Valerie Powell-Stafford was coming up on the one-year anniversary of her appointment as CEO of Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg when the coronavirus pandemic derailed any celebratory mood.
Instead, Powell-Stafford, named CEO of the 288-bed facility effective April 1, 2019, went into crisis-management mode as her one-year mark came into focus. Her first moves were to implement a surge plan shared by HCA Healthcare, which operates Northside and more than a dozen other hospitals in the region. An executive with HCA Healthcare since 2008, including a recent stint as CEO of Englewood Community Hospital, Powell-Stafford treated the early days of the crisis like triage, working problem-by-problem. “We tried to deal with each thing as best we could,” she says.
Like other hospitals in the region, outside of COVID-19 patients the Northside’s census numbers dropped significantly. April and May were down, which, Powell-Stafford says, will “certainly impact our margins.” (HCA officials declined to disclose individual facility operating budget figures.) June was better and then July, so far, isn’t looking good, at least on a financial basis. One reason: HCA announced as of July 6 that its four Pinellas County hospitals, including Northside, would be holding off on elective impatient surgeries and procedures. “We anticipate continued budget pressure in July,” Powell-Stafford says.
Northside treated 51,768 patients last year, according to an HCA West Florida community report, and has 1,065 employees. The hospital’s payroll in 2019, including wages and benefits, surpassed $87 million, the report adds. Powell-Stafford says projecting what the past five months of 2020 will look like financially is difficult, given the uncertainty of coronavirus.
Powell-Stafford is more certain about the direction of Northside’s team of doctors, nurses and support staff, who, she says, have inspired her with their dedication and commitment. “You get into health care to help people,” she says, citing the company’s mission: above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.
Northside employees recite the company’s mission in morning meetings and huddles, a practice that dates back to before COVID-19. And keeping your mission front-and-center is a key lesson Powell-Stafford has learned in managing through the crisis. “It’s critically important to have a north star,” she says. “Now, with COVID-19, it’s really important to be clear about what we do.”
Hospitals across the region are grappling with dual problems: keeping patients alive and keeping budgets from collapsing. Hear from more hospital executives by clicking the links below: