Let’s Talk About Our COVID Response

Andy Pic

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 crisis came out of nowhere and left us reeling for a moment as a healthcare industry. As the pandemic has continued, Centra and other hospital systems have had to adjust and determine what response was best as each nuance of the disease was revealed.

Intro:
Thanks for joining us for this episode of Centra Scripts, where we talk health and wellness and practical tips for your everyday life. And now here’s your host, Kate Kolb.

Kate Kolb:
Well, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Centra Scripts. We are so excited to be here today with Dr. Andy Mueller, CEO and president of Centra. And it’s such a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much for agreeing to sit down with me.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Absolutely, I’m excited to be here.

Kate Kolb:
Yes, and we wanted to kind of take some time today just to talk through all the things that are going on in not only our community, but the national scope of what’s going on with this COVID conversation and healthcare’s response to what’s been going on everywhere. But first, before we get into that, I know that there are many people around that know a little bit about you now that you’ve been here for a little while, but there are some that maybe don’t know that much about you. So if you don’t mind, I would love to just have you give a little bit of your background and what brought you to Centra and what your heart is behind being here?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Oh, sure. Well, I grew up not too far away in central North Carolina, married my high school sweetheart, and we’ve got three daughters who are the center of our world. We are excited to be here and really enjoy getting to know the communities that we serve on our Centra family. I studied engineering in school. While I was in school doing that I had the opportunity to work in the space program and thoroughly enjoy that work, but realized that I wanted a little bit more and I wanted a little more of a connection to people. And so that led me to medical school. And ultimately it led me to the military who were kind enough to pay for my education.

Kate Kolb:
Well that’s great.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And gave me the chance to serve in the Air Force. I did a residency in family medicine in the military, and then served both as a family physician and as a flight surgeon. And as a flight surgeon, you’re effectively a family physician for pilots and their families, but you really are the one who makes the decision as to whether or not pilots are fit to fly and capable of doing their jobs from a medical standpoint. And so that means you have to go where the pilots go.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
So soon after I became a flight surgeon, 9/11 occurred. And so as a result of that had the opportunity to deploy overseas. Once to Germany, once to The Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and really had an opportunity to be at the closer to the tip of the spear in some of our military operations. And so that was an eyeopening and very rewarding experience.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
After the military, I ultimately ended up practicing family medicine in Charlotte and started taking on more administrative responsibilities with my employer at the time and began to really quickly see that while I really enjoy practicing medicine and love seeing patients, that I could continue to have a bigger influence beyond the walls of my practice and really enjoyed some of the challenges that leadership presented. And so took on greater and greater responsibility till the point that I wanted to look for a new opportunity, including the chance to potentially lead a health system.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
So in looking for new opportunities, there were a number that interested me, a number interested me that were really, really disruptor opportunities with private equity, but there was a lot about Centra that really got me excited. The community’s got me excited, the training and talent within the medical staff at Centra got me excited. I saw a lot of potential to really help the health system thrive. And I really appreciated the high degree of vertical integration within the health system, including the fact that Centra has its own health plan.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
So as we think about the future of the organization, one of the things that gets me excited is I think we have the real potential to kind of disrupt the traditional healthcare model and move toward risk faster, thinking about ways that we can sustain ourselves as a business by really focusing on keeping people healthy in addition to treating them acutely when they’re sick. We’ll, always do both, but I think we can really start to focus a little bit more on trying to keep people healthy as well.

Kate Kolb:
Well, that’s fantastic. And I think that that definitely plays into a large part of what we’re hearing in healthcare in general these days. It is not just a reactive response to things that are going on with people’s bodies and their health, but really that proactive response to what is happening. We want to keep people healthy. We want them to come see us when they need us, but we prefer if you don’t have to need us, right? Isn’t that kind of what we feel like?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
I think that’s true. And to even be more pointed about it, we have really good people doing great work in healthcare every day and making a big difference in the lives of others, but at a high level, by and large, most people aren’t really happy with their healthcare system.

Kate Kolb:
Right.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
People who have to pay for the care aren’t happy, patients aren’t happy. Many of our providers are bringing out just across the board when you look at the way our system is delivering care, there’s a lot of frustration and a lot of call for change. And I think a lot of that’s appropriate and I think it’s even more staggering when we think about how much we spend on healthcare and the fact that many of our communities are continuing to become less healthy over time. And so I think we’re going to have to make some big changes if we’re going to be successful. And I think Centra actually in many ways has an opportunity to really kind of lean into a lot of the change that’s necessary for us to be better for the patients we serve.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah, well, that’s great. And I love that your heart behind that is for not only the people in our communities, but for our caregivers here at Centra too. So we just appreciate that that’s been kind of your take on your leadership since you’ve been here. Thank you so much again, for your service in the air force as well. I came from an air force family as well. So that is near and dear to my heart.

Kate Kolb:
Today, I just wanted to take a few minutes to talk to you about, like we mentioned at the beginning, this COVID crisis that’s going on, not only in our country, but we’re seeing it worldwide and the impact there. And this is something that we’ve talked about it a few times in other podcasts and blogs that we’ve had on Centra Scripts, but it was not something that anybody anticipated seeing. It came out of nowhere. It hit us by surprise. And so let’s talk a little bit about Centras role in this crisis and what it has looked like from even the early standing points to what we’re walking through now. And I guess the first thing that I want to talk about is healthcare in general and the response to this crisis, do you feel like we have fit well into the model of what’s going on? Or how has healthcare embraced or not embraced what’s going on right now with everything?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Yeah, it’s a hard question to answer. I think all of us have sort of tried to do what we can in the moment to create the biggest positive impact. And I think when we first realized this was going to be something very serious, a few months ago, part of the challenge we faced is no one really knew what to expect. We weren’t sure whether we would have a hospital that was completely overrun with patients-

Kate Kolb:
Right.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
To the point that we had had conversations with the University of Lynchburg about the potential use of one of the dormitories-

Kate Kolb:
Right, yeah.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
For additional patient care space, if necessary. We weren’t sure if we were going to need to order freezer trucks to potentially store bodies, depending on the number of casualties we thought. So we had conversations about all of those things fearing the worst. Fortunately, as we’ve learned because of the good work of lots of people and just lots of everyday people wearing masks, washing their hands, being thoughtful about where they’re going and what they’re doing, we’ve been able to mitigate the spread of the virus to the point that our health systems, at least here locally have not been overwhelmed. And that’s enabled us to have a very different approach to the virus. And it will give us a better perspective on what we think the future looks like.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
In terms of our response, there were a number of things that I think we quickly had to realize and recognize. And part of it was complicated by the fact that we had, half of our leadership team was new. So half of the Centra executive team, what I like to refer to as my work group was really new here. In fact, Shelly, our chief nursing officer started a week before we had to restrict elective cases and visitation-

Kate Kolb:
Yeah, bless her heart. She got thrown right in.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Yeah, she walked right into the fire having moved across the country from Boise, Idaho to be here with us. So there was a lot that we had to do. So we had to come together as a team really, really, really quickly to begin to mobilize and start taking action to ensure that we were doing the right thing for our community. One of the things I’m most proud of the team for doing is not only coming together and acting very quickly, but at every single point keeping the community at the forefront.

Kate Kolb:
Right.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Making sure that we were taking sometimes really hard decisions, making hard decisions to ensure that we were doing the right thing for everyone in the community. So that included being one of the first in the state, even prior to the governor’s order, to stop doing elective cases, to restrict visitation, to ensure our caregivers have the space and the capabilities to really prepare for what was about to occur.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
We stood up our incident command center very early. And I think in some ways we were really prepared for that because we did have good procedures and protocols that we were able to call upon to help guide us through some of the early days of the pandemic. I think we really also mobilized quickly to understand and think about how we could continue to care for patients virtually. We did a really good job moving from effectively, no virtual care capability in our outpatient settings, to really starting video visits in a matter of about three weeks and really starting to build a robust platform. So I’m really, really, really proud of the team for doing that. Our poor chief medical information officer, I think he started the week that we actually stopped elective cases.

Kate Kolb:
Nothing like jumping right in.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
[crosstalk 00:10:17]. You know, Dr. Brown did a wonderful job with Eileen Clark, our CIO in really trying to help develop that technology and ensure that we have it deployed so we can continue to remain connected to our primary care patients who needed care during that period of time and specialty patients who needed care during that time. So, we really moved quickly to make sure all of that was happening. And I think the other thing that was really critical to this that helped us get through it was really decentralizing a lot of decision making and pushing decision making closer to the front lines where people who are working every day really had the ability to influence what we were doing to ensure that we were delivering care in a safe manner and protecting our patients in our community ultimately.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah. And as far as most of our practices and procedures have gone since then, it’s gone very smoothly.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
It really has. And we’ve been very, very, very fortunate, but I also think we’ve had a number of individuals really stepping up and making really good decisions. And I think we’ve always erred on the side of caution and safety and I’m really proud of the team for taking that approach.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah. A shout out for sure, to the caregivers and the decision makers here, and everybody who has just come together in such a really inspiring way during this, because this is not something that has ever been precedented before. And it’s just been really neat to see the teams working together.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Well, it’s really true. And I have so much respect for our frontline physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, nurses aides, environmental service workers, everyone who really ran to the fire and not knowing what this was going to look like, not knowing what this was going to feel like. They’ve now all demonstrated just tremendous courage and self sacrifice on the part of making sure that we were ready to care for patients who needed care.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah, that’s amazing. Well, let’s take a step back for just a second because I know that there are still, even in months into this pandemic, there are still discussions going on of people that are like, I still don’t understand what COVID is.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Yeah, sure.

Kate Kolb:
And so let’s just address that very quickly before we move on into any of our other topics. But if you can just briefly kind of give an overview what COVID is, what it isn’t and how maybe it came to us here in the US?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Sure. Well COVID-19 is the disease that is caused by infection with the Novel Coronavirus. There are lots and lots of Coronaviruses. Many are familiar to all of us because anybody who’s had a head cold before has suffered from a Coronavirus. They’re one of the leading causes of just difficult head colds that we tend to face on a regular basis. And unfortunately there have been some examples of coronavirus where the virus for whatever reason creates a really, really aggressive form of disease. And we’ve seen this historically in the past with severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, which is a coronavirus. And we’ve also seen it with Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome or MERS, which is caused by a coronavirus. Those are two really, really severe, lower respiratory tract infections they can lead to death. And that gave us a little bit of foreshadowing of what we could potentially see with Coronavirus in the future.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Often the reservoir for these viruses is animals and not humans. They tend to cause disease in humans. And so we think that at some point there was probably transmission from an animal to human, probably in China, where it appears this originated. And ultimately hundreds of years ago, a hundred years ago, even when the Spanish flu hit in 1918, the world was very different. Population was significantly smaller. The density housing in most places was not as great as it is today. And we didn’t have global transportation like we do now. So if you wanted to go to Europe, it took two weeks. And so you were effectively quarantining yourself or you were exposing yourself. And in many cases, living through the course of the disease while you traveled, whereas now you can hop on a jet and be virtually anywhere in the world within a matter of several hours.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And so that really lends itself to spreading and propagating viral diseases like this very effectively and very rapidly. And realistically that’s what happened. I think we are now all beginning to recognize that this disease, this virus, and the disease were both present and prevalent long before we realized and originally thought. And so there’s some evidence now that this may have been in China before the end of last year, more into the fall and we’re starting to see some evidence that we may have had people in fact, in the United States as early as late fall of last year. And so it’s clear that this virus is very contagious. And part of the challenge with it is it’s almost perfectly designed to do what it’s doing, which is cause global disruption and destruction in some cases.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
SARS was a coronavirus that killed people more often than not and as a result, it actually made its transmission difficult because people died very quickly. We also believe too, that with SARS, it didn’t transmit if you didn’t have symptoms. So as long as people weren’t showing symptoms, we didn’t have to worry as much about contagion. So SARS was so aggressive and so deadly that it effectively would burn itself out very quickly. This virus is deadly, but not quite as deadly as SARS. And so that makes it more transmissible and likely to spread. And we do believe that you can spread this without having symptoms, which is the scary part, much like the flu, the flu spreads that way as well.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Unlike the flu, this virus, coronaviruses typically don’t mutate at the same degree that the flu does. And so our hope is, is that once we can develop herd immunity, once we can develop vaccines, then there’s a better likelihood that we can start to ultimately control the disease, the spread of the virus better than we do with the flu, which tends to cause [inaudible 00:16:18] disease every year. The coronavirus, part of the challenges with it are it is so transmissible. It is so contagious. And part of the challenge is the disease is so variable. There are a lot of viruses that cause very reproducible disease. And so for example, chicken pox is caused by virus and we know what chicken pox it looks like when you get it. Pretty much everybody has sort of a similar course of chicken pox, depending on how old you are. It’s very predictable and it’s very reproducible.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
The disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19 is incredibly variable in what it looks like. So lots of patients are completely asymptomatic, don’t realize they have it, others end up dying from it. And so you see this tremendous spread and that makes it very difficult to understand.

Kate Kolb:
Right.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
We also have to recognize too, that we’re really in the infancy in understanding this virus and this disease. And so we’re just a few months in to really starting to study it scientifically. And so every month I think we should expect to see more publications and more research being conducted that will give us a better understanding of who is at risk for a worse outcome and what other steps we can do to prevent it spread. And then ultimately, how do we treat it and continue to try to prevent it?

Kate Kolb:
Right. And I think that’s an important point that you’re bringing up there is that there have been people that have said, well, we’ve had viruses like this before. Like you were just stating with SARS and MERS and several other things like that, but this is so different because of how it is interacting with bodies and with people. And the spread is different. The way it’s hitting people is different. And the novelty of it is completely different. It’s just not something that we have any context for really in terms of that. And so that’s an important piece to remember in all of this is just like you just mentioned, it’s infancy is a great way to describe it, that this is not a once and done. I think people are sort of waiting for the okay, when do we go back to normal? When does it lift? And really, this is our new normal I think.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
I think it is, it is our new normal, in many ways. We’re going to always have a coronavirus and we’re going to have COVID-19, it’s not going to go away. Even if we develop treatments and even if we develop effective vaccines, there’s still going to be some people who ultimately develop this disease. And I think that the reality is that given what this has done to our society, given some of the factors that I mentioned before, including living density, the availability of air travel, which can spread virus as quickly, I just think there’s some things are just always going to be different. I’m not sure we’ll ever go back to shaking hands.

Kate Kolb:
Right. Which is sad.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
I think we will probably all have much more vigilance around hand washing. I think all of us will be more careful about touching our face and you’re right. Some of these things are going to be hard to say goodbye to. They’re part of who we are. They’re part of who we are based on some of our regional culture, they’re based on just being human beings, the need to touch, the need to connect with people. This is certainly impacting that in a really, really big way.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah, for sure. And so in addition to those changes that are happening just as a society, there have been many changes that have had to occur just within our healthcare system as well. And that’s not only here regionally, but we’re seeing it nationally, internationally as well. What are maybe some of the high level changes that Centra has had to make in response to this COVID crisis? And how do you see that kind of moving forward as we continue to walk through this?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Yeah. I think one of the most difficult changes and the hardest decision we had to make was reducing visitation because we readily recognize the importance that the care of a loved one plays in the healing process and how important that is. At the same time too, not fully understanding all that we can do to keep people safe and recognizing that asymptomatic individuals could potentially spread this within our facilities, we really had to err on the side of caution. And so we have with a restricted visitation policy, which is hard. We really had to do that for skilled nursing facilities. That was a big deal. So we did that very quickly, very early, and we have continued to follow the CDC recommendations on how to keep those vulnerable populations safe.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
In addition to that, certainly we had to restrict elective procedures and elective procedures are important. Certainly we have patients who need them, they’re either suffering in pain or have other conditions that ultimately require those procedures. And it’s easy when you stop and think about elective procedures to think, oh, that may mean something like plastic surgery that’s cosmetic, which is true, but it also means cancer surgeries that we felt could wait 90 days in order to ensure that we were operating in a safe environment and that we had the facilities available to care for those patients. And so these are patients who need these surgeries.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And then there’s a financial reality for the health of the health system that those procedures are the ones that generate the lion’s share of our contribution margins, which enables us to then continue to exist and reinvest in our facilities. And so that was a really difficult thing to see happen financially to the health system. So all of those things were tough decisions that we had to make to kind of change how we do business. And then of course, wearing masks in our facilities, really ensuring good hand hygiene, as well as asking a large portion of our workforce, almost 10% of our workforce to work from home.

Kate Kolb:
Right.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
When that was suitable for those individuals. So, that’ll have a big impact on this.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah, for sure. And I think we’re seeing some of these changes too, in other organizations and businesses around, it’s not just the hospital system that has had to make these adjustments. I mean, you can’t even go to the grocery store without a mask anymore. And there are changes in populations of how many people are allowed into different places. And I actually just had one of those elective surgeries two weeks ago here at our facilities. Great care, wonderful care. But it was different. It was an experience that I hadn’t had before where I was singularly going in, there was nobody with me, but they took great care of me. And that was fantastic. But yeah, I’d had a reschedule of that about four times because of all of this. So definitely something that is just going to kind of come with the part and parcel of everything that’s going on.

Kate Kolb:
And so we mentioned a few minutes ago that quote unquote, new normal, that we’re experiencing here. And you mentioned some things that we’re kind of doing as an organization to face that. But going forward, because we don’t know what this is going to look like, I feel like there’s a sort of collective feeling right now of okay, it feels like it’s under control. It feels like maybe it’s kind of going down on the spectrum, but going forward, are we going to expect an uptick? Is there going to be another wave? What does that look like?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
I think it’s too early to tell. I think the reality is we’ve not seen it under control. I think we’ve just sort of seen it stay at similar levels the entire time. And so I think there’s a reality that we have to face that for the near future, we’re going to continue to have increasing numbers of patients across the country and unfortunately increasing numbers of deaths.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And I think that we’ve been fortunate in through some of the measures that we’ve taken through social distancing, through some of the safer home measures that have been instituted at the state level. It has helped reduce the transmission and spread of the disease. The efforts that people are doing about wearing masks, and telling them to wash their hands, really avoiding touching surfaces unnecessarily, avoiding touching their faces, have all really played an important role in helping reduce the transmission of the disease, but it’s still present. It doesn’t appear to be abating with warmer weather, which is I think realistic, incredible given the fact that this is a new virus finding new unimmunized individuals to attack.

Kate Kolb:
Right?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And so that doesn’t surprise me. So I think we’re going to continue to have steady numbers of patients in our hospitals. And we’re going to continue to see some ebbs and flows. Just recently we’ve seen a little bit of a surge in patients and that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. And some of that is because we’ve started to see patients coming from congregate settings. So we’ve had individuals coming from skilled nursing facilities where there’s just a high risk of exposure once it enters the facility, as well as patients coming from some of our state correctional facilities, where again, when you’re confined in a space like that close quarters with others, there’s just a high rate of transmission of the disease.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
But we’ve also seen while they’ve contributed to some of our numbers, we’ve also seen a little uptick in folks who don’t live in congregational communities, which probably has a little bit to do with some of the relaxation of some of the efforts around social distancing in the short term. So our hope is, is that all of us, if we continue to do the things we know we need to do, and that doesn’t necessarily mean cowering in your basement and never walk out, but it does mean that when you’re out, wearing a mask, washing your hands, being thoughtful about who you’re around, what you’re doing, continuing to maintain good social distancing is going to be important for all of us moving forward. And I think we’re going to continue to expect to see fairly steady numbers over the next few months.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah. Now we have been very fortunate here in Central Virginia to not see many of the numbers that even as close as Northern Virginia or some of the surrounding areas have seen. Do you think that there is a specific reasoning behind that matched with the region? Is it a response system of these healthcare systems versus those healthcare systems? What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
No, I think there are a couple of things that are factored in. So one, I think a number of our communities, just a number of residents in our communities have done a wonderful job of doing the things they need to do to stay safe. So staying at home, washing their hands, wearing masks when out and about. And I think that’s had a big impact on our local region. So we’re very grateful and appreciative for everyone who has done all of those things.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Businesses that have been open I think have done a really good job of trying to figure out how they can safely connect with their customers without putting anybody at risk. And that’s been wonderful. And I also think we benefit probably for the first time in our community’s history, a city like Lynchburg has benefited by being the largest metropolitan area East of the Mississippi, outside of 50 miles of an interstate highway system. And so in the fact that we tend to have low density housing and not as many condominiums and apartments as a lot of larger metropolitan areas has really benefited us in this moment.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah. Well, and that’s great. And I think that too, you had spoken earlier in this conversation about the preparedness that we had to not know whether we were going to have an overrun unit of any sort when we were bringing these patients in. And we haven’t seen that. We’ve been very under control in terms of our preparation, the amount of PPE that we’ve been able to attain and kind of keep at those levels. So that’s been great. And do you feel like Centras response to that, I feel like as a fellow caretaker here, that we have been kind of on par with the course for what’s been going on and even leading in some ways, and that’s been very encouraging to me. How do you feel like that forecasts going forward for what we may or may not face?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Well, I think we decided that we had to make the right decisions around the right reasons, which ultimately is the safety of our caregivers and the biggest impact, positive impact for our community. And I think it just reaffirmed the notion that if we continue to make decisions that way, we’re going to make really good decisions and everyone is going to benefit in the longterm. And while clearly this has had a significant financial impact to the health system, in relative terms, we’ve actually fared fairly well. And I think that continues to support the notion that in healthcare, if you make good decisions focused on the patients and those delivering the care, then a lot of the other stuff will start to take care of itself. So I think that’s going to be our intent moving forward. We are going to continue to be conservative and we’re going to continue to be safe. And I think the community will continue to benefit from that.

Kate Kolb:
Right. And that’s the thing that I think I want to emphasize here too, is that, we’ve had conversations in the past several years about this feeling from even some people in the community that have sort of felt like Centra was sort of set apart from the community. And I think if anything, we have seen during this crisis that we are integral, we are right in the center of this community and we value our community members as, I mean, these are our neighbors. These are our family members. These are cousins, friends, people that we are interacting with as caregivers.

Kate Kolb:
And I think that that’s been such an encouraging thing to watch and to see is that this community of not only Lynchburg, but Farmville and Danville and Bedford and all of the surrounding regions that we serve have really come together and have seen what it looks like to care genuinely well for our communities. And so that has just been encouraging to me to kind of watch even on some of the sidelines, but we do want to remind the communities that this is not a we’re here above you, or we stay beyond or anything like that at all.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
We’re not, no. As the CEO, I view the members of the community as my shareholders, they’re my boss. And they have to hold us accountable for being here for them. And we’re not going to lose sight of what we are and what we’re not. We’re a not for profit community based healthcare system that is here to serve the needs of the communities where we have a presence. And that is always going to be what we are first and foremost. We are not a fortune 500 company. We’re not a publicly traded company. We’re not going to behave and act that way because we are here to serve the community as a public enterprise.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And so we are going to continue to be focused on what we think ultimately the needs of the community are, which is why when we think about our strategic framework and how we make decisions beyond our people, which is how we start that discussion. The most important things are making sure we’re making our communities healthier. We’re really committed to affordability. And at the same time, we need to sustain ourselves well to the future. And so we have to be realistic about that, but healthier communities and affordability are going to be big areas of our focus over the next little bit, even in the face of COVID-19, that’s not going to change that effort and that commitment.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah. Which we value very highly just as fellow caregivers here, but I know that there has been a lot of very positive conversations that have come out of this crisis. And if anything, that has been super encouraging in all of this, because I think it is hard sometimes to remember that healthcare as a whole in the nation and internationally is not an out to get you kind of a thing. It is in some areas I feel maybe, but I do feel like the bend towards our care here is definitely moving towards those things that you were highlighting. And so hopefully that’s something that we can continue to emphasize with our neighbors and our friends and our communities as we go forward.

Kate Kolb:
I want to talk real, real quickly here, as we’re kind of coming to a close, you mentioned a little bit about, you brought up the word balance a minute ago when you were talking about a few of these things. And so what does this look like going forward for us as individuals, for us as a community, for us as a healthcare system to maintain not only our corporate balance in the community and for ourselves as a corporate unit, but even just the life balance of what that looks like for the healthiness of our community?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
So there are a number of things that I think individuals need to do during this time. And so that continues to be, don’t let your guard down. Coronavirus is not going away. It’s still out there and still going to spread. And it spreads by person to person interactions in close quarters. So social distances the best you can, avoid unnecessary outings in the moment. Wear face masks when you’re out and about. Wash your hands repeatedly, till you can’t wash them anymore and then continue to avoid touching your face. All of these things are critical things that we need to do in the short term for all of us. And then I think for all of us, we need to do those things that we should all be doing anyway, eating healthy, exercising, getting adequate sleep. Those are some of the best things you can do to help your immune system be at its best, to help protect you should you get exposed to the virus and ultimately, should you get infected with the virus.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And so we all need to be doing all of those things regularly. In addition to that, we’re as a health system, we have to recognize we’re always going to be dealing with COVID-19. It’s never going away. We’re always from this time forward going to have patients in our facilities with COVID-19. Even if we develop effective and safe vaccines, we’re still going to have some patients who either don’t get vaccinated, or the vaccine is ineffective for them.

Kate Kolb:
Sure.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And so they’re going to be COVID patients in our communities we’ll have to care for. So we’ve really taken the approach that we can’t be a healthcare system that is going to focus on COVID-19 and then when we can, do everything else we need to do. We’ve got to be a healthcare system that does everything that the community needs for it to do in addition to caring for patients with COVID-19 within our confines.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And so we’re really trying to be thoughtful about how we can do that safely, recognizing this is the new normal for us. This is now normal for us. And we’re going to have to be good at doing both caring for those patients with COVID-19 as well as doing all the other things that we have to do. There are a lot of other infectious diseases that we used to potentially quarantine like tuberculosis years ago, now we care for patients with tuberculosis in our facilities, but it doesn’t mean we shut down doing everything else. Recognizing that COVID-19, in some ways it’s probably more contagious and in some cases more deadly, we still have to figure out how we can care for those patients safely while maintaining the services we have to.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah. And I think that’s a huge piece of our promise to what we’re saying to our surrounding communities, our patients, their loved ones as well, is that we are focused for sure, laser focused on what’s going on, but we have not lost focus of the other values that we hold to be true for our organization as well.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Absolutely.

Kate Kolb:
So thank you for that. Any other words of wisdom that you would like to share or just final parting thoughts?

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Yeah. We’re in the process of really thinking about our future and one of the things that we’ve had a lot of discussion about is what we call our just cause at Centra. And in some ways this ultimately may take the place of our mission and vision. And for us, our just cause is [inaudible 00:35:11] with you to live your best life. And I think that has lots of meanings and I think it refers to our patients, it refers to our caregivers, it refers to our communities. And what I love about that is in order for us to do that well, it means we’re going to have to understand what anyone’s best life is, which means we have to listen, we have to understand deeply, and we really have to get to know everyone.

Kate Kolb:
Absolutely.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
And be here for as opposed to them being here for us. And so I think, and my hope is that that’s how you’re going to see Centra behaving moving forward.

Kate Kolb:
Yeah. And that’s great. And we look forward to the future. I think the future is bright and I think there’s a lot to look forward to here, for sure. So thank you again, Andy, for sitting down with me, this has been a really, really good discussion and hopefully one that people can benefit from just in many ways with learning more about COVID and learning more about Centra’s position on all of this.

Dr. Andy Mueller:
Yeah. My pleasure.

Kate Kolb:
Awesome.

End slate:
Once again, thank you so much for joining us today. We are always so privileged to have you here as listeners and participants in our community. If you need any more information on anything we’ve talked about today or any of the things that we’ve talked about previously, visit us at centrascripts.com or centralhealth.com and we’ll be glad to talk to you there.

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