The big story: Critical condition from Crain’s Detroit

October 18, 2021

Like iodine injected into a vein, the pandemic provided a vivid diagnosis of the U.S. health care system.

It’s an emergency.

Experts at the Crain’s Health Care Leadership Summit in Dearborn last Wednesday highlighted the industry’s most pressing problems in hopes of exploring solutions and improving outcomes. The event focused on three facets of the industry — access to care, policy priorities and the ongoing labor shortage.

Health care disparities in Black, Brown and impoverished populations are well documented, but the outcomes have never been as obvious as during the pandemic. For instance, in 2020, Black people were 2.1 times more likely than white people to die from COVID-19 in the U.S. In Michigan last year, roughly 30 out of every 1,000 Black people living in Michigan could expect to die from COVID-19, according to data published by Brookings Institution last March.

To improve access to health care, the system must go mobile, said Dr. Philip Levy, professor of emergency medicine at Wayne State University and chief innovation officer for Wayne Health. 

 Levy’s practice is attempting to reinvent the model by putting primary preventive care on wheels and meeting patients where they live in an attempt to overcome systemic problems by treating chronic conditions like high blood pressure. 

The pandemic has also led to the most critical staffing crisis the industry has ever faced. Nationally, roughly 30 percent of nurses have either quit or been terminated during the pandemic.

In fact, health care companies collectively are set to lose $54 billion due to the rising cost of labor and the extra expense of recruitment, said Tina Wheeler, U.S. health care leader for consulting firm Deloitte.

Christopher Friese, professor of nursing, health management and policy at University of Michigan School of Medicine and an active registered nurse, said administrators must work to restore trust and act upon staff concerns to improve working conditions in health care.

Hospitals aren’t just short nurses and other medical staff. They can’t fill jobs in the back office or cafeteria, either.

“We’re competing for finance and IT analysts with every other industry right now. In our retail space, we’re competing with the restaurant industry for food service workers as well,” said Dr. Betty Chu, chief quality officer for Henry Ford Health System.

Chu said the staffing shortage has caused HFHS to re-examine workflows to find ways to automate more tasks. One job the Detroit-based hospital system is looking to redesign is case managers for discharging patients. That’s being pursued right now because of the reality that the staffing shortage is probably going to get worse before it gets better, Chu said.

“A lot of the work we’re doing internally is to say, ‘We’re not going to have more staff,'” Chu said. “Let’s just start with that. How are we going to redesign the work to maximize the efficiency of the people that we have (and) ensure they can do the work that we need them to do?”

— Dustin Walsh, with contributions from Chad Livengood

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The big story: Critical condition from Crain’s Detroit
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