How Health Execs and Employees Are Responding to COVID-19

April 6, 2020
Karen Appold
Volume 30, Issue 4

Managed Healthcare Executive® interviewed six healthcare executives about how they and their organizations have responded to the outbreak.

As the number of COVID-19 cases climbed and the death toll rose, healthcare organizations of all kinds and sizes took steps to combat the disease, keep their workers and the people they serve safe while also maintaining their operations, often in some scaled-down way. Managed Healthcare Executive® interviewed six healthcare executives about how they and their organizations have responded to the outbreak.

Here’s what they had to say:

Steve A. N. Goldstein, MD, PhD, vice chancellor of health affairs and a professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI)

Since the first day the virus was recognized, UCI Health researchers and medical experts began working closely with other hospitals and healthcare providers both regionally and across the nation to share best practices while staying current with the latest information, treatments, and tools.

UCI Health infectious disease experts are also assist- ing with statewide and national efforts to develop policy, track the outbreak, and contain the spread of COVID-19. We are in regular contact with the CDC, the California Department of Public Health, and the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Teams of UCI researchers are partnering with other UC medical centers on studying the antiviral drug remdesivir as a COVID-19 therapeutic drug. Backed by the NIH, the clinical trial is considered the first that has possible efficacy and should be ready for patients soon. Other UCI groups are testing cutting edge methods to test who is infected and who was infected previously to tailor treatments and to understand how the disease is spread and how it can be controlled.

Genevieve D. Caruncho-Simpson,MPA, president and chief operating officer, Texas Health Aetna, Dallas

The health plan’s front door is the Anytime-MD app, where members can receive free or low-cost care support from a local emergency room physician. As a text-first app, without any time limit, it supports swift and ongoing communication.

Our doctors are working closely with local hospitals, other providers, and a mobile urgent care provider, DispatchHealth, to make sure members’ questions are being answered via the app in a timely manner. The app allows our doctors to perform ongoing clinical support and virtual triaging of suspected COVID-19 cases. Members can have prescriptions delivered straight to their door through a CVS free delivery program. Free emotional well-being support is also available, as heightened anxiety can occur during this time.

Related: COVID-19 Update: What Execs Wish People Knew

We are also waiving cost sharing related to COVID-19 testing, providing care package to people who have been hospitalized because of COVID-19, waiving limits on early refills, and through some of our care management programs reaching out proactively to patients who are most at risk for COVID-19.

Romilla Batra, MD, MBA, chief medical officer, SCAN Health Plan, Long Beach, California

Seniors are at the heart of SCAN, and we’re working diligently to keep them safe, healthy, and independent during this pandemic. In addition to implementing all state-of-emergency measures related to access to care, we’re identifying high-risk members-those on ventilators and oxygen-and reaching out to ensure they have everything they need.

We recently checked in on a member who lives alone and learned that she was running out of food. To ensure that she could continue to shelter in place, we arranged for meal deliveries starting the next day.

SCAN’s free telehealth benefit is key, and we’re encouraging members to use it now more than ever for urgent or after-hours care. Because routine care visits are now being discouraged due to the coronavirus, all doctors are being encouraged to do telehealth-type calls with patients to ensure they’re staying on track with treatment plans. This is especially important for patients with chronic conditions or others who need monitoring. It’s better for our members’ regular doctors to triage symptoms because they know their patients’ health histories and status.

On a community level, we are prioritizing emergency funding for nonprofits to help them respond to the growing demand for their services, specifically those that address loneliness. We have also adapted many of our community services from in-person to telephonic, including clinical programs for seniors and caregivers and many of our volunteer efforts. We understand that self-isolating can cause loneliness and, in some cases, depression. That is why we’re making it a priority to keep seniors engaged and supported.

Vincent Nelson, MD, vice president, medical affairs and interim chief medical officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBS), Chicago, Illinois

We have made a systemwide commitment to ensure that members can swiftly and smoothly access the right care in the right setting during the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes covering, with no cost share to the member, the appropriate medically necessary diagnostic testing for COVID-19 when it is not covered as part of the public health service response. Any care for a COVID-19 diagnosis will be covered consistently with the standard provisions of a member’s health benefits. Additionally, BCBS companies will waive prior authorization for medically necessary services and diagnostics related to COVID-19 to ensure patients receive the right care when and where they need it.

Charles A. Peterson II, MD, president and chairman of the board of directors, Proliance Surgeons, Seattle, Washington

Because excellent medical and surgical care involves close physician-patient interaction, on March 15 we chose to postpone all elective (i.e., non-urgent and non-emergent) surgeries in our ambulatory surgery centers and temporarily suspend similar patient care at all of our facilities during the coronavirus outbreak in the region. The postponement will be effective from March 17 until at least March 27 when we will reevaluate the crisis’s status.

As a specialty-care surgical organization, we are offering our surgical teams to provide urgent and emergent surgical care in our centers as a critical backup to Puget Sound area hospitals. We are offering assistance in delivering acute care for patients with fractures, trauma, or urgent surgical care in seven different surgical specialties. Giving hospitals the option of providing surgical services at our centers ensures that our hospital colleagues can focus on COVID-19 patients. This maintains social distancing standards, preserves personal protective equipment, and lowers the potential for COVID-19 exposures.

Shea Harrelson, PA-C, and Scotty Branch, co-founders, Vikor Scientific, Charleston, South Carolina

As a pioneer in antibiotic stewardship and advanced diagnostics, Vikor Scientific’s first plan of action was to dedicate 2,000 square feet of space in its new Charleston headquarters specifically for COVID-19 testing. This will enable us to do high-volume testing and serve as many patients as possible. Vikor Scientific is currently validating COVID-19 testing. Once approved, Vikor Scientific will be able to test 1,500 patients daily with a 24-hour turnaround-time from sample arrival. Vikor purchased new equipment and supplies as well as hired additional staff to execute our plan. We have also dedicated our Pennsylvania location for COVID-19 testing, which will enable us to perform twice as many tests.

Karen Appold is a medical writer in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania.

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