How we persevered through the challenges and changes of 2020

Innovation

In an ever-changing industry such as healthcare, it’s difficult to predict what the future will bring.  

Last year around this time, we published my healthcare predictions for 2020, and needless to say, they were lacking one important event—the COVID-19 pandemic. So, this year, I’ve decided to take a different approach and instead, reflect on 2020.

While we’re all ready to put this year behind us, looking back, I’m proud of our Company and how we responded to the changes going on in the world around us. Our responses to the ongoing challenges of 2020 validate many of the practices we had in place well before the pandemic—from patient experience programs to supply chain operations to inclusion and diversity initiatives. The following are just a few of the reasons we were able to adjust to the circumstances around us and remain strong in uncertain times.

We have a history of adapting to change and doing it well

Since 2009, we have successfully managed in the face of an economic recession, regulatory changes, sequestration, and Medicare payment freezes and cuts. And now, we can add a global pandemic to that list.

When the CDC declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March, no one was sure what that would mean, and news was changing daily. At Encompass Health, we quickly established a COVID-19 task force to keep our hospitals and home health and hospice locations informed on CDC guidance and precautions we were implementing to protect our employees and patients from contracting the virus. When we formed the task force, we didn’t know the role rehabilitation would play for those recovering from COVID-19. Those with severe reactions to the virus need our level of care to return to their independence. Both our business segments quickly responded to meet the needs of these patients in a safe environment. We adapted quickly, but I’m not surprised. We have a proven track record of working through difficult situations successfully.

Inclusion and diversity is embedded in our culture

In addition to the pandemic, 2020 also brought racial injustice to the forefront of the national conversation. Inclusion and diversity have always been a focus at Encompass Health—we formed our I&D council more than a decade ago—but we felt this was a time to have some open, and maybe even a little uncomfortable, conversations about race. We started a video series with leaders discussing topics such as patient preferences related to race and the death of George Floyd. These conversations will continue in 2021 and beyond, as will our commitment to helping end racial injustice.

The patient has always been at the center of what we do

The patient experience has always been of the utmost importance in healthcare, and the pandemic showed us just how important it is. As hospitals were forced to close their doors to visitors, often the only contact patients had for weeks at a time were their clinicians. At our locations, I’m proud to say I’ve heard countless stories of how our staff kept patients connected to loved ones and showed them the compassionate care they so deserved. This is nothing new at our hospitals. We’ve always celebrated our patients’ successes big and small. From celebrating first steps to hosting birthday and discharge celebrations, these have long been a part of what we do at Encompass Health. Only now, the teams in our hospitals and home health and hospice locations have found new ways to allow our patients’ loved ones to share in the celebration when they can’t be there physically.

We find innovative solutions to get employees and patients the tools they need

Early on, healthcare providers struggled to meet the growing need for personal protective equipment (PPE). This almost instantaneous spike in demand also drove costs up as supplies quickly dwindled. Our supply chain operations took several actions to prevent this from occurring again and ensure our employees and patients have the protection they need. We identified and contracted with secondary supply sources, as well as secured additional warehouse space and logistical support from our primary distributors, so we can have larger levels of inventory on hand.

Supply chain operations is a team that is more behind-the-scenes but is critical to our daily operations, and in this case, in protecting our patients and employees during a time of need.

Our employees and all healthcare employees truly are heroes

Finally, I’d like to end with recognizing all healthcare employees. They truly are heroes. When the pandemic shut most of the world down, they came to work, many to treat those with COVID-19.

As we enter the holiday season, I am most thankful for our employees—and that will not change as we close the door on 2020 and enter a new year.

Mark Tarr is president and CEO of Encompass Health.