With creative thinking and agility, healthcare and life sciences leaders have been at the forefront of turning pandemic challenges into accelerated services for patients. In doing so, they’ve become ever more aware of the need to focus on caring for themselves, their teams and their organizations.
Three trailblazing leaders shared what they’ve learned from their experiences in helping transform their organizations and in modeling self-care. Their insights — delivered in a panel discussion via a recent virtual forum presented by Grant Thornton’s Healthcare and Life Sciences practices — cover two important topics:
The leaders described the ingenuity their organizations exhibited during the pandemic, with innovations such as satellite intensive care units (ICUs), advanced sensors for remote monitoring of patients, and drones winging personal protective equipment to medical facilities.
They reflected on the importance of self-care, emphasizing the need for leaders to maintain a healthy work/life balance, to be transparent about meeting their challenges, and to express compassion for the physical and mental well-being of their teams.
The panel discussion was moderated by Joan Lunden, award-winning journalist, best-selling author and wellness advocate, and host of the CBS series Your Health. She guided the conversation among the three leaders:
- Dr. Jennifer Ashton, chief medical correspondent for ABC News and ABC’s Good Morning America, bestselling author and a practicing OB/GYN physician
- Erin Horvath, chief transformation officer for AmerisourceBergen, a wholesale pharmaceutical distributor
- Angela Yochem, executive vice president, and chief transformation and digital officer at Novant Health, a network of physician clinics, outpatient centers and hospitals
Watch the personal and organizational resilience portion of the conversation among the healcare and life sciences leaders, joined by Joan Lunden as moderator.
The panelists shared success stories in enhancing the delivery of care, services and materials.
Yochem explained that when hospitals were overwhelmed during the initial wave of the pandemic, Novant Health went to work on increasing the number of beds in their ICUs.
“We asked ourselves ‘How can we expand intensive care to rooms that weren’t built for intensive care and weren’t staffed with ICU staff?” she said. “So very simply, we made all our rooms into ICUs. We were able to create remote intensivists to serve all our hospitals from a remote command center. They used advanced technologies to monitor patients’ progress and communicate with a hospitalist at the bedside.”
AmerisourceBergen, Horvath said, was in the midst of a significant software upgrade when the pandemic hit. Instead of putting the project on hold, she explained, the organization moved forward, seeking to improve customer service at that critical time.
“There were bumps,” she noted. “But we navigated through them. It created an opportunity for us to leverage new functionalities to communicate with our customers in a more effective way and to offer them timely access to medications.”
Speeding up the supply chain
Healthcare and life sciences organizations faced critical supply chain disruptions at the onset, but quick thinking made for fast delivery of medication and equipment.
When the pandemic first hit, the federal government turned to private industry to help solve the urgent issue of getting COVID vaccines and other therapies to hotspots across the country. AmerisourceBergen customized its inventory management software to ensure deliveries of pharmaceuticals. “We’re really proud to support the government and ensure, on an ongoing basis, that pharmaceuticals get to communities in need,” Horvath said.
With medical centers lacking personal protective equipment (PPE), Novant Health took a novel approach to getting the needed supplies to them. “We found a way to be precise and on-demand in the way we delivered PPE,” said Yochem. “In partnership with aircraft delivery company Zipline and the Department of Transportation, we obtained the first-ever waiver from the FAA to fly drones over long distances and populated areas to drop PPE where it was needed. It was one exploration of new modalities and channels to deliver care that really accelerated during the COVID crisis.”
Building personal resilience
The conversation took a personal turn, with Lunden and the panelists examining practices key to coping during a crisis and the skills vital to supporting others who are struggling. “The medical industry has had to make considerable changes since the global pandemic took hold,” Lunden said. “And we all know what change means — change means stress and anxiety.” She noted that during this time of heightened pressures, leaders need to practice self-care, to follow the philosophy of “put the oxygen mask on yourself first,” before helping others.
“Self-care is not selfish,” Ashton agreed. “Uncertainty is wearing on our health — whether it’s medical, financial, professional or social. You develop resilience when you learn you can make it through.” It is helpful, she said, for leaders to acknowledge to colleagues that they, too, have experienced some level of anxiety over the past two years and are working to build resilience. In this way, they encourage others. “Resilience can be fostered, taught and practiced. Anyone in a leadership position has a responsibility to not only keep their own head above water but also to lead by example.”
“Part of building resiliency,” Yochem added, “is giving ourselves grace and permission to ask for help.” Novant Health is among a growing list of organizations that have made it easier for employees to seek assistance for anxiety, fears and depression, Yochem said. “We teach people how to ask for help. There’s power and grace in being able to show one’s own vulnerability.”
Building organizational resilience
While the pandemic produces evolving obstacles, these healthcare and life sciences leaders remain optimistic, observing that the willingness to adapt and overcome makes it possible for their organizations to find ways to improve how they deliver services and care.
“Innovation and advancement are a ‘silver lining,’” Ashton said. “My advice to leaders is to stay curious. That curiosity is what drives growth and improvement and resilience and empathy and self-care. When you think about what we’ve learned, we would not have been able to accomplish what we have without that curiosity.”
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