Episode 83:
Urgency to Transform Our Health System
Lydia Jumonville, President and CEO, SCL Health
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In this episode of Fireside Chat, we sit down with Lydia Jumonville, President and CEO, SCL Health to talk about the necessity of transforming care to become increasingly integrated and less expensive. We also discussed lessons learned for SCL in the COVID crisis and the importance of being transparent and clear in communication as a leader.

Lydia Jumonville was named President and Chief Executive Officer of SCL Health in October 2017, bringing more than 25 years of successful executive leadership experience in complex, dynamic, multi-state integrated healthcare delivery systems to her role. Lydia had served as the interim President and CEO from May 2017 through October 2017. Lydia joined SCL Health as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in June 2010, with responsibility for all financial and accounting functions as well as supply chain and real estate for the health system, ensuring the security, stewardship and growth of the system’s financial resources. Read more

Transcription

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Lydia Jumonville 0:03
We are going to have to transform the way we deliver care. And that means those clinical processes have to be redesigned and we have to standardize more. And so we believe we have to be a very integrated system. We believe that needs to move more quickly. In one of our major markets, we’re seen as a low-cost, high-quality provider and that’s who we want to be.

Gary Bisbee 0:26
That was Lydia Jumonville president and CEO SCL Health speaking about its four top 2021 priorities and the necessity to transform care to become increasingly integrated and less expensive. I’m Gary Bisbee and this is Fireside Chat. Lydia brought us up to date on the status of the COVID surge in Colorado and Montana and the rollout of vaccines. She described with pride how SCL health is administering vaccines to diverse communities. She detailed how next-generation health system CEO skills and experiences will be required to be broader because of COVID. Relating to her experience as a CFO, she addressed the question of why more CFOs have not become CEOs. Lydia spoke about the fear and anxiety that have been present in the community, employees of the health system, and her friends and family. She shared that full transparency and clear and unemotional description of the facts is the best antidote. Let’s listen.

Lydia Jumonville 1:29
Personally, I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother, I have friends and other family members. They were all struggling last year, but the common theme for everybody was fear. There was a lot of fear and there was a lot of anxiety, and a lot of that came from misinformation, lack of clarity around what was really going on.

Gary Bisbee 1:52
Lydia spoke about the characteristics of a leader in a crisis, including being empathetic, humble, flexible, and relentless communicator. I’m delighted to welcome Lydia Jumonville to the microphone. Well, good morning, Lydia, and welcome.

Lydia Jumonville 2:10
Thank you, Gary, it’s great to see you. I wish it was in person, but it’s good to see you.

Gary Bisbee 2:15
Absolutely. Well, we’re pleased to have you at the microphone and I know life has been challenging in your role, so we do appreciate your spending time with us. Why don’t we start with the set of COVID questions? Of course, everybody is having to manage that and all of you and your peers are encountering all kinds of different relationships and partnerships and working with the governments and so on. But can you bring us up to speed over the last year, what has the surge been like in SCL Health service areas?

Lydia Jumonville 2:52
We actually were surging pretty early in the pandemic in Colorado. We had some of the first cases in the country. And so in our Colorado sites, we had a pretty good spring surge that was pretty challenging. But on the other hand, we have a lot of sites in Montana, they pretty much didn’t see any patience in that first surge. So they had electives and everything shut down and just no business. And what happened then is Montana started getting their first big surge toward the end of the summer. And we’ll talk a little bit more, because at that point in time, Colorado calmed down a lot. I mean, we were pretty steady and stable through the summer, but Montana started getting a big surge. And then the biggest surge that we had in both states actually occurred around Thanksgiving. We hit our biggest peak right at the end of November. We’re very fortunate that we didn’t see it continue to grow and peak with Christmas holidays and New Year’s. So from December 1 on we really saw a steady decline in both states and in hospitalizations and in cases. With the vaccine then coming, I think everybody felt a lot of hope.

Gary Bisbee 4:04
Thanks for that update, Lydia, on the surges. And you’re making a point that there’s been a regional variation around the country in terms of the surge. And in your case where you operate in several states, they kind of balance each other off. Have you found that actually was useful, that you could exchange resources from one state to the other?

Lydia Jumonville 4:27
Yes, that was really useful at the start of the Montana surge in the summer. That’s when I would say that was most noticeable. They really got to a pretty tough surge, especially in one of the hospitals there, our largest one. And we asked our employees here in Colorado, said, “Would you go up there and volunteer?” and we had dozens of them go volunteer to provide their expertise. And so that was one of the real tangible examples of how our associates, and we call our employees associates, so If I use that interchangeably through the podcast, you’ll know I’m talking about. They really came together across sites more than we’ve ever done before. And they were so proud. They welcomed them in Montana. Montana does not have a lot of systems either. So I would say we got a lot of positive press and PR for our Montana hospitals because they were part of a system that was actually behind them and helping them through the pandemic.

Gary Bisbee 5:26
Could you speak, Lydia, to the demands, you’ve kind of made reference to this, but just to the demands on SCL Health of COVID in terms of your people and your caregivers?

Lydia Jumonville 5:39
It’s an understatement to say it was challenging. I think we all know that our caregivers and really all of our associates in healthcare have been through something this past year that they never have before. And one of the things that I’ll talk about a little more is, one of the things we decided early on is we needed to care for our associates. We knew it was going to be a long haul for them and I would say that their resilience has been absolutely amazing. We have an incredibly engaged workforce. And one of the things I’ll probably talk about more with some of your questions is, we see more unity in our system right now than we’ve ever seen. It’s one of the positives coming out of COVID for us. So I would say they’re doing extremely well. We have not been in the peak of a surge for a while now, hope that we’re bringing to our communities with the vaccine. And so while I will say they’re certainly tired, I believe that they’ve held up extremely well and they’ve really pulled together. I think resiliency is something that we’re going to be focused on certainly all of 2021. I mean, we’re going to expect that as we start focusing on other priorities besides COVID, we’re going to have to balance that with the fact that we have some pretty tired employees in our systems.

Gary Bisbee 6:57
Do you think that there’s going to be any long-term effect on some of these employees with the sustained stress that they’ve been under for the last year or so?

Lydia Jumonville 7:07
Well, I think we need to watch for that. I think that’s to be expected. There have been a lot of, even with our patients, the communities, you know that mental health issues are rising because of it. That’s no surprise to anyone. We’ve done a lot of things for our employees all through the course of last year and are still doing them to try to help them in all kinds of areas of their life so that they can get the balance they need to actually sustain this for a long term. So we’ll keep doing that. That’s why I said this is not going to stop here in the next few months. We’re going to need to do this for a while.

Gary Bisbee 7:42
What about travelers or getting temporary caregivers in to help out? Did you have to do much of that, Lydia?

Lydia Jumonville 7:50
Well, as you know, you could get them if your part of the country was surging when other parts were not. But it became very difficult to get the contract labor that you needed when all of the country was surging at the same time. And there were different times last year, like certainly during the holidays when that was occurring.

Gary Bisbee 8:09
Was there an explosion of telemedicine for SCL Health like there was in many other health systems around the country?

Lydia Jumonville 8:16
Absolutely. Fortunately for us, we already had a telehealth system that was activated. We saw those visits skyrocket in March when virtually a lot of in-person for things that were more elective and not acute care were shut down. And we saw a big surge in those visits to where predominantly our ambulatory primary care visits and those things were done via telehealth. But then the interesting thing is they came down pretty rapidly too in June and in the summer when people could get out a little more and felt comfortable going to see their physician. So I think the message there is it’s certainly here to stay. I think it helped our providers and some of our clinicians there get used to doing it that way so they were more comfortable. And I think our patients are going to demand it. I mean, the convenience there for certain low acuity things like primary care, our patients, and our communities are going to continue to want that. So I think we’re going to need to do both for a long time very well, but I do think telehealth has a definite place to stay and it did accelerate it.

Gary Bisbee 9:25
Do you think that the insurance companies will pay for telemedicine going forward like they have during the COVID crisis?

Lydia Jumonville 9:34
I think they will. I think they see the benefits of it. I think it is a cost-effective, efficient way for patients in their networks to get care and so yes, I think they will pay for it. Unfortunately, it was a long time coming. But I do believe they will.

Gary Bisbee 9:51
You made reference to vaccines and the hope that that’s bringing everyone. Has SCL Health been active in the administration of vaccines in your markets?

Lydia Jumonville 10:02
Absolutely. We began planning to deliver vaccines efficiently and effectively long before we received our first doses. And we received our first doses December 15. And so weeks before that we were planning, we were doing educational sessions, so that we could get our associates as well as our communities comfortable with taking the vaccine. So we did a lot of preparation. And then I would say, certainly in Colorado, I would say the health systems have really led the vaccination effort with the state and local governments here. We’ve not used as broad of a network as they have in other states. So we’ve been very engaged from day one. Most of our systems have had large vaccination events and I’ll describe one that was really important in our community. The governor asked us to hold a large mass vaccination event. And we were looking at some of the numbers in January and I think we were all concerned that some of our communities of color and our underserved weren’t getting vaccinated at the same rate that some of other sectors of our population were. And so we jumped on that and said, “Absolutely, and we want to hold it in an indoor venue in the heart of the city of Denver.” And so we worked with the city and with the state government and got the big National Western Complex there. So we had plenty of room to socially distance. We knew that it was important that it be indoors, a lot of people were doing drive-thru vaccinations, and that’s fine, those are very effective, but not necessarily for this population that may be more immobile. Transportation was an issue. And so we actually partnered with almost 40 nonprofit organizations that really work in these communities and they’re trusted by the people in these communities. And they provided registration assistance for us, outreach for us. They let us get in their venues like churches and do educational sessions to try to get individuals comfortable with taking the vaccination. They transported people there the day of the event. We had churches bring busloads of individuals in for their appointments. And so it was a really, really well-orchestrated event. I’m so proud of my team, you can tell, with the way it was pulled off. Actually, one of the interesting things that was so important, we use that whole venue and we set up two chairs all over it, spread out because we knew they needed to come in and we didn’t want them to have to move around and be too mobile. Many of these people, they’re on walkers and they’re in wheelchairs and that kind of thing. And the reason there were two chairs is we let each of them come in with a caregiver, somebody that they were comfortable being with, and so we’d just escort them to their seating and we brought the vaccination and the computer on wheels to them and did it right there and they sat for their 15 minutes or so to make sure they were okay. So it was an incredible event. We were able to vaccinate 5000 people in that day in early February. And we’ll have the second event to give them their second dose here on the first weekend of March.

Gary Bisbee 13:19
Good for you. That sounds like just a terrific way to go about doing it. What about your associates? Have there been enough supplied to vaccinate all of them yet?

Lydia Jumonville 13:29
Yes, we were able to get most of our associates that wanted the vaccine vaccinated early in the month of January, we were already through that group. Our associates are very engaged. Most of them were extremely happy to get the vaccine and thought that it represented great hope. I mean, they’ve been on the front lines of this so they saw what COVID was doing to individuals and so they were very, very glad to get the vaccine. Having said that, as I said, early on we knew we needed to educate. There was a lot of misinformation out there. There was a lot of confusion about the vaccine. And so we wanted to make sure our associates had the facts. And we did town halls on it and let physicians they trust speak to them about it. And we held small collaborative group sessions to where they could talk about their concerns. I mean, we just treated it very transparently and tried to put a lot of clarity and facts around the vaccine rollout. One of the things, Gary, I would say that was exciting, I’ll mention this because it was that first really wonderful glimmer of hope that came during the holidays. I mentioned we received our first shipments of vaccine on December 15. And that was the week before the Christmas holiday. And our senior team members, including myself, we were rounding through a lot of the hospitals that week really wanting to thank our associates and kind of spread a little holiday cheer and push the “Comfort Cart,” that’s what we call the cart where we walk around and give them treats and coffee and things like that. And it was so fun because the first day the vaccine came was when I was starting to go out to every site that week. And you could tell, as they got it, the change in the atmosphere at the hospital was so palpable. They were so excited. They wanted to tell you about it. And so it was just that really wonderful holiday cheer and hope that really started spreading that week. And I could see it as I went to each site. And so that was really exciting.

Gary Bisbee 15:28
Very much so. Well, why don’t we use that as a springboard to ask you to share with us an update on SCL Health and describe it for us please, Lydia?

Lydia Jumonville 15:38
SCL Health is a not-for-profit, faith-based system. We’re highly integrated. We operate primarily in Montana and Colorado, as I mentioned earlier. We still have a few safety net clinics in Kansas, which is where the system was founded. And we have 8 hospitals, we have over 150 physician clinics, we have mental health, home health, a variety of joint ventures for ambulatory surgery centers, endoscopy centers, imaging centers. So we’re a pretty comprehensive healthcare system throughout the continuum of care.

Gary Bisbee 16:13
And you’ve been a CEO for how many years now, Lydia?

Lydia Jumonville 16:17
Oh, gosh, it’s gonna be 4 pretty soon. It’s hard to believe. It will be 4 years in May.

Gary Bisbee 16:22
It does seem like yesterday. What about the priorities? What would you say SCL Health’s top several priorities are for this year?

Lydia Jumonville 16:31
Good question. And I would say, absolutely it’s still going to be dealing with COVID and vaccinations. So let’s just take that off the table. Maybe the question that you’re asking a little bit is what our strategic priorities are and how we’ve had to adjust them a little bit during the COVID pandemic and how we’re going to move forward. In 2019, we just had completed rolling out the first year of our new mission forward 2025 strategic plan. And then, of course, the pandemic hit in early 2020. And so we had been in the middle of it and we had a lot of activities underway. But, of course, we had to pause a moment and deal with the crisis of the moment. Making sure that we were appropriately dealing with COVID, but then quickly saying, “What in our plan needs to be deferred a bit and which things do we need to continue doing even through it?” And so I would say by May, we had given our strategic plan a pretty good look and continued to do that over the summer. And there were actually very few things that we felt should be adjusted. And I think that’s probably not surprising because if it’s really a strategic plan with five-year goals, they’re not going to change very much because of a pandemic. So most of the changes related to timing, just speed of certain elements. Some were sped up, some were slowed down depending on what we needed to focus on. So I would say going into this year, our hope is that we’re not going to see another surge. I mean, that is our hope right now is that we’re getting enough people vaccinated, we’re going to continue that, and that at some point, mid-year and longer, we’re going to see some semblance of normalcy return to all of our lives. Now, we’re ready and prepared if that’s not the case, of course. But I think that’s the way we’re thinking and planning right now. And so I’ll say they’re clearly four what I will call primary areas of focus in our plan and they won’t surprise you, but most of our priorities fall under them. One is that we want a very empowered and aligned workforce, and you know that’s important. They’re the foundation of everything we do, that is our culture. They are the heart of our mission. And so we want to make sure they’re aligned and we’re all focused and rowing in the same direction. The second element is we also need an aligned clinician workforce. So whether they’re employed, whether they’re independent, we want to make sure that they are aligned on our strategy and where we’re going. And the other element I’ll talk about is clinical and operational transformation. And that’s why it’s so important that our associates and clinicians are aligned. We are trying to be a high-value-oriented system. We do think the cost of healthcare absolutely has to come down. And it’s not going to come from just things like productivity management and supply chain and all those things that we’ve been doing for many years and have to continue to do. We are going to have to transform the way we deliver care. And that means those clinical processes have to be redesigned and we have to standardize more. And so we believe we have to be a very integrated system. We believe that needs to move more quickly. In one of our major markets, we’re seen as a low-cost high, quality provider and that’s who we want to be. And I want to make sure in all of our regions that that is how people describe us. And so clinical and operational transformation is about all of that. And then, of course, growth. We want to grow. Our major market in Denver is a high growth market. And so that’s fortunate. We still need new facilities in different areas of the Denver Metro area and will into the future, but in some of our other areas, it’s growth, it’s helping our rural partners because they’re struggling. I’ll give an example there in Montana and in western Colorado where our St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction is, they have broad outreach, big telehealth networks, a broad rural network that we try to keep very connected and providing the services they need. And then growth outside our market, Gary. I mean, we’re interested in growth in our markets, but we’re also interested in strategically aligned growth outside of our markets.

Gary Bisbee 20:54
You made reference to scale being useful between Montana and Colorado and the various facilities there. Do you think that there will be a consolidation wave across the country? I’m not speaking now about SCL Health necessarily, but just generally speaking. Do you see, because of COVID, more consolidation over the next several years?

Lydia Jumonville 21:18
I do think the M&A activity will pick up. There are still rurals that are struggling financially. Quite frankly, there are still systems that are struggling financially, especially, I mean, smaller and larger ones. So I think we’re going to see a lot of restructuring and change. I just think that’s absolutely going to occur. In some of our markets, we’re in right now, we’re not seeing much of it yet. I think that we’re seeing some in contiguous markets, we’ve seen a little bit of that activity even last year. But I would expect once things calm down a little bit with respect to COVID and we get more vaccinations done, I do believe that M&A will pick up.

Gary Bisbee 21:57
Well, SCL Health is an example of a regional health network, in essence, and that fits your model about the value into the equation. Do you think regional health networks will grow around the country?

Lydia Jumonville 22:12
I think they will. I think the important thing is we are going to have to become more integrated in our approach to medicine and we are going to have to transform a lot of our processes. I think you’re better able to do that on a regional basis, and I can talk more a little bit about our size and where I think sometimes it is an advantage. I’m not saying you can’t do that with large systems, you certainly can. But it’s harder, because you have a lot more different regions to coordinate and I would say that you can really deliver that value-based care on a regional basis. There are a lot of strong regional systems throughout the country right now. So I think that model has shown to be successful if you still have enough scale and you’re doing the right activity. So I do think you can be a strong regional system.

Gary Bisbee 23:03
I’d like to follow up and ask some questions about leadership, particularly from the standpoint, will COVID influence certain roles? Let’s take for example, the chief medical officer role at the SCL Health level or at the health system level. Do you think that the CMO role will evolve somewhat due to COVID and learnings coming out of COVID?

Lydia Jumonville 23:28
I do. I think the CMO role or chief clinical officer role of a system has been evolving. I, quite frankly, think that position leadership at the C-suite level has become more and more important over the years and we were all moving in that direction. I do think COVID will accelerate that.

Gary Bisbee 23:47
What about other roles, let’s say the CEO role. Do you think the next generation of CEOs, that there’ll be expectations for skills developed that are different than your generation has been?

Lydia Jumonville 24:04
Yes. And again, I think some of that’s been changing a little bit over time anyway. I think historically our CEOs came up through operations, usually had master’s in hospital administration, you know, there was a typical background that, I think, generally, that people saw in the individuals that were moving in those roles. I think is we have larger systems out there and they’re more complicated, because they’re quite large, I think that what’s becoming more and more important is the skill sets, the leadership skills that are absolutely critical to run these systems successfully. And you can have people with different backgrounds, like a CFO, or a chief medical officer or someone like that, if they have the right leadership skills and they’ve had some breadth of experience that they’ve seen in a system. I think they can make a really strong CEO. Coming out of the pandemic, I think there has been an acknowledgment that there is a lot of strength from being part of a system. I do think more will join systems because of it. I have never heard any of our care sites express over and over again like they did this last year, and even our associates, “I know why I’m in a system. There’s absolutely value to being a system through something like this. I would not have wanted to do it by myself.” And so they saw why that depth of expertise at a system level and those skills were critically important to them. In the balance sheet, I mean, we all were worried in March, even those of us with very strong balance sheets, what it could look like if our liquidity started falling. And so I think there will be a lot more M&A activity that CEOs will need to focus on. The other thing that I think is going to be expected is an ability to lead transformational change. I think that was always important, but I believe we’ve proven that we can move faster than we’ve moved in the past. I think healthcare gets a rap for being kind of slow to move compared to other industries, and I think probably it’s been deserved. And I think we’ve shown that we can move very quickly when we want to and when we need to. And I think we’re going to need to do that with our clinical transformation activities.

Gary Bisbee 26:25
On that point about moving faster and continuing the pace that you achieved during COVID, as you talk to your peer CEOs around the country, do you think that’s a generally held view?

Lydia Jumonville 26:39
I do. With most of my peers that I’ve talked to regularly throughout 2020, again, they’re all moving at paces that they never have before. And I think not to get into a lot of the challenges with healthcare in general before they pandemic and the fact that we have to get our costs down and it’s going to have to be redesigned a bit, we could do a whole podcast on that, Gary, that’s very important. And so yes, I think we do see the urgency around transforming our healthcare system.

Gary Bisbee 27:10
As we were talking about CEO skills, of course, you were a CFO for a number of years, now a CEO. Why haven’t more CFOs become CEOs do you think, Lydia?

Lydia Jumonville 27:22
I think there are a number of reasons. I think one of them relates to what I mentioned earlier. I think there was a historical career track and I think that generally our CEOs came out of operations. And I think also when you had a lot of smaller hospitals and small systems, I’m not sure even the skills of your CFO were ones that, quite frankly, were the strongest skills you needed in a CEO. But I think with larger systems and more sophisticated CFOs, I mean, we have more CFOs out there now that are very strategic in nature, they’re more inspirational, collaborative, skills and traits that they have, better communicators, maybe, than some historically have been. So I think that you’ll see more of them moving into the CEO role.

Gary Bisbee 28:10
One last question on these changing roles and expectations and that would be for the board of directors. Do you think as you recruit board members in the future that you’ll be looking for a different set of characteristics than in the past?

Lydia Jumonville 28:28
That’s a great question. I don’t think we will be, but I do think systems will be. I think I probably talked to you about this before. We really have a phenomenal board at our system that, I’m going to say, practices all of the best practices for governance right now. And I might describe some of them because I think they’re going to be very important that boards move more in that direction in the future. First of all, it starts with succession planning. Our board does a very thoughtful succession planning process. And we have always looked at diversity from a skill set – experience, gender, race, all of those things. We want our board to be very multidisciplinary. And we’ve always pulled our board members from across the country. We can find those individuals with the skills we want in our markets. We want that and we want ones that actually live and work in other parts of the country so that we can learn from their experience. So I think that’s very important. We actually plan it out very carefully. If we’ve got key financially oriented board members that will be rolling off in a year or two, we make sure that we’re recruiting ones that meet that skill set, because we want to always make sure we have all the complements that we need on our board. Another thing we do is really robust orientation of our board. We think that that’s critical that we allow them to understand our system and get up to speed very quickly so that they can hit the ground running day one. Our boards don’t come together but a few times a year. And so you don’t want to spend a year or two for them getting up to speed and being able to be at their most effective place. Another thing we do is board evaluations every year. Our board evaluates itself every year, takes the feedback seriously, and implements changes. And I will say one of the best practices that we really moved to a few years ago that I think is just really phenomenal and that’s that we evaluate our individual board members in the year before they come up for renewal. So we allow three, three-year terms, that’s our maximum. But if you finish your second year of your first three-year term, you get an evaluation by all the board members, and we find out if it’s working for you and we let you know if it’s working for us. And so it is not an automatic roll. We decide if you are asked to stay on the board. And that way, we make sure that all of our board members are operating at their highest level and that they’re very, very engaged in the work we’re doing, and that they want to stay on the board. I think that is truly a best practice that most do not do. Another thing that I would say that we did, and this was instigated by our chairman of the board a couple of years ago because she had done this at the organization that she worked in nationally and that’s that we develop governance guidelines. We all have bylaws that we follow, but these guidelines really talked about how we were going to operate as a board, how are we going to operate in executive sessions, when do we do them, and how do we work with management, what is our role versus management’s to look at the board. And they’re very, very thoughtful. Our regional boards like them so much that they actually have asked to see them so that they can use some of those in their own regions. So I think that was good. Another thing they do is rely deeply on our committee structure to do the basic work so that we spend our time in the board meetings quarterly, focused on mission and strategy. That is primarily what we do in the board meeting.

Gary Bisbee 32:17
Well, you do have a terrific board. Congratulations. And I’ve met many of them and your processes are very progressive, so well done. This has been a terrific interview, Lydia. I have two leadership-related questions that I would like to ask. One of them is, what are the characteristics of a really good leader during a crisis like COVID?

Lydia Jumonville 32:42
That is one that actually ties really closely with our lessons learned, quite frankly. And really, I would say it’s about collaboration and teamwork. It’s about taking care of your employees or associates and showing them empathy. And it’s about having incredible communication and flexibility, and I’ll say a little bit more about each one of those in a crisis. Early on in the pandemic, we realized this wasn’t going to be about one health system or one care site. We were all going to need to work together to do what was best for our communities. And so, I would say, one of the things that made us very successful in Colorado and then in Montana, I remember it was a Saturday in March. And we were grappling with PPE issues, visitation, what were we going to do there? Did we need to stop electives, those kinds of things. And I was talking to one of our other CEOs at a system in our area and got off the phone and decided it was going to be helpful if we all worked together regularly and really collaborated so we could deliver unified messages to the public, to the state leaders, and to our local leaders. And so I sent out a text on that Saturday and every CEO of the systems in our state said, “Absolutely, let’s do it.” But we decided that not only did we need to talk regularly and make sure we were in sync, we decided the best group to pull together to meet on a regular basis was our chief medical officers or chief clinical officers. And so we pulled them together and they began meeting that next Monday. And they met every day for months during the pandemic. And to this day, they still meet at least three times a week. And that has kept us sharing best practices, making sure that we were totally aligned in our care, in our communities. The governor’s office meets with them every week, really to make sure that we’re in sync on what we’re doing and really to help inform policy. They want to know what’s going on there on the ground. And so, I think, this has been one of the most important things that we’ve done to really have a successful COVID response in Colorado. And what happened after we did that is Montana followed suit. Our system said, “Let’s do the same thing up here.” And so that was really important. Obviously, collaboration is critically important within our system. And I’ve mentioned earlier that we have come together in a more unified and team-oriented way than we ever had before. And I think that is a real positive coming out of COVID. The second area is communication. And we always talk about, “Communication is always important. You never communicate enough.” But, I think, in a crisis, it changes. You have to do it much more frequently and you have to be very transparent and clear. And what we found is, early on, our associates needed more communication. And so we tweaked this all during the year, but we did it in a variety of formats. I sent out a weekly CEO update on COVID throughout the pandemic, and we do it now still every other week. And it not only goes to all of our associates, it goes to all of our board members through the system, foundations, and governing boards. What I’ve been told many times by, not just our associates, but also board members in our community, is they look forward to those communications because it is the most accurate communication they get on COVID. You know, there was so much misinformation and confusion out there, no one knew what was accurate. So that was an important role that we played through it. I would say that the other thing we did, we did a lot of town halls, a lot of virtual ones. And what we finally settled into was a cadence of a shorter one, more like 30 minutes every other week. And thousands of our associates tune into it because it’s quick and they know they’re going to get exactly what they need and it will be very factual and it’s what they need at that time. So, I would say, there were a lot of ways that communication was critically important. The third thing I would say is really taking care of our associates, being empathetic. We talked about this earlier, they needed a lot of care. They were put through a lot last year. And so we realized they didn’t all have the same needs either. Some were struggling with severe financial needs because maybe their spouse lost a job. You know, they still had a job with us and we didn’t do any layoffs and we gave married increases and we took care of them that way, but they had other things going on in their personal lives. They had childcare issues. And we just applied a really multifactorial approach to covering all these areas that they needed help. One of the things that we did that I think really resonated with our boards and our teams more than anything else we did, and that is that we set up an Associate Emergency Relief Fund. And we did this in March of last year. And whatever reason you were having a financial hardship, you could ask for a $1,000 grant. And we have had over 4,000 employees access that to date. And the thank you notes that we get from that will bring tears to your eyes every time. They just believe that we’ve been there caring for them the whole time and I think that’s very important. They’re more committed to our organization than ever.

Gary Bisbee 38:28
It’s just a blessing to come out of a very difficult situation. Final question, Lydia, has the COVID crisis changed you as a leader and a family member?

Lydia Jumonville 38:40
I think it’s changed all of us, hasn’t it, in some way? No one can say they’ve come through this last year without being changed in some way. There are probably a number of ways that I could say I’ve been changed. I think the most important thing that I realized, and it gets back to this idea of communication, as a leader of a healthcare system, we’ve been impacted in one way and all of our businesses have to not just as a leader of healthcare. But then personally, I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother, my friends, and other family members, they were all struggling last year. But the common theme for everybody was fear. There was a lot of fear and there was a lot of anxiety. And a lot of that came from misinformation, lack of clarity around what was really going on. And I think, quite frankly, it contributed to a lot of our political issues last year. And so I think that, what I found early on, not just with our associates and in our organization, providing very genuine, transparent, and clear messages was important, but also that was a service that I could do for my family and friends. And they come ask you often. And I think as you calmly just give them the facts and help them shave through what’s true and not true and that kind of thing, it was comforting to them. And I think that was an important role that I played last year and I think it just really cemented for me that just really genuine, transparent, clear communication and leadership is very important. And it instills trust, not just in me, but in all of our leaders and in our organization. And so I think that was really important.

Gary Bisbee 40:27
This is a great place to land, Lydia. That’s very nicely put. We so much appreciate your time. Just great interview and our audience will love to hear you and your thoughts. So thanks again, Lydia.

Lydia Jumonville 40:40
Thank you. Have a great rest of your day.

Gary Bisbee 40:44
Fireside Chat with Gary Bisbee is a Health Management Academy podcast produced by Think Medium. Please subscribe to Fireside Chat on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening right now. Be sure to rate and review Fireside Chat so we can continue to explore key issues with innovative and dynamic healthcare leaders. In addition to subscribing and rating, we’ve found that podcasts are known through word of mouth and we appreciate your spreading the word to friends or those who might be interested. Fireside Chat is brought to you from our nation’s capitol in Washington, DC, where we explore the strategies of leading health systems through conversations with CEOs and other interesting leaders. For questions and suggestions about Fireside Chat, contact me through our website firesidechatpodcast.com or gary@thinkmedium.com. Thanks for listening.