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Building a Team During the Darkest Days of COVID-19

By Amanda Henson, MSHA, MBA, FACHE

August 30, 2021

Amanda Henson writes a regular blog series for ACCCBuzz about how she created and helps manage a streamlined oncology service line within the Baptist Health System in Kentucky. In her first post, Henson talked about how she embraced the concept of “systemness” in her new role as the system vice president of oncology and cardiovascular services lines for Baptist Health. In her second post, Henson discussed how Baptist’s different oncology sites learned from one another by sharing their insights and experiences as they came together under a single service line. Here, Henson talks about how the oncology leaders across the health system united to problem-solve in the midst of COVID-19. 


A couple months ago, when the nine hospitals that make up Baptist Health System seemed to be getting back to business as usual, I planned to write this post as a reflection on the pandemic. I was going to discuss the silver lining I managed to find in last year's crisis: the collaborative team of oncology leaders I had helped build across Baptist’s vast health system. This team, assembled quickly in a time of crisis, responded to the unknowns of COVID-19 as the pandemic played out.  


As the delta variant of the virus wreaks more havoc in our medical communities, I cannot write about our oncology COVID-19 response team in retrospect. As many of us see infections rates that exceed those of  last year, we know that the crisis is far from over. In any forum we can, we all must continue to encourage our peers, our families, and our friends to get the COVID-19 vaccination. That is the only way we will be able to return to business as usual.   


Like hundreds of my fellow employees, on March 30, 2020, I left my office at Baptist Health’s corporate headquarters in Louisville, KY, to work at home. For me, after spending the prior months visiting Baptist Health’s nine hospitals across Kentucky and Southern Indiana to build a coordinated oncology service line, there was an immediate shift in focus. All of our efforts in the oncology service line became focused on helping cancer leaders across Baptist Health best protect and advocate for our most vulnerable patients.  


Building a Team 


Thankfully, I had with me a brilliant clinical resource to help with this task. Susan Yackzan, PhD, APRN, MSN, AOCN, the associate vice president/nurse scientist of the Baptist Health Cancer Service Line, was our leading expert in developing best practices during this time of critical decision-making. Dr. Yackzan has an extensive background in oncology nursing, and she is widely recognized across our system and nationally as an oncology nursing expert. She and I worked hand in hand to provide oncology site leaders with real-time information about the virus, find answers to questions, and create a daily forum to share issues and concerns across our oncology service line. 


The matrix of oncology services at Baptist Health relies on site leaders to understand the infrastructure of  each of the health system’s clinical practices and outpatient cancer treatment centers. The channels of communication across Baptist Health and its leadership bodies were muddled during the initial weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, mostly due to the speed of rapidly enacted changes across the health system and the multiple directives coming from local, system, state, and national leaders. The pace at which Baptist’s hospital leadership implemented change in the health system’s inpatient settings varied from the medical group leadership’s changes to the outpatient clinic setting. This made it confusing for the cancer programs who were answerable to the leadership of both groups.   


Susan and I began representing both hospital and medical group leadership as a “unified cancer center” on daily calls to help everyone keep pace with the changing dynamics of COVID-19. We quickly established a daily oncology service line call, which included site leaders across all of our locations. We served as information-gatherers and best practice advisors, pulling data and daily information for the group to discuss. Site leaders made decisions collaboratively and rolled out consistent messages across our markets.  


We met virtually twice a day for the first few weeks to manage the information we were getting from the health system’s COVID-19 task force, local hospital leadership, and medical group leadership. These calls were crucial to answering leadership questions in as close to real time as possible. As a result, the oncology service line was able to implement uniform protocols in response to the virus, make decisions quickly and collaboratively, and stay aligned and sometimes ahead of other hospital departments and medical group practices.  


Helping a Vulnerable Patient Population  


Our team understood the specific vulnerabilities of patients with cancer to the virus, and we often advocated for stricter guidelines and considerations to help protect these patients. For example, the cancer programs reacted quickly and decisively to restrict visitors, implement a COVID-19 screening protocol for staff, look for creative solutions to PPE conservation, and facilitate telehealth across all of our cancer practices to minimize traffic to our centers. We partnered with each site to determine how to manage COVID-19 positive patients with cancer who needed to continue receiving life-saving chemotherapy or radiation.  


The work we did as a service line during the worst months of COVID-19 in 2020 served as an unexpected team-building exercise for all of the cancer program leaders across Baptist Health. It jump-started relationships among the site leaders, and it broke down invisible silos. Teamwork became a silver lining during a horrible crisis, and during this resurgence, it remains intact to continue serving our patients with cancer. Although they meet less frequently now, the members of this team of leaders continue to communicate about the challenges they are facing during this latest COVID-19 resurgence. Our meetings have evolved beyond responding to the initial chaos of COVID-19 and are now more aligned with the other initiatives in our oncology service line. 


In next month’s blog, I will talk about the development of our cancer service line’s quality scorecard and how I engaged clinicians, staff, and site leaders across Baptist Health to develop common goals for our oncology providers.  


Amanda Henson, MSHA, MBA, FACHE, is the system vice president of oncology and cardiovascular services lines for Baptist Health, the largest not-for-profit health system in Kentucky, with nine hospitals throughout the state and southern Indiana. Amanda has served in oncology leadership roles for more than 15 years, ten of those with Baptist Health. She earned her master’s degrees in business administration and healthcare administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a fellow with the American College of Healthcare Executives, and she serves on the board of trustees for the Association of Community Cancer Centers.

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