If B.J. Moore could offer one piece of advice for fellow healthcare IT leaders, it’s this: “You always have to be preparing for a crisis. You can’t wait until you’re in the middle of it to respond.” And as organizations deal with the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, whether they’re still in the thick of it, or have started to move forward, his words hold true now more than ever.
Recently, Moore spoke with healthsystemCIO about his team’s response to the outbreak, which has been complex given the diversity of the areas covered by Providence St. Joseph, from Washington (the first Covid-19 hotspot) to rural Montana. In the interview, he discussed the value of simplifying IT systems; the unexpected benefits and challenges his team experienced; and the strategy they’ve adopted in moving forward.
- Transitioning back to a “normal” workload
- Canceled projects & the importance of “managing people through loss”
- Finding a sustainable pace
- Change management strategy: “Crisis creates focus”
- Appreciation for IT – “People are seeing firsthand how technology can be an enabler.”
- Evolution of disaster planning
- “Geo-resiliency was definitely tested.”
- Reflecting on Covid-19’s impact
We have to try to transition to a normal workload, recognizing that we’ve overworked the team for 6 or 8 weeks. How do you manage that burnout? How do you make up for that?
There wasn’t a day when my mailbox wasn’t filled up with thank you notes from administrators, caregivers, or people on our ministries saying how much the teams stepped up and how much the technology became an enabler.
It’s great that the organization can step up and be agile when we need to, but we also have to be respectful of individuals. We have to have a pace that’s sustainable.
I can’t imagine it was in anyone’s plans to think that every single country and every state could be impacted, and so geo-resiliency from a process perspective was definitely tested with this crisis.
Gamble: You talked about having to do a years’ worth of work in 6 or 8 weeks. It is difficult to get out of that mode and return to a more normal pace?
Moore: It is. We need to make sure we’re managing burnout. We were literally working seven days a week, working overtime — it was all hands on deck. And as we move out of this crisis, it’s not like we can say, ‘okay, everybody take a month off.’ We have to try to transition to a normal workload, recognizing that we’ve overworked the team for 6 or 8 weeks. How do you manage that burnout? How do you make up for that?
We’ve had to make tough decisions to cancel programs and projects, recognizing that there are going to be losses. It’s not just finding balance; it’s managing people through the potential loss of a project that had been planned or had already kicked off, and now had to be deferred. It’s also a tough fiscal environment.
We don’t have a magic answer, but we looked in the crystal ball and realized that this a marathon, and although we’ve been sprinting for the last 6-8 weeks, that pace isn’t sustainable. We can’t go right to walking; but we also can’t sprint anymore — how do we manage that change?
Gamble: It seems like this is where change management comes into play. What are your thoughts there?
Moore: In some ways, a crisis creates a focus for everybody. For us, our guiding principle was to put our communities, our patients, our ministries, and our caregivers first. We immediately focused on how to scale to this crisis, and how to meet that core set of pillars.
I was very impressed with how quickly the organization shifted. They became flexible quickly and focused on the vital few. I’d like to say there was some change management genius on our part, but with the mission being at the center, it made that pivot quite easy. People really responded well.
And when you see the impact in that these services and capabilities have, it empowers people, because their work is being recognized by the community and by our leadership. There wasn’t a day when my mailbox wasn’t filled up with thank you notes from administrators, caregivers, or people on our ministries saying how much the teams stepped up and how much the technology became an enabler. I think that helped as well, to feel appreciated during a crisis.
Gamble: Maybe that’s a positive that could come out of this — a deeper understanding of the role IT plays.
Moore: True, but there are pros and cons. On the positive side, a lot of these tough decisions we made about simplifying didn’t resonate at first; it looked like housecleaning. But recently, I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘this makes sense. Thank goodness you did this months ago. It’s really paid off.’ So that was good; it was validating.
People are seeing firsthand how technology can be an enabler. Adoption of tools was 10 times higher than it would have been without a crisis, and so that helped in terms of credibility.
The one negative is that when people see you sprint for 8 weeks, they start asking, ‘Why can’t you sprint all the time? Why can’t things always happen this quickly?’ And maybe you can sprint for a mile or two in a marathon, but you can’t sprint all 26 miles.
So yes, it’s great that the organization can step up and be agile when we need to, but we also have to be respectful of individuals. We have to have a pace that’s sustainable.
Gamble: Going forward, do you anticipate making changes to the disaster preparation strategy?
Moore: We’ll definitely tweak those plans. That was a best practice we did; we immediately spun up a command center to manage all the changes and make sure what we were doing was coordinated: the disaster recovery plan, and the extensibility and scalability of systems and processes.
Before this crisis, nobody thought about what it would look like to run payroll at home. There was no scenario we ran through for that, but now we’ll add that to the list of resiliency and processes we need to have in place.
And so yes, we’ll definitely respond in a positive way to this. The other thing that was been eye-opening is we’ve added international operations in India, which gives us scale and 24 X 7 coverage. In the past, there’s always been a spot of geo-redundancy in a time of crisis. For example, if there’s an earthquake, you have another center of excellence you can lean on to get through a crisis. Well, this was the first time in my professional career that a crisis impacted the world equally. And so you need think about that; we can’t fail over to California if they’re in crisis as well, or even India.
That’s unique. I can’t imagine it was in anyone’s plans to think that every single country and every state could be impacted, and so geo-resiliency from a process perspective was definitely tested with this crisis. I know that in my 30-year professional career, having the entire world shut down by a crisis was never a disaster scenario I played out.
Gamble: In terms of your strategic priorities, what happens next? Do you look at projects that were placed on the backburner?
Moore: In some ways it’s been a gift. As a CIO, you’re asked to do 100 things, and maybe you’d like to focus on 20; it’s been a gift to be able to focus on fewer areas. And now, instead of focusing on the dozens of projects that are on hold, we’re mostly looking at what new opportunities have been created, and what net-new capabilities we can create in the post-Covid world.
Out telehealth business increased exponentially during this process — how do we maintain that? Our care at home went up dramatically — how do we create more care-at-home experiences? Our big data and analytics scenarios capabilities have taken off — how do we double down to advance those areas? As a health system, we’re focused more on how to move forward and build net-new capabilities in the post-Covid world, versus looking back and saying, ‘what can we start that we turned off?’
In some ways, it has allowed us to get rid of some legacy programs that weren’t high value-adds for the organization. It’s helping us move forward.