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Leading Through a Pandemic: Q&A With CommonSpirit CEO Lloyd Dean

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   April 08, 2020

Dean shares his strategies to effectively lead the health system through the COVID-19 pandemic.

CommonSpirit Health, the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health, is one of the nation's largest healthcare systems with over 700 care centers and hospitals across 21 states including California and Washington state, and as far east as Pennsylvania.

Leading this healthcare system through the COVID-19 pandemic is Lloyd Dean and Kevin Lofton, currently serving as joint-CEO of CommonSpirit Health. Lofton will retire in June.

Related: CommonSpirit Health CEO Kevin Lofton Announces Retirement

Dean recently told HealthLeaders how he's effectively managing the health system through the pandemic, utilizing a "toolbox" of strategies to focus on patient care, ensuring staff safety, and adapting to the changing situation.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: What is your leadership strategy at CommonSpirit Health during a pandemic?

Lloyd Dean: In many ways, leadership during a crisis like this must follow the same strategy as any other time. At CommonSpirit, I am privileged to work with 150,000 of the best healthcare professionals in the world. My role is to reassure our people and our communities that we will get through this, and we will be stronger once we get there. While we are in this crisis, my job is to make sure that our people have what they need so that they can take care of our patients safely. My priority is to make sure that I have their back, and then get out of their way. They are the heroes working around the clock and inspiring us all with their commitment to our mission of healing.

HL: What systems are in place to ensure your health system has the tools it needs to lead through a pandemic?

Dean: To effectively manage a pandemic, we need a very large toolbox. At the top of the list is providing our healthcare professionals with the personal protective equipment, or PPE, that keeps them safe. This is an example of how the size of our system helps, because our sophisticated supply chain service evaluates every sourcing opportunity and relocates PPE to places within CommonSpirit where we need it most. Digital tools developed by our data science and technology professionals that are powered by predictive analytics are also helping us plan for what lies ahead. Finally, we continue to partner with our local health departments to test people for COVID-19 at the same time that we are developing our in-house testing capabilities.

HL: How have those systems or steps helped so far? What outcomes have you seen?

Dean: Our planning, preparations, and training have served us well so far. We have widespread communication platforms that allow us to keep our organization informed in real time of changes to our pandemic policies and procedures. As other health systems have experienced shortages of PPE, we have asked our people to conserve equipment as we strive to keep our care sites supplied. Our operations centers are monitoring and directing our operations day-to-day and hour-to-hour, as we rapidly integrate the latest knowledge of this virus along with evolving CDC recommendations. 

HL: What cost-saving steps have been made, if any, during the pandemic?

Dean:  As you would expect, cash flow and cash management are critical. We have taken a number of steps to reduce both operating and capital expenses during this challenging time. We are balancing this with the needs of our employees for adequate PPE and other resources.

For now, we have stopped all new capital projects that have not been started, and we are reviewing projects already in progress to establish a controlled prioritized stoppage process if that becomes necessary. We are looking closely at discretionary spending and reviewing priorities and productivity standards. Our presidents in regions across CommonSpirit are actively tracking to these standards while overall volume goes down.

Most importantly, we are doing everything we can from an operations standpoint to allow our dedicated staff to focus on patient care in anticipation of COVID-19 surges.

We are using this opportunity to adapt and streamline some of our operations. For example, we are rapidly adapting and scaling virtual urgent care visits and other telehealth services that not only extend the reach of our physicians and other healthcare professionals, but also reduce the cost of care. We believe many of these innovations will extend access to care and benefit all of our patients long after the COVID-19 crisis ends.

HL: What are the big issues CommonSpirit Health is facing right now with the pandemic? For example, staffing shortages, supply shortages, bed capacity issues?

Dean: There are numerous challenges that arise in a global crisis such as this. Clearly, maintaining an adequate supply of PPE is a top priority, as my biggest responsibility is for the safety of our staff. We are cognizant that it is their courageous work that will help us defeat this virus, and that’s why our supply chain operations are actively pursuing every option to locate and deliver PPE to our staff. 

Our care sites have been adapting their surge plans and policies to respond to the continued spread of COVID-19. We anticipate that more of our care sites will experience an influx of patients and that they will need additional ICU beds and ventilators to treat the critically ill.

HL: What can other healthcare CEOs learn from your strategy?

Dean: Those of us in healthcare have a special responsibility and a unique opportunity to show everyone how to stay steady even in this time of uncertainty. What I mean by staying steady is staying true to your values. If it is the right thing to do for your patients or your people, then do it.

“My role is to reassure our people and our communities that we will get through this, and we will be stronger once we get there.”

Melanie Blackman is a contributing editor for strategy, marketing, and human resources at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of CommonSpirit Health


Utilize widespread communication to share the latest changes.

Reduce operating and capital expenses.

Adapt to the changing climate through innovation.

Provide staff with the tools they need to stay safe.

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