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By Ben Keeton

The Health Enterprises Network (HEN) is the region’s premier healthcare business network. Formed by area leaders in 2000, HEN’s mission is to champion and foster the growth of the Greater Louisville Region’s healthcare economy. Comprised of 1200 professionals from 160 investor companies, HEN represents a diverse and growing industry, from hospitals and health services companies to medical device manufacturers and leading health law firms. HEN is the convener that breaks down barriers, opens doors, and is the catalyst for engagement with healthcare professionals and leaders.

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly disrupted economic activity across our region and changed the way businesses and organizations operate. This is especially true in healthcare, where companies are working to adjust to new business practices while also providing care to thousands of Kentuckians.

While there are many challenges our industry face, there are also opportunities for innovation and new practices. We asked several HEN member companies from across different industry segments about how they are responding to the crisis.

Medical News: The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically altered the business community across the country. How has your company changed or adjusted the way you are operating?

BluMine: Prior to COVID-19, telehealth appointments were less than four percent of the care delivery that BluMine members experienced. The exclusivity of your own primary care medical team commanded face to face appointments and the customer care that went along with that. Telehealth appointments have now surpassed 40 percent of BluMine’s medical delivery. BluMine’s access and care exclusivity has not seen a dramatic drop off in medical delivery, just a shift in how care is provided.

Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI): We are having to make some tough choices and determine what our own organization will look like as we shift to support our members in a different way. Fortunately, we have an extremely close staff. We have a full staff meeting weekly via video chat, and each team manager meets with their team throughout the week. Our leadership team meets daily. We use Microsoft Teams, with instant message, screen sharing, video and phone calls at our fingertips. For our investor events, we use Zoom to accommodate the large crowds that participate.

Norton Healthcare: This disease created a new set of challenges for healthcare systems due to its rapid spread by people who are not experiencing symptoms, or have extremely mild symptoms, yet are still highly contagious. Couple this with limited testing for the disease, along with a high percentage of false-negative tests, and it has been a formidable opponent.

We assembled teams dedicated to preparing for the treatment of COVID-19 patients and protecting our providers, who have followed recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, this fluid situation–when the nation is experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE)–meant we needed to adjust our policies and procedures, sometimes daily.

Thrive Center: As with other companies considered to be nonessential, we had to temporarily close our doors to visitors and tours. We are now looking at platforms to present the Thrive Center as a virtual center. This will allow us to offer programs, such as our “Strive to Thrive” program virtually. A virtual Thrive Center can expand our programs and services to combat loneliness and isolation, anxiety and fall risk by offering virtually social engagement programs and exercise to mitigate fall risk.

University of Louisville Trager Institute: We have quickly moved online all our clinic offerings, workforce development opportunities and other community resources. We have instituted an agile telehealth program that allows us to operate our clinic at full capacity. Through our telehealth offerings, we can provide both acute care for immediate needs as well as attend to long-term and preventive care. We also offer weekly COVID-19 information sessions online. We are open at reduced hours with a skeleton crew to ensure we are still able to offer in-person visits for the most critical appointments. As well, we are one of the few UofL Health labs still operating.

MN: What lessons has your organization learned from this crisis and how will it change operations going forward?

AARP Kentucky: In these difficult times, we witnessed the value of coming together as a society to help the most vulnerable members of our communities. The online surge for information by our members and opportunity to advocate for the 50-plus reaffirms the need to continue building robust broadband access and further expanding our online presence while providing opportunities for older Kentuckians to adapt to new technology. Existing AARP virtual town hall capacity has succeeded in delivering hundreds of thousands with information, advocacy and resources to help older people and those caring for them.

Bellarmine University: Working together to solve problems collectively is critical in gathering information and creating a plan. Communication is also critical, but it must be tempered, as people can easily become overwhelmed with too much information or become desensitized and miss key messages. Empowering those individuals who are responsible for key areas to make some decisions on the spot can streamline operations, as they often have the details and information needed to make the best decisions. Bellarmine University was already in transition to offering more online instruction; the “crash course” necessitated by this crisis will no doubt prove beneficial down the road, as it has exposed all of our faculty to the opportunities afforded by online instruction.

Greater Louisville Medical Society (GLMS): We have learned the power in community and collaboration. GLMS along with the GLMS Foundation have partnered with the Louisville Metro Public Health & Wellness to develop a local PPE drive, while the GLMS Foundation is taking monetary donations to be matched by the GLMS Foundation to purchase PPE. We have worked together to coordinate prescription drop-offs for patients who are currently in quarantine. For our business operations we are now seeking ways to streamline certain items on the backend moving forward that will continue to allow us to perform at an exceptional rate while reducing overhead costs.

Hall Render: Maintaining a right-sized healthcare workforce during constantly changing pandemic circumstances is not only practically challenging, it is fraught with legal risks. To remain both prepared and economically viable, many healthcare employers have been forced to implement emergency workforce measures. Some reduced hours and pay and forced employees on furloughs or layoffs. Others staffed up, created “on call” pools and/or reshuffled normal job responsibilities. Understanding how and when to leverage the available tools while navigating evolving compliance requirements and legal risks has never been more important.

Passport Health Plan: We have learned three primary lessons. First, we can operate efficiently and provide superior service to our members and providers with a significant number of our employees working remotely. Second, it takes collective action to overcome the effects of a crisis. Finally, we need to take more than one action or use multiple tools to address the effects of a crisis and continue to serve members and providers.

Schaefer: We have learned the value of diversification; while our firm has specialties, as do most, we are fortunate that a significant portion of our business is spread across several other market verticals. This has enabled our firm to continue delivering projects and provided a base of revenue and continued providing work for our teams. The COVID-19 pandemic has, if anything, strengthened our resolve to maintain the course in pursuing and delivering construction projects within those key markets.

University of Louisville Trager Institute: While we serve adults of all ages, we are learning how quickly, and positively, older adult patients can integrate technology into their healthcare experience. We are also learning first-hand how to take advantage of the potential for telehealth to provide improved care for our patients. Specifically, telehealth appointments allow us to offer virtual home visits – the gold standard in caring for older adults. We are also learning about how the integration of telehealth is reducing the accessibility barriers for individuals with mobility restrictions. This reduction of barriers has the long-term potential to significantly improve the quality of care for these individuals.

Vimarc: One of the lessons we are actively communicating to our clients is the importance of not standing still in times of crisis, but to continue adapting and rethinking your brand strategy to remain relevant and maintain market share. The companies that have invested in branding and education during this time, when sales messages may not be appropriate, will come out the other side stronger.

MN: What innovations are you seeing in the community that may have positive impact on the healthcare sector?

AARP Kentucky: The marketplace’s focus on priorities of expanding healthcare delivery and telehealth program applications is encouraging. In responding to COVID-19, we witnessed an advancement in real time deployment of health workers empowered to deliver care consistent with the full extent of their training. As federal officials reported concerns about the disproportionate impact of coronavirus deaths among African Americans and Latinos, the need to address disparities to improve Kentuckians’ health outcomes is clear. More work remains ahead in meeting family caregivers’ needs and assuring quality care for families with loved ones in long term care facilities.

Bellarmine University: Clinical education experiences have been severely disrupted and halted with the closure of many healthcare facilities and clinics, which could significantly delay the entrance of needed healthcare professionals into the workforce. While some alternative methods are being employed to address hands-on experiential learning, including simulated patients and virtual case studies, this disruption does demonstrate the importance of hands-on clinical training and the professional duty that practicing clinicians and healthcare organizations have to the future workforce.

GLI: The willingness for businesses to band together during this time of crisis is innovative. When it became clear that local healthcare providers needed more PPE, GLI connected local companies who could sell or donate PPE to those providers who needed it. We also sought out local companies who could either begin manufacturing it or who could acquire it through local or global sourcing. We also know this effort must continue because as companies think about re-opening, they may need to provide PPE to employees returning to work.

GLMS: We have seen physicians work together, communicating across various hospital systems and working together to help protect and treat our community. We have seen our media outlets consult our local experts when a medical opinion is needed. Insurance providers working with physicians to help treat patients, making telehealth more available in these necessary times.

Hall Render: One very prominent innovation is the greater acceptance of telemedicine as a viable way to deliver healthcare, and a willingness to pay for telehealth services. What was once an option may soon become a preferred method of healthcare delivery. How did this occur? There are many federal and state waivers permitting telehealth to be provided during COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) outside the bounds of the normal rules to get healthcare to patients.

Norton Healthcare: People are working together better internally and across organizations. Competitors are working collaboratively in conjunction with elected officials for the greater good. Technology is being developed and deployed more rapidly. Employees are coming forward with ideas that are being implemented quickly. Companies have realized that with a shared urgency, work is accelerated, and this momentum hopefully will continue to a certain degree in other areas after COVID-19 has faded.

Passport Health Plan: We are seeing the following innovations in the community: the development of vaccines and drugs to prevent or protect against COVID-19, promulgation of the laws and state agency directives to ease the burden of the obtaining care, use of telemedicine and telehealth to provide access to care; and collaborations among companies and organizations to assist small businesses address financial challenge.

Vimarc: We quickly had to shift focus for our healthcare clients from selling to education. Most of our clients have a COVID-19 task force and are regularly communicating with both internal and external audiences. We have worked with them to develop campaigns that are congruent with their individual brand messages. We believe that by taking a leadership position in the management of this disease, our clients’ brands will be elevated.