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Learn, understand, adapt: A Q&A with Holy Name Medical Center’s CEO, Michael Maron

When Holy Name Medical Center became the epicenter of New Jersey’s COVID-19 cases in March, its president and CEO, Michael Maron, and his team took extraordinary measures to manage the crisis. By combating existing fears, they were able to rapidly adopt systematic changes at a higher rate, which enhanced safety and care for both providers and patients.

It’s because of this dedication and leadership that Maron is one of the nominees for NRC Health’s Excellence in Human Understanding Award this year. In this Q&A, he shares his experience, describes some of his learnings from the pandemic, and explains why leaders can’t wait for outside help during times of crisis.

Sometimes innovation comes out of chaos. Do you anticipate keeping any of the changes or new processes you’ve implemented in response to the pandemic?

I do. During this crisis, there have been a lot of components we’ve implemented hastily and then refined on the second iteration. I’m excited about those components becoming permanent changes going forward, so that we can respond to any future crisis in a much more engineered, flexible way.

Many people don’t realize that because Holy Name Medical Center is in Northern New Jersey, we’re right across from Manhattan. We witnessed 9/11 firsthand—we saw the planes hit—and right on the heels of that tragedy, we embarked on redesigning our entire emergency room which included large cavernous space to support a catastrophic event.

Fast-forward 19 years later to when the global pandemic hit, and we had the ideal location to build a critical-care treatment space. It took 14 days to get it up and running, with 50 beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients only. Moving forward, we’re going to make that structure modular, so that it can be broken down and reinstalled quickly.

The best practices we adopted around patient safety during this crisis, both within and outside our walls, have also become permanent fixtures in our safety protocols. For example, we now use UV sterilization on the HVAC systems and UV lighting for clean air handling, both of which provide continuous sterilization and are effective in killing bacteria related to SARS COVID-2 and other COVID viruses.

In response to the pandemic, we also quickly designed a concept that we call the isopod—it’s a plexiglass shell that covers the patient and connects to a large negative-pressure vacuum, which sucks up any virus expelled by the patient, keeping the surrounding area safer. This ensures the healthcare provider’s safety, and reduces the amount of PPE needed. It will become a mainstay of our practices when patients come in with the flu or other illnesses in the future.

Another mainstay in our approach to care moving forward is telehealth. We had over 5,000 patients on tele-monitoring at the height of the crisis. Now everyone who gets treated will have follow-up telemedicine visits to check on how they’re doing.

The nomination for your NRC Health Excellence in Human Understanding Award mentioned a COVID-19 road to recovery. What does that mean to both you and Holy Name Medical Center?

It means a few things. In terms of outpatient care, the road forward will require technology for continuous care outside of the hospital. Whether through telemedicine or other methods, there needs to be a safe interaction for recovery to take place. This reliance on digital technology will play a large role going forward in our management of crises—both externally with telehealth, but also internally with virtual meetings among staff.

Historically, people have been skeptical about hosting virtual meetings in the healthcare industry, citing lack of connectedness as a reason for their skepticism. But I see a silver lining there. It’s so much easier to bring people together in a virtual format, which in turn increases efficiency and ultimately makes us more connected. People tend to be more open and honest in virtual conversations, whether between patients and their doctors or during hospital board meetings.

At Holy Name Medical Center—and I’m sure at every hospital organization in the world—the road to recovery will also center around COVID-19 vaccinations and developing effective, efficient communications for our patients as we continue to do the research, prepare ourselves and our providers, and forge the right path forward.

The road to recovery is also about taking responsibility. And as medical providers, it’s going to require a new degree of caution and honesty. I remind people of that all the time. I actually contracted the virus—something I perhaps realized too late because I wasn’t honest with myself about being sick—and we see that pattern emerging again in the current uptick of cases. Now I encourage other healthcare workers to be honest with themselves—otherwise, it could lead to further spread of the virus. This is a small but impactful behavior, when we think about getting to the other side of the pandemic.

What does human understanding mean to you?

We are very patient-centric at Holy Name Medical Center. We’re here for one reason: to care for the people who entrust themselves to us. We treat everybody who walks in here as if it were our own loved one, and that really permeates throughout the organization. Given our focus on empathy, there’s also a high level of patience and tolerance among our staff.

In times of crisis, people tend to respond out of fear, which is the number-one dominant emotion guiding our behaviors. We’ve learned a lot about human understanding through dealing with that. Taking the measures to make patients feel supported and cared for, especially when loved ones can’t be there physically, is a driving priority for us. So, too, is ensuring that we honor our workforce and acknowledge their experiences through all of this. That’s really helped bring us together. There have been so many intense moments of human understanding throughout this pandemic, and just seeing and understanding the interconnectedness of our individual experiences has been a really beautiful silver lining to this challenging year.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other leaders in times of crisis?

From a leadership standpoint, one of the most important things to do in the middle of a crisis is to accept and respect the opinions of the people around you. Nobody can do this alone, and you have to be willing to look at which traditionally maintained rules become irrelevant during a crisis. You need to be able to suspend those rules and move forward.

In challenging situations, people have a tendency to blame others. We also tend to wait on what we think we need before we make the effort to get something done. The lesson during a crisis is, don’t wait on outside help to save you—sometimes you’ve got to take your destiny into your own hands. Effective leaders know they must be flexible and adaptable in that way.

Is there someone at your organization who has led the charge to bring more human understanding to your organization each day? We want to hear about it! Share your human understanding story with us at mcharko@nrchealth.com to schedule your interview today.