On September 23, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted “Nashville to the Nation: Scaling the Health Care Industry,” a discussion with top executives from some of the nation’s largest health care organizations that are based in Nashville. The panelists discussed the importance of innovation and partnership to achieve success, leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and more. The panel was the second in a series of events celebrating the Council’s 25th anniversary.
The conversation was moderated by Demetria Kalodimos, broadcast journalist and filmmaker.
Panelists included Lucinda “Cindy” Baier, President and CEO, Brookdale Senior Living; Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO, Vanderbilt University Medical Center; and Sam Hazen, CEO, HCA Healthcare.
Kalodimos asked the panelists to share recent examples of innovative ideas their organizations have put into action. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Baier said Brookdale Senior Living had to reinvent its business model and change every aspect of operations. The organization transitioned from serving three meals a day in the dining room to in-room dining, it closed exercise centers and hosted hallway exercise to allow social distancing, and it piloted new technology to promote engagement among residents. “2020 has been a very different year, and I’m very proud of our innovation. We reinvented our business model overnight and had to do so when the stakes were very high – literally life and death – because of the age of our residents,” Baier said.
Balser added Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s clinical research platforms – used to test new treatments in patients – have been deployed for hundreds of diseases over the years but were especially handy during the pandemic. The organization was also involved in deploying one of the early COVID-19 tests, thanks to leading coronavirus researcher Mark Denison, M.D., a highly innovative clinical laboratory, and the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation. “We create infrastructure that everyone uses. Vanderbilt University Medical Center is an academic medical center, so innovation is part of our DNA. We’re doing it all the time,” Balser said.
Hazen attributed HCA Healthcare’s innovation to its people. “Our people find solutions in partnerships with each other, physicians and other organizations,” said Hazen. “I’m proud of how we have improved our ability to care for COVID-19 patients. With 60,000 inpatient COVID-19 cases, we’ve learned how to manage their ventilator utilization more effectively, how to deal with different clinical protocols and more. What has been most exciting is how much we’ve grown. We have a different level of confidence six months later.”
All three organizations have reacted to the pandemic with operational changes, technological innovation and an expanded workforce. Another shared strategy is collaboration. Brookdale Senior Living made multiple care delivery toolkits available to the public to ensure large and small businesses alike could benefit from its expertise. “This is a pandemic that affects everyone, and we didn’t want to just help protect the residents who live with Brookdale. We wanted to contribute to helping protect all seniors,” said Baier.
For VUMC, collaboration has included working directly with more than 400 employers in the Nashville region and across the country to offer support during the pandemic. The medical center utilizes email communications, blogs and webinars to answer questions and hear from other businesses on handling COVID-19 in the workplace. “What we saw during the pandemic was a desperate need for support,” said Balser. “I think this is an example of how the coronavirus has brought about a good thing by challenging us to flex our muscles and interact in exciting new ways with local businesses.”
HCA Healthcare realized early on it needed strategic partnerships and also wanted to serve as a resource for local, state and federal government. The organization took the initiative to interact with these entities to create potential pandemic solutions. “In my opinion the U.S. is very fortunate to have public and private health systems,” said Hazen. “The merging of private health systems with public health resources has really created an opportunity for the country to respond to COVID-19, stepping up lab testing capabilities and responding to PPE challenges. The lesson for public health is the different sectors collaborating in areas of expertise allows for better patient outcomes. That’s our philosophy going forward.”
Kalodimos asked the panel to “gaze into the crystal ball” and offer their outlook on the coming year in the health care industry. Baier anticipates there will continue to be a lot of change, and the U.S. will need to learn how to live with COVID-19 in the community. Balser identified the importance of caring for patients in the settings where they live, noting that COVID-19 accelerated the telehealth movement but is also promoting progress in health care intelligence to do even more for patients in the comfort of their home or assisted living facility. Hazen reinforced the importance of public and private partnerships to solve public health issues such as access to care, racial disparities and other crises. These issues require both sectors working together with a common purpose, he said.
“We are in a time of unprecedented change requiring the health care industry and the Council to evolve in order to preserve what we’ve built and rise to meet health care’s next challenges,” Council President Hayley Hovious said. “Council, Fellows and Leadership Health Care will continue to focus on several key initiatives over this milestone year, including addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council’s efforts around health equity – which have recently drawn national attention – and today’s topic, the national reach of this health care community. Twenty-five years and a pandemic later, the Council continues to grow.”