Kenneth Berkovitz, Ascension Michigan market leader, on weathering COVID-19 storm

Originally from Los Angeles, you completed your residency at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and worked in Ohio and Illinois. How did you get to Michigan?

I have been a clinical cardiologist and have been involved in many medical posts and then cardiovascular governance. I moved to Michigan because of the opportunity to lead the Ascension Medical Group. My Michigan connection was with (Dr. Joseph Cacchione, now responsible for Ascension Health clinical and network services). We have known each other for a long time and were residents together and stayed in contact over the years. My wife and I are very happy to be here.

What did you do as President of Ascension Medical Group in Michigan?

This was a newly created position in our market to align our local AMG companies and develop a nationwide business and operating strategy. For more than two years, I’ve worked closely to build a cohesive clinical network and bring together 1,100 salaried providers in more than 300 practice locations in Southeast Michigan, Central Michigan, and West Michigan. This network of physicians is the foundation of our Michigan growth strategy and serves as a catalyst for transforming care.

Before arriving in Michigan, Ascension Michigan laid off more than 500 healthcare workers to cut costs by $ 60 million, reorganized its workforce, and reorganized operations. Are there any further changes planned?

Our Michigan market is on the way to where we are now. Functionally, we have three regions – Southeast, Southwest, and Central and Northern Michigan. What we have done has been very successful in operating as a market-wide organization. It has helped us cope with the COVID pandemic.

In previous years, the Ascension Michigan region was one of the administrative and clinical test sites for the national system. Are you planning further reorganizations or changes in the coming years?

A major reorganization is not planned. At the moment I think we feel comfortable where we are. I like our teams. Our next thing in Michigan, I know it’s not very sexy, is to focus on stability and have some persistence within the market so the community can learn and develop relationships with executives and our medical staff.

How has Ascension Michigan been doing with COVID-19?

We were able to move resources in no time. Whether medication, personnel, PPE or ventilators. Detroit was the epicenter of the first wave of COVID across the country, and what we learned in southeast Michigan we were able to share with other markets. When we needed more staff, we could resort to hospitals outside Michigan. We’re also hiring staff who can’t cope with the climb, but for those who have worked long hours so they have time to recharge their batteries.

Were Ascension and the healthcare industry adequately prepared for COVID-19?

COVID is a one-off, one-off event in a century. When it turned out that this was going to be the problem, our national preparation team told us to take care of the patients and the staff. With these as marching orders, we were able to really focus our efforts and really ramp up and address this COVID situation. We didn’t have to worry about financial problems. We took the stance that there would be no layoffs due to the economic consequences of COVID. There will be no employee leave of absence. We wanted everyone to focus on the real thing, which is figuring out how to deal with COVID.

Are hospitals starting to see patients back to regular testing and voting?

We are really rebuilding our electoral work. We adhere to our guiding principles of patient care and the care of our employees. We have electoral capacity, but the point is to make sure our people are safe. Asking us to hire these staff to deal with these increased numbers of COVID and non-COVID patients is a real hardship. It’s a difficult balancing act.

As a doctor, what concerns do you have about patients?

One of the things we learned from the first wave, when we told everyone to stay home, is that we are likely to overshoot, so to speak. We can’t put off a lot of medical care. In addition to COVID-related deaths, there is an increased risk of subsequent heart attacks, strokes and cancer. We made our facilities secure so that we could care for both COVID and non-COVID patients.

Do patients come back for necessary or preventive care?

Our message to patients has been safe lately, but come on, do not hesitate with your treatment. In fact, during the recent climb, many of our team jokingly said, “Can you slow down? Your commercials are working too well” because we have had higher activity in the past few weeks not only due to COVID but also a lot of non-COVID in our emergency rooms Seeing activity at a level we hadn’t seen since the pandemic started.

Do you have plans to help your employees get back to normal or recover from what they went through?

We have many programs and incentives for our employees. We have so-called “quiet rooms” in our facilities, in which our employees can simply switch off and relax. Recently, at our Genesys Hospital in Grand Blanc, our staff held a work stoppage ceremony that had early morning claps for staff leaving and entering. We try to do many things big and small to support all the extra work that is being done. Our employees are our most important asset and we try to do everything for it.

Read all of the conversations at crainsdetroit.com/theConversation

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