You are originally from Los Angeles, completed your residency at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, worked in Ohio and Illinois. How did you end up in Michigan?
I have been a clinical cardiologist and was involved in a lot of medical staff roles, and then cardiovascular leadership. I moved to Michigan because of the opportunity to lead the Ascension Medical Group. My connection to Michigan was with (Dr. Joseph Cacchione, who’s now in charge of clinical and network services for Ascension Health). We’ve known each other for a very long time and were residents together and stayed in touch over the years. My wife and I are really happy to be here.
What did you do while president of Michigan’s Ascension Medical Group?
This was a newly created position in our market to align our local AMG entities and develop a statewide business and operational strategy. In two-plus years, I worked closely to create a cohesive clinical network and combine 1,100 employed providers at more than 300 practice locations in Southeast Michigan, mid-Michigan and West Michigan. This physician network is the foundation of our growth strategy across Michigan and serves as a catalyst for transforming care.
Before you arrived in Michigan, Ascension Michigan laid off more than 500 health care workers to cut costs by $60 million, re-engineered the workforce and restructured operations. Are there further changes planned?
Our Michigan market is on a journey to where we are now. Functionally, we have three regions — southeast, southwest and mid and northern Michigan. What we’ve done has been very successful to act as a marketwide organization. It helped us deal with the COVID pandemic.
In previous years, Ascension Michigan region was one of the administrative and clinical test sites for the national system. Do you plan any further reorganization or changes in the coming years?
There is no plan to do any major reorganization. Right now, I think we’re comfortable where we are. I like our teams. Our next thing in Michigan, I know it isn’t very sexy, is to focus on stability and have some consistency within the market so the community gets to know and develop relationships with leaders and our medical staff.
How did Ascension Michigan fare with COVID-19?
We were able to move resources around at the drop of a hat. Whether it was medications, personnel, PPE or respiratory equipment. Detroit was the epicenter of the first wave of COVID around the country and what we learned in Southeast Michigan we were able to share with other markets. When we needed more staff, we were able to draw on hospitals outside of Michigan. We are also bringing in staff not to deal with the surge, but to fill in for those who have worked long hours so they can get time off to recharge their batteries.
Was Ascension and the health care industry prepared enough for COVID-19?
COVID is a once in a lifetime, once in a century event. So in terms of being prepared, when it became apparent that this was going to be the issue that it was, our national team told us take care of the patient and take care of the staff. With those as our marching orders, we really were able to concentrate our efforts and really ramp up and take this COVID situation head on. We did not have to worry about any financial issues. We took the posture there would be no layoffs of staff due to economic consequences of COVID. There will be no furloughing of staff. We wanted everybody to focus on the matter at hand, which was figuring out how to deal with COVID.
Are hospitals starting to see patients return for regular testing and elective procedures?
We are really ramping back up our elective work. We are sticking to our guiding principles of taking care of the patients and taking care of our associates. We have capacity for elective procedures, but it’s around making sure that our associates are doing OK. The asks that we’re putting on this staff in terms of taking care of these increased volumes of both COVID and non-COVID patients is a real hardship. It’s a tough balancing act.
As a doctor, what concerns do you have about patients?
One of the things we learned with the first wave, as we told everybody to stay home, is that we probably overshot, so to speak. We cannot delay a lot of medical care. In addition to COVID-related deaths, there is increased risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer presenting later. We have made our facilities safe so we can care for both COVID and non-COVID patients.
Are patients returning for needed or preventive care?
Our message to patients lately has been be safe, but come, don’t delay your care. In fact, during the last surge, a lot of our team was jokingly saying, “Can you slow down? Your commercials are working too well” because not only did we have higher activity the last few weeks due to COVID, but we also were seeing a lot of non-COVID activity in our emergency rooms at levels that we hadn’t seen since the pandemic started.
Do you have plans to help your workforce get back to normal or to recover from what they’ve been through?
We have lots of programs and incentives for our staff. We have what we call “serenity rooms” in our facilities where our staff can go and just get away and relax. Recently, at our Genesys Hospital in Grand Blanc, our staff led a walkout celebration with clapping early one morning for staff leaving and staff coming in. We’re trying to do a lot of things big and small to support all the extra work that’s being done. Our staff is our most important commodity, and we’re trying to do everything we can to take care of them.
Read all of the Conversations at crainsdetroit.com/theConversation