Taking over as CEO of a health system’s flagship hospital is difficult under any circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. But that’s just what Peter Powers did when he became the head of Memorial Regional Hospital, a 797-bed facility in Hollywood, Fla. On the job since late March, Powers is guiding the hospital, part of Memorial Healthcare Sustem, as it brings back non-COVID cases and the state’s economy reopens. He talked with Modern Healthcare Managing Editor Matthew Weinstock.
MH: Talk about day one at Memorial Regional. You left Colorado, which wasn’t as far along in the crisis as Florida.
Powers: It was quite an interesting transition. Day one was about five days earlier than was originally planned. I had about a three-week break between wrapping up my former role in Colorado and then moving to Florida. But about halfway through, I started to get the itch. We were already in Florida and I asked my wife for permission to start earlier. I wanted to get into the trenches. That permission was granted, and Memorial was also kind enough to move up my start date so that I could get in there.
MH: As a new CEO in normal circumstances, you’re going to try to get to know the staff and there would be some town halls and rounding. This is a different situation. How did you handle that?
Powers: It was different in every way. I am very much a firm believer in one-to-one or face-to-face introductions. (I’m a) big fan of management by walking around, so that was a big challenge. Memorial really has done a better job than anyone else that I know of in managing this.
We certainly limited access, and all meetings, pretty much, were done via WebEx or Zoom. However, I did do quite a bit of rounding with some of the senior team leaders. I would typically pair up with our chief nursing officer or chief operating officer and go out and hit all the units. We paid special attention to the COVID units. Of course, we took proper precautions, we were masked; but at the same time, that visibility is absolutely key.
In normal circumstances, when you have that typical 60- to 90-day transition, forming relationships is incredibly important. Even though these were different circumstances, that visibility really wasn’t that much different in terms of getting out to the front lines and letting them see that we’re there with them.
MH: How have you pivoted in terms of some of the goals you initially had coming into the job?
Powers: We’ve basically been focused on one thing and one thing only. That definitely altered my plans, but at the same time, I think that first 60 to 90 days, it’s so important to do nothing other than go out and listen and form relationships. I think listening is probably the single most important part of that. And so from that perspective, I still have had the opportunity to go out and listen. But it’s been a more narrow strategic focus as well. So that’s been the biggest difference in this, as I integrate into the organization.
MH: You’re at the flagship hospital, but there are a lot of other facilities across Memorial Healthcare. What’s the process been like for you integrating with your colleagues across the system?
Powers: One of the unique things about Memorial that attracted me was an incredible stability and leadership and tenure. The leaders of this organization, many of my department leaders, they’ve all been here for quite a while and they know the organization inside and out. During my interview process, that culture came through loud and clear and those were normal times. I had the good fortune of getting to meet a lot of the senior leaders in the organization. But still I’ve made it a point whenever possible to get out and spend some time with not only our corporate leadership but also my fellow CEOs at our other facilities.
MH: Florida has started to open up its economy. Your hospital was the first part of Memorial Healthcare to bring back elective surgeries and have check-in areas outside of the hospital.
Powers: That was quite a unique experience. We did our pre-admission center at a conference center we have on campus. We tasked our leaders to come up with plans of how we would do that versus using the typical pre-admission centers in the hospital. That has worked incredibly well.
Our leaders know this organization inside and out and they’re really the ones who come up with the solutions to the challenges we face. The interesting thing about this pre-admission center is that it’s one of those exercises where if you sat down and reimagined healthcare from scratch, this is exactly what you would come up with, because it has everything in one spot. The patient comes, they go through, they get everything done in one location.
It is certainly something that we would love to incorporate into future healthcare design going forward. It is very much patient-friendly.
MH: Your hospital got about $26 million from the CARES Act. How has that been utilized?
Powers: We actually haven’t utilized a lot of it yet. This organization has an incredibly strong balance sheet, so we’ve managed very well through this pandemic. We’ve had our financial challenges like everybody else, but we are also able to react very quickly, limit expenses so that we were not nearly as impacted as many other places have been.
MH: There’s been concern over the CARES Act funding; that hospitals with stronger balance sheets are getting that money. What are your thoughts on that front?
Powers: We are a safety-net hospital and we are a hospital district, so we certainly do more than our fair share. … We’ve followed the same rules as everybody else.
MH: What are your concerns about a second wave of coronavirus cases?
Powers: We’re certainly very concerned, and we’re remaining very vigilant. That’s why I would say we’re in phase two of our reopening. We’ve brought back limited capacity in phase one. We’ve added a little bit more capacity in phase two, but we’re nowhere near where we could be because we’ve been very vigilant to make sure that we’re prepared for phase two.
Being a safety-net hospital, this is the place where the community will come if the disease comes back. We take that very seriously, and it is our duty to the community we serve to be ready and prepared should it happen.