Who should we call? Unconventional relationships in an unconventional time

Call it strange bedfellows.

Call it strength in numbers or “an informal coalition.” Or, if you prefer, call it something like the Eastern Plains Healthcare Consortium. Whatever name you use, as the COVID-19 patient surge begins spreading out from urban centers to every corner of the country, the time for rivalry in healthcare is over – at least for now.

In some cases, these improbable peace treaties stem from necessity – after all, the way things are going, Miami-Dade County can only operate so many inpatient beds and is only going to receive so many masks from the federal government. But there’s also something deeper at play: an urgent and unshakable alarm for hospitals to meet the needs of their communities, no matter who they must join at the table.

Already, we’re seeing what can be accomplished by hospitals willing to put differences aside and focus on the greater good. And it’s not a matter of waiting for Mayo Clinic to return your call. In rural Illinois, the CEOs of two independent hospitals have committed to an open line of communication not only with the general public, but with each other, to ensure they are seeing the same data and sharing the latest best practices.

We know (and, dear reader, you know) that this season of détente is just that: A season. There will be a scramble on the other side of this; what you do now, however, can better you and prepare you for when this season ends.

Live your mission. That’s YOUR mission. In case you haven’t done so yet, start by familiarizing people with the hopefully unique sequence of words that define your organization. Then, put those words into action. Start by drilling it into communications across the organization. By the end, every time one of your caregivers or staff members puts on a mask, they should know exactly what their employer — the logo they’re wearing every day and risking their life for — stands for.

Concede your weaknesses. If Hospital B across town is better at, say, heart care, this is not the time to figure out how to sneak back 2 percent of market share. Get to work making a plan to do what’s best for the patients in your service area — even if that means losing some volume when right now it’s the thing your hospital could most use.

Get creative. Maybe your epidemiology team isn’t going to crack the code on a COVID-19 vaccine. It doesn’t take world-class clinical breakthroughs to help put the people in your community into a safer, more informed position. Learn what you can. Work with others to learn what you can’t. And combine the best of both to give your patients the best care.

Pick up the phone. Almost every day we’re hearing more stories of “bitter” rivals are sharing supplies and resources, even discussing team management questions to create alignment and ensure caregivers across a city don’t have to wonder what’s happening with their peers. We are all in this together. Your competitors have something to offer you – even if it’s “just” words of encouragement and shared struggle – and you have something for them.

Whatever approach you take, consider who can help. Even (especially?) if that means coming alongside that organization you’ve been trying to beat out for the past decade.

Ellis Metz