Tufts Medicine comprises hospitals, a home health division and a clinically integrated network of physicians. How did that diversified business model help you weather the COVID-19 pandemic?
I arrived at Tufts Medicine, then called Wellforce, in late January 2020. About six weeks in, we had to prepare to handle the COVID-19 patients who were about to hit our doors. We decided to curtail some of our elective services to be ready for that.
We quickly mobilized an organization that was historically very much a holding company; everybody did their own thing. There were collaborations when it made sense. Anybody within the system had veto authority. When COVID hit, we were starting a process to transition from this holding-company mindset to an operating company—it was something the board really wanted us to focus on. I thought it was going to take us a couple of years to get everybody aligned around a common mission and vision. But COVID hit, and we immediately needed to figure out how to work together in a different way.
We were short on ventilators, we were short on personal protective equipment. We had to make decisions that really affected the entire system from a cash management point of view and from an employee policy point of view—(implementing) work from home, standing up telemedicine. We quickly formed teams from across the system to start to think about how to mobilize the resources that we had to make sure we were focused on two things: saving as many lives as possible and keeping our people as safe as we can. And that level of focus compelled people to come together.
From there, we started to build an integration plan around this mindset that we were stronger together. We had different assets across the system that we could be leveraging. Home care was an enormous advantage for us because we were able to keep people who didn’t need to come into the hospital out of the hospital. That taught us a lot about how to integrate home care and our clinically integrated network into our hospital network.
On the home health side, how does that shape operations going forward? We’ve seen more acute services moving into the home. Remote monitoring is such a big component of chronic care management. Has the scope changed how you’ll deliver care in the future?
We learned a lot about what it would take to do more acute care in the home, and it’s certainly an area we’re investing in now and want to scale in a meaningful way. We quickly piloted a program called mobile integrated health, where instead of somebody coming into our emergency department, we would deploy a team of paramedics that would do that emergency care visit in their home, and frequently avoided the need for that individual to come into the hospital. We know once they’re in the hospital and the ED, providers are trying to get them either discharged or into a bed. Now we have a process that discharges them to the home, and that’s connected in our electronic health record, which we just stood up in April.
Does that alleviate some issues around capacity for your most acute patients in the inpatient setting? And from a staffing perspective, I imagine you’re able to mobilize and leverage different caregivers in the home and through that virtual component.
I’d say it did. And then in the fall of 2021 this Great Resignation hit us, and we started to deal with some staffing shortages. We’ve been thinking about how to make sure that we have the right staff in the right places. But we’ve also been challenged with having to increase the number of contract labor staff that we have. So I wouldn’t say we’ve realized the promise yet, but we are working diligently in terms of making sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that the future of care for certain acute episodes will be in the home. That will open capacity for us to be more efficient for the patients who actually need to be in the hospital.