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Collaboration During COVID: Tampa General Hospital Teams With Competitors on Patient Care

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   July 02, 2020

Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris shares strategic and collaborative approaches the health system has taken to ensure the care of its communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus cases reached a total of 2.5 million in the United States, with Florida cases reaching over 138,500 cases, this past Sunday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to The New York Times, Florida's coronavirus cases have gone "up fivefold in 2 weeks."

With this rise in cases in the United States and in Florida, hospital leadership must be ready to deal with a second wave of patient surges. To meet this challenge, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital (TGH) John Couris shares with HealthLeaders the ways the hospital and its partner health system, USF Health, have collaborated with competing health systems to help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This script has been edited for clarity and brevity.

John Couris, President and CEO, Tampa General Hospital (Photo courtesy of Tampa General Hospital)

HealthLeaders: Can you talk about TGH's collaboration with other Florida hospitals to exchange COVID-19 clinical data? What has that been able to accomplish?

John Couris: We've got a collaboration of the big four systems in the marketplace, and they are BayCare Health System, AdventHealth, and HCA West Florida. We agreed that we would share information, share messaging to the public, coordinate activities, share resources, and collaborate with resources if necessary. The other health systems that represent that dashboard is Lakeland Regional Health, Lee Health, and Manatee Memorial Hospital.

We all agreed that when it came to a public health crisis, we were going to collaborate and innovate together and support our communities together. Prior to that, we were competitors. We still are. But when it comes to safeguarding the health and wellness of the community, you kind of have to transcend competition and collaborate. That's essentially what we're doing.

When we opened up testing facilities early on, we all collaborated and provided resources to the [COVID] testing facilities. That was a collaboration because no one health system could handle that, and it was also a collaboration with the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County, and all of the entities that are in those counties.

HL: Would you suggest other hospitals and health systems adopt this kind of collaborative effort?

Couris: Absolutely. It has been wonderful. It's not perfect; it's a little clunky, sometimes, but that's to be expected because we've never done anything quite like this. I would describe it as the esprit de corps amongst the health systems is high. This kind of crisis requires a regional response. … This COVID crisis shows that collaborating amongst each other can work, and it's the right thing to do.

Related: AI And Predictive Analytics Enable Tampa General to Save $10 Million, Reduce Loss

HL: How has Tampa Genera Hospital utilized AI in its collaboration effort?

Couris: We have something in our organization called CareComm. We're about two years into the project, and CareComm is an 11,000-square-foot command center in partnership with GE Healthcare. It allows us leverage, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and modeling to run our institution.

It anticipates needs and issues before it becomes a need or an issue. It allows us to look intuitively at staffing quality, clinical outcomes, patient safety, and service. It literally monitors the ebb and flow of patients in the institution. It also monitors the safety of those patients and team members in relationship to the work that we do.

What we've been able to do out of our CareComm center is we are collaborating with six other health systems in the region. Those six health systems feed [individual intelligence apps or "tiles"] every day of what their capacity is for ICU beds, or COVID beds, for ventilator usage. That gets all fed into a tile that we manage at TGH through CareComm, and we're able to see what the capacity is of these health systems. If any one hospital were to surge and get into a situation where they needed help, other hospitals could step up [and take patients]. That kind of transparency across health systems—that otherwise would be competitors—is a big deal.

That has been extremely helpful to us, particularly with patients coming out of nursing homes. Let's say there are 10 residents coming out of nursing homes; one hospital can't handle that. So, what happens is a team of people—our chief operating officers and our chief medical officers—get together and they discuss the placement of those patients based on who has what. They use that dashboard to help them make the decision on where patients go.

CareComm command center displaying real-time data (Photo courtesy of Tampa General Hospital)

HL: TGH has a consulting service, TGH Prevention Response Outreach, or TPRO. It seems like a great solution to help the Tampa community. Can you talk about why it was formed?

Couris:  I brought this up to our COVID Task Force. I said, "As businesses start to open up a little bit, they're going to need help opening up safely and responsibly because they're not infection prevention experts."

I'm on the board of The Florida Aquarium here in Tampa. And I was with the CEO, and he was sharing some of his concerns about opening up safely. [TGH was] thinking about starting this consulting service to help businesses that want help to open up. [I suggested] we do a proof of concept [to] see if it's even practical.

We consulted for the aquarium and it went great; the aquarium loved it. We went through all the different displays and ecosystems and habitats to make sure appropriate space was being given to people.

So, then we decided, why don't we open this up to the broader community? We charge for it by a sliding scale, somewhere between $150 an hour to about $300, depending on the type of business it is and depending on how big a project it is. It's not designed to make a windfall of money; we have to cover our costs, though. Because we're moving resources from other places to provide this service, at the very minimum, we have to cover our costs. And so now we have all sorts of clients. It's really taken off. We also do work with small businesses.

When the [businesses] get certified, we give them a little sticker to put on the front door that says, "We've been helped by TPRO," which is a collaboration between Tampa General Hospital, USF Health, and some of our private practice physicians who are infectious disease doctors.

We just want to be helpful, because this is all about humanity. We're trying to do our part and we're trying to be innovative. We want to be part of the solution. And we have a responsibility to care for people that are sick with this terrible virus; we also feel like we have a responsibility to extend ourselves into the broader community and help them.

“… When it comes to safeguarding the health and wellness of the community, you kind of have to transcend competition and collaborate.”

Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Tampa Bay, Florida. April 28, 2019 . Partial view of Tampa General Hospital and Hillsborough river. / Editorial credit: VIAVAL /


Competition should not stop hospitals and health systems from working together to serve the broader community.

Utilizing AI technology in collaboration efforts can help with patient care, including avoiding surges by sharing patient loads.

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