'They Are Courageous, Compassionate, and Caring': Allegheny Health Network CEO Cynthia Hundorfean Reports From the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Outbreak

March 27, 2020
Peter Wehrwein
Peter Wehrwein

Caregivers are the heroes in her view.

Last week we checked in with Cynthia Hundorfean, president and CEO of Allegheny Health Network, and a member of our editorial advisory board. We circled back this week and asked her a few more questions.  

What has been the biggest challenge for you this past week as a leader of your organization and how have you gone about addressing it?

I’m sure all healthcare organizations are receiving offers of support from their local communities – including money, supplies, or offers to produce personal protective equipment that is in short supply. The time spent by our leadership team in managing all of this has been a challenge but completely worthwhile. We are very grateful. 

How have you or your organization had to change what you are doing in response to COVID-19, the social distancing, and so on?

We set up as many employees as possible with the ability to work from home. The majority of these personnel are in our outpatient areas and support functions, such as revenue cycle, IT, finance, etcetera. We were able to deploy laptops for 16,000 of our employees over one weekend. It was an amazing effort.  

For our employees who can’t work from home, we continue to stress social distancing, washing hands, use of hand sanitizers, and no group meetings. We split this group of employees into two groups. One group works a week in the office, and then the other group works the next week. The problem we’re having is that people are ignoring the schedule and coming to work anyway. Normally, you would think that’s a good thing. Not so much right now! 

Looking ahead what do you think the long-term effects of the COVID-19 outbreak will be for your organization-and for American healthcare in general?

We’re learning new lessons every day. One of the biggest is that we can’t rely on companies outside of our country to supply critical equipment, supplies, and pharmaceuticals. We need to be self-sufficient.

Also, we need a national model of distribution in emergent events. It shouldn’t come down to “who has the most money or who has the most contacts” to get personal protective equipment. Every patient deserves the same care. Every caregiver deserves the same protection.

I also think that how care is provided will drastically change. Our organization has flipped almost entirely to virtual visits in the outpatient areas. In the hospital and outpatient clinics, we’re also providing telephonic consults. I believe that this will become our new normal.

Who have been the hero(es) during the outbreak - either in the country as a whole or in your organization?

In our organization, it’s the frontline caregivers, which includes everyone that cares for our patients. They are courageous, compassionate ,and caring. How much courage it must take to come to work each day under these circumstances. We are so blessed.