When you hear the phrase “in this together” you may not envision longtime business competitors coming together to share ideas, processes and resources. That is exactly what is happening among a team of south central and southern Ohio health system leaders who are working together through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ohio’s Region 7 Health Care Collaborative includes CEOs from Adena Health, Fayette County Memorial Hospital (FCMH), Holzer Health System, King’s Daughters Medical Center of Ohio (KDMC), and the Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC). The collaborative came together to create an incident command center to coordinate regional care of patients suspected of having or testing positive for COVID-19, and for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases in the area. The collaborative has been a model for the state throughout the pandemic.
However, these health care systems are no strangers to collaborating. Several members of the collaborative have already been working together to assure patients in the region have access to the care they need, close to home and family.
“It started more than two years ago with a phone call between Mike Canady, CEO at Holzer, and me talking about our shared vision for each of our organizations — to stay independent,” said Adena President and CEO Jeff Graham. “We started looking at how we could accomplish that, and how we start working together for the better good of the community. From there the conversations started to grow.”
Canady was having similar talks with former SOMC CEO Randy Arnett, so with Graham, the three came together to discuss how the organizations might collaborate to achieve their common goals of independence and keeping care close to home. “I’m a firm believer that you can’t do business with someone you don’t have a relationship with,” said Canady. “The whole thing has been about recognizing that we all have a lot of similar interests and we have crafted some of our business opportunities around that.”
Two more CEOs joined the collaborative in its discussions. The then five-member group included Jack Janoso, president and CEO of Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster, and Mike Diener, CEO of Fayette County Memorial Hospital in Washington C.H. Last spring the group held a formal work session with key members of their teams discussing how they could work in partnership for the betterment of each other and the communities they serve. Thoughts discussed included ideas such as shared purchasing opportunities or clinical services sharing.
“That was really the next phase of our collaboration,” said Graham. “What are the things we can do together to really keep the care close to home?” He added that even though each organization is trying to accomplish the same thing, they also remain competitive in their markets. “That will never change. But by having this collaborative, it really aligns the relationships and how we build off of each other in the services we provide or don’t provide within the region.”
The work group included SOMC’s new president and CEO Ben Gill, while still in his previous role. When named CEO, Gill was immediately onboard with nurturing the collaboration of likeminded competitors. “There is a tendency to think in absolutes when it comes to competition, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case,” said Gill. “Competition has its place. But if the goal is to take care of the community we serve then there is also an obligation to collaborate.”
CEO Mike Diener of FCMH, which has a formal partnership with Adena for a number of shared specialty services said, “It has been interesting for us, because Fayette Memorial Hospital is located in a region that pulls us into the northern region and Columbus market. But organizationally, operationally and culturally we have much more in common with the hospitals in the southern Ohio region. They have some of the same challenges and the same opportunities that we have. It is refreshing and encouraging to coordinate our activities with them. I feel FCMH is better prepared because of the relationships we’ve had with our health care partners in southern Ohio.”
To learn from their peers, the CEOs reached out to a group in northern Ohio that had formed a similar relationship. Using what they had learned from their norther partners, the southern Ohio group began exploring how to move toward the next phase of their collaboration.
Over the past six to eight weeks, the group has become formally known as Ohio’s Region 7 Health Care Collaborative, and is a model for other regions in the state. The relationships that have been built between the health care leaders continue to strengthen, and are benefiting the region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Having this established relationship has really been a huge advantage for us in how quickly we pulled together the Regional COVID-19 Incident Command,” said Graham. “We were a step ahead of most regions in Ohio, because of how we and our teams had been building relationships prior to COVID-19. It was very easy for our teams to align and to assemble the necessary people and resources needed to establish a regional command center.”
Through the Regional Incident Command, there has been teamwork at all levels. The collaborative teams quickly adopted a plan to use similar processes and treatment area set-ups. This allows each entity to know on a daily basis how everyone in the region is prepared to care for their patients and to monitor volumes should they have to transfer patients in the event of a massive surge.
Along with the Incident Command, the CEOs have maintained at least weekly conversations to discuss high-level issues, including the challenges all health systems are facing because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Unclear how long COVID-19 will be a part of their businesses and everyone’s daily lives, the leaders agree they want to continue the work together for the good of the communities and people they serve long after the crisis.
Submitted on behalf of the Region 7 Healthcare Collaborative including Adena Health, Fayette County Memorial Hospital, Holzer Health System, King’s Daughters Medical Center of Ohio and Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC).