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Hospital forges a way forward — in spite of coronavirus

Health care executive uses his leadership fundamentals — kindness, visibility and more — to overcome COVID-19 challenges.

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Some Tampa General Hospital board members asked John Couris, after he was named CEO and president in 2017, if he would be comfortable doing a monthly address to employees from his office.  

Couris took the board a step further, setting up Out and About with John. That’s when Couris picks a unit or department or cluster of employees in the 1,007-bed hospital to highlight. He interviews the team and the video is shared on TGH’s intranet. “It’s important to not just be visible,” Couris says, “but to really engage with the team and highlight teams’ good work.”

Couris is relying on that engagement, along with several other integral leadership traits, including transparency and kindness, to help guide TGH through the challenge of a generation: steering the hospital, in the complicated post COVID-19 world, to return to some kind of normalcy. With annual revenue of $1.33 billion, more than 500,000 outpatient visits and some 8,000 employees, TGH is a bellwether medical organization for the region — and Florida. A nonprofit community hospital, TGH also has eight off-campus facilities and is the primary teaching hospital for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

Outside of logistics and medical challenges in treating COVID-19 patients, one of TGH’s biggest hurdles now is to build back up inpatient and outpatient occupancy rates. Through the first week of June, TGH was at about 85% of the capacity it was prior to its first COVID-19 patient. “We are not where we need to be but we are getting there,” Couris says. “There’s still fear out there about coming into the hospital, and I get that. People are afraid.”

In response, TGH has increased its cleaning protocols and training of staff for safety, cleanliness and infection protection. The hospital has also incorporated social distancing practices and offers curbside mobile check-in and telehealth appointments. One unknown? What the hospital’s patient levels will be after the pent-up demand for elective surgeries wears off — an uncertainly many for-profit businesses face, in terms of customer demand.

Courtesy. John Couris says being visible and engaging with employees has been one leadership key throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Courtesy. John Couris says being visible and engaging with employees has been one leadership key throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Another side to getting the hospital operating at pre COVID-19 levels is what Couris calls “psychological safety.” That includes marketing, in social media videos and TV ads, TGH’s "open for business" message without ignoring people’s concerns. “We’re engaging the community,” Couris says. “We’re not talking over them, and we’re not talking around them.”

The president and CEO of Jupiter Medical Center on Florida’s east coast before coming to Tampa, Couris says he’s “a big believer in getting in front of things.” That shows in the hospital’s transparent messaging to the community and through his sense of urgency in leading the hospital out of the coronavirus crisis. One example: When an employee survey in April showed TGH staff wanted daily COVID-19 patient updates, not just a few times a week, Couris moved on it quickly. He had an IT team create a dashboard with daily updates for every TGH employee to access on the intranet.

“We live in a world where everything is time-compressed,” Couris says. “You have to be able to move fast.”

‘We’re engaging the community. We’re not talking over them, and we’re not talking around them.’ John Couris, Tampa General Hospital

Most of Couris’ management moves during the pandemic stem from his four leadership fundamentals: Be transparent, be kind, be genuine, and be vulnerable. All of those, he says, have been reinforced the past 10 weeks. “When you can be genuine and sincere and vulnerable, it’s what people really want from you,” Couris says. “It’s amazing how far that goes.”


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