Last week, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted the panel “Health Care Next,” in which industry leaders explored the pandemic’s impact on health care and forecasted the future of the industry. The panel marked the final event in a series celebrating the Council’s 25th anniversary.
Panelists included Sam Hazen, CEO, HCA Healthcare; James E.K. Hildreth, M.D., president and CEO, Meharry Medical College; Paul Kusserow, CEO and chairman, Amedisys; and Debbie Osteen, CEO, Acadia Healthcare. Nashville Health Care Council President Hayley Hovious moderated the discussion.
To begin the discussion, Hovious shared the Council’s recently released economic impact study, created in collaboration with economist Murat Arik, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University’s Jennings A. Jones College of Business. The report revealed the Nashville health care industry’s $66.89 billion in business revenue represents approximately 9.23% of Tennessee’s total business revenue and 25.77% of the Nashville metropolitan area’s total business revenue in 2019. Nashville’s health care industry cluster was responsible for more than one-third of the Nashville metropolitan area’s total personal income in 2019. One in every eight new jobs between 2018 and 2028 is projected to be in health care in Tennessee.
The panelists discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on critical issues such as health care access and equity, clinician burnout, racial injustice and others, and served as a shocking reminder of our own mortality. Hazen shared that HCA Healthcare, similar to other health systems across the U.S. and globally, has struggled with employee burnout.
“Never in my almost forty years have I seen this level of anxiety and uncertainty for their own safety and the flood of patients. It’s been emotionally, spiritually and physically taxing. Everyone from leadership to clinical employees are affected and that can compromise care delivery,” Hazen said. “We’re focused on employee assistance programs, stress education and training, advanced chaplaincy programs and more. It all comes together to deal with capacity constraint. We are in a long-run battle in our workforce.”
In addition to revealing challenges, the pandemic also accelerated health care innovation and improvement. The panelists agreed telehealth and digital tools introduced during the pandemic will remain and have advanced care delivery and access, but the industry has more work to do to ensure health equity.
“This crisis has greatly impacted the underserved. We talk about the right care in the right place and at the right time, and some of these populations are not getting that. Telehealth is a helpful mechanism but not everyone has the technology to make it work,” Osteen said. “We’re thinking about how to promote access and reach patients. The Department of Health and Human Services and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have allocated funds for mobile methadone clinics that can go into communities to support those who can’t come to us.”
Dr. Hildreth explained how organizations turned to Meharry Medical College for guidance addressing health disparities during the pandemic, a priority for Meharry since its founding in 1876.
“Meharry was originally created because there was nowhere for Black people to learn about health care,” said Dr. Hildreth. “COVID-19 underscored the technology and equity gap – when providers quickly pivoted to telemedicine to continue offering care, we had a challenging time because many of our patients don’t have access to that technology. We had to scramble for other resources and methodologies. We have to find ways to ensure tech and access to care for everyone, equally, and that’s what we’re focused on now.”
Kusserow explained how the pandemic shifted patients’ priorities and confirmed the Amedisys commitment to meeting patients where they are with home-based care.
“We saw tremendous demand for care at home,” he said. “COVID-19 gave people – especially baby boomers – a definitive understanding of home-based care, and now patients and their families are fighting to be at home. It even impacted the way skilled nursing and senior living facilities refer patients to us. As a company, we’re trying to shift even more toward home-based care and ensure we can provide a low cost, high-touch environment and the highest quality of care.”
Hovious asked the group to identify investment areas that will have the greatest impact for the next five to 10 years. Osteen said Acadia is focused on partnerships to share expertise and resources and help holistically care for patients. Currently, Acadia has seven active partnerships and has announced six more.
Amedisys is experiencing increases in demand for our services and is investing time and resources into recruitment, retention and productivity. Alongside home-based care coordination, Kusserow plans for the organization to build a digital platform to ensure care continuity.
Dr. Hildreth reaffirmed Meharry’s commitment to technology and diversity with the new School of Applied Computational Sciences, which will educate the next generation of physicians to use data science to address health disparities and support underserved populations. Meharry has also embarked on Meharry 2026, a 10-year strategic plan in conjunction with the college’s 150th anniversary, to transform Meharry into a self-sustaining, economically diverse institution.
Hazen aims to continue developing HCA Healthcare’s ambulatory network and focus on the professional growth of its workforce. HCA’s physician graduate programs host approximately 5,000 residents and Hazen expects within five years of expanding their nursing school, HCA will become one of the largest nurse educators in the U.S.
“While this event concludes the Council’s 25th anniversary celebration, it feels far more appropriate to celebrate the clinicians and executives who are working to keep us all healthy and protected from COVID,” Hovious said. “We are proud to hear from the leaders of some of Nashville’s largest health care services providers and the president of Meharry Medical College about their efforts to transform the health care landscape.”