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Health Care Outlook: Karen Kramer

Senior Vice President & Chief Hospital Officer, CoxHealth

Posted online

Karen Kramer has a year under her belt as CoxHealth’s senior vice president and chief hospital officer, though she’s worked for the Springfield-based health system since 1988. She was promoted in January 2020 and continues as chief nursing officer on an interim basis.

SBJ: As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into 2021, what are the challenges facing health systems?
Kramer: All of our health systems are challenged with the rising costs that are associated with taking care of COVID patients. That’s everything from needing additional equipment to some of the drugs expense, additional (personal protective equipment) and a big cost around bringing in supplemental staff to help with these spikes in COVID volumes. At the same time, our volumes are lighter on our electives and outpatients, so that just puts a financial strain on health systems.

SBJ: Has COVID-19 made it difficult to focus on other health care projects?
Kramer: Amazingly, we still were able to keep our focus on other initiatives, such as opening clinics. We’ve had several individuals work on strategy around some of our service lines. Those things continue to move forward. Looking at Cox College, our workforce is super important to us. We have great collaborations with many of the schools in the region. But we really rely on Cox College, and they were able to finish their big $7 million capital renovation project this year; (that) allows us to be able to expand that college. We’re going from 250 nursing students up to 400 by 2023. We made sure that also stayed on track. We’re continuing to look at expanding our family medicine residency program, which is also really important for our future.

SBJ: CoxHealth is reaching more areas outside of Springfield with new larger clinics coming online recently. Why is this a focus?
Kramer: We have an ambulatory leadership team that really took a step back and looked strategically at how do we bring services together and put them into communities to make it more convenient for families. The whole thing is to make it more convenient and provide better access. The concept of putting a clinic together that includes an urgent care, also primary care and other services all under one roof just seems like it makes the most sense for what we’re hearing from patients and families in our region of what they want and need for their health care services. They don’t want to drive miles and miles to go to their physician. We’re opening clinics like that in Nixa, Ozark and plans for Monett and Republic in the coming year.

SBJ: Is there concern about losing employees after such a stressful and trying year?
Kramer: Another theme that you’ll hear in health care is worry about post-traumatic stress. Some people maybe have already decided it’s too stressful this past year. We haven’t really seen that at CoxHealth, but I’ve heard that from other organizations that they’ve seen some significant turnover already. We do worry that after things are better if that’s when people maybe have an opportunity to stop and realize that they’ve been through a very trying and difficult time. Some of the things that we’ve done here is our psychiatrists and psychologists have offered to meet with staff and provide sessions where they can talk about anything. … We also have an anonymous (employee assistance program) that we’re reminding our employees is out there, and it’s a 24/7 phone service that they can call if they’re feeling stressed and get help.

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