals – had a head start in preparing because of two initiatives. More than 10 years ago, Jefferson infectious disease doctor Edward Jasper started leading pandemic drills, and he stockpiled a supply of PPEs (personal protective equipment). In fact, we even sent PPEs to New York City in the early days of the crisis. Second, in 2014, we invested heavily in telehealth, launching JeffConnect, which immediately connects patients by video-call to an emergency department physician. As a result, we didn’t have to rebuild our system when calls went from 50 a day to more than 3,000 a day. Telehealth handled the first wave of the crisis, allowing us to support COVID-19 patients at home, as well as help thousands of people who were sick but not with COVID-19.

How are you working to ensure that patients and healthcare professionals alike are maintaining a safe environment?

Jefferson Health moved very quickly to a “universal masking” policy, requiring all staff to wear masks at work, even if their patients were COVID-negative. We were one of the first hospital systems to adopt universal masking, exactly to ensure we protect our own staff. We were in close contact with our colleagues in Italy, who told us that proper protection for staff dramatically cuts transmission within a hospital. 

Because we were prepared, we are able to allow a loved one to attend our patients during end of life situations, even for COVID-positive patients. We even allow a loved one to attend labor and delivery for a birth. This requires a full procedure of having a nurse escort to attend the loved one. We did this because of the long-term psychological trauma of unresolved grief when families are unable to say goodbye in person. 

How can the community best assist the local healthcare providers in this time of need?

The first answer is the critical one: Do not spread the illness. Our frontline staff are working horrendous hours attempting to save the lives of vulnerable patients. They are isolating themselves from their own children and families in order not to spread the virus. Do not increase their already heavy workload by getting sick yourself. 

But there are also vulnerable populations who need our help. The virus is disproportionately hitting places of congregate living – that includes retirement homes and communities. It is disproportionately hitting people who are poor. And the consequences of staying home are hitting people with medical needs all across society, from uninsured women who cannot get prenatal care, to older people on dialysis. In each case, there is specific advice, which may just be to give money to help not-for-profits that are providing assistance to the poor. 

What is your message to the local community that is sheltering in place and waiting for a return to normalcy?

Many of us are concerned that people with urgent medical issues are delaying treatment plans, not collecting medications, not seeking help. Please tell your family and friends: Do not delay getting help for cardiac and stroke issues. Do not delay taking medications. Stay on your cancer treatment regimen, and if you have the opportunity to join an advanced protocol or clinical trial, you should do that. Very important: Use telehealth to get mental health support if you need it. It may take more work today than it did last year, but please get the help you need. 

Do you feel you are receiving enough state and federal support and what more is needed? 

I believe Congress should immediately convene a COVID Commission along the lines of the 9/11 Commission – it is that serious. We need immediate changes to policy to enhance innovation to fight the immediate threat, but we also need to review the financial implications of this fight for hospitals, and we need to figure out how to ensure the next pandemic doesn’t create a health and economic crisis of this magnitude. On my list of things we need: Immediate access to the internet for all citizens, not just those who can afford a data plan. We need the federal government to lead preparation for surge capacity for intensive care, responding to any crisis. We need to prepare to offer health insurance after massive layoffs. And we need to evaluate the ethics of how we pay for healthcare to ensure equity for disadvantaged communities. 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.jeffersonhealth.org/index.html

https://www.jefferson.edu/