Another week with Covid-19 brings another week of unique challenges! Our ability to get through this depends on the positive, persistent, and “can do” attitudes that I have personally witnessed. Your many examples of gratitude, empathy, selflessness, and resilience continue to inspire me during these turbulent times. . Faculty and staff who have not been able to work optimally are taking voluntary vacation or sick time. Truly, I am so proud of our team!
As Nelson Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill, one finds that there are many more hills to climb!” Despite the uncertainly ahead, now is the time to begin methodically planning our approach to the next set of hills. David Nelson, President of UF health stated last week, we are beginning a soft reopening – inpatient (this week) and outpatient (next). Sonja Rasmussen and our Department Committee are meeting tomorrow via Zoom to help us plan for this gradual “reopening”. With meticulous operational strategies, Pediatrics will be ready for this next challenge.
I share your spoken and unspoken fear that too much roll back, too soon, will cause a second wave of the virus. It is mission critical that we balance the physical and mental welfare (and the patience) of our providers and patients, and economic needs of our organization, against the risks of infection rates shooting up again. Reopening clinics will be done gradually and carefully to prevent a resurgence of the outbreak. For those subspecialties doing almost exclusively Telehealth, we will start seeing more patients face-to-face as we gradually transition back, knowing that the landscape has changed, and telehealth is here to stay. Effective integration of remote medicine post-pandemic will require a thoughtful discussion.
The financial health of UFHealth – and our Department – is another significant challenge. UFHealth may be down by as much as $200 million from only four months of COVID-19. Although the CARES Act may provide some support for health care providers and hospitals, it is likely to only cover a portion of the losses from the pandemic. Our goal certainly is to preserve jobs, benefits and pay to the best of our ability during this challenging time.
To achieve this, we need to maximize our revenue and aggressively contain costs as much as possible. Despite incredible shifts to Telehealth, our pediatric outpatient visits are down 2,700 visits (14%) overall compared to the same time last year. Several Divisions currently have unfilled slots for return patients, so look closely at schedules and, at least for now, convert open return slots into new appointments slots. Also, please close all your open EMR charts within 7 days at the very latest as we cannot bill for open charts – and we simply cannot leave that money on the table in this time of crisis.
To quote Roy T. Bennett “Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.” I have confidence that we will confront the “new tomorrow” together – emerging stronger, with renewed energy and passion. Until then, let us not underestimate the power we have to uplift, encourage, and support one another as we ascend the hill we face today. Real runners and cyclists don’t quit on the hills!
Desmond Schatz, MD
Professor and Interim Chair
UF Department of Pediatrics