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Opinion: Business gets gutsy in pandemic

Eyes & Ears

Posted online

It’s time to tip our cap to a few things and people in the business community.

File this one as a risky science experiment.

Did you know the Discovery Center of Springfield is one of only two science centers in North America to remain fully operational during the coronavirus pandemic? The inventive staff there shifted its services to that of child care for the families of essential health care workers. Genius. And it was largely funded by donations.

Quite an experiment, if you ask me. Executive Director Rob Blevins’ hypothesis proved true: If you put yourself out there to meet a community need, the community will respond in kind.

The conclusion: Over the 10 weeks the Discovery Center has been educating and caring for children during the pandemic, the team has provided 77,000 hours of child care and 30,000 meals and snacks at no cost to the recipients. In all, 750 children enrolled in the program, and the Discovery Center hired some 25 new employees to meet the need. Not many organizations can say they doubled the size of their team during the pandemic.As a result, Blevins reports receiving speaking invitations, thank you cards and emails from people around the country. Some international attention has come the Discovery Center’s way, too. The Association of Science and Technology Centers and NowThis Media have covered the Springfield center’s efforts.

The other center that remained opened by restructuring to serve families of essential workers was the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, according to the ASTC.

The Discovery Center’s program reportedly costs $140,000 a month to run, and those funds are running out, Blevins says. He’ll begin phasing out the program June 10 and expects to close down child care classrooms by July – unless more funding and needs arise.

“This may well be the start to the end of a great program that did an important thing for the people on the front lines,” Blevins said in a news release. “There is clearly something special about our community because we were able to start all of this with extremely limited resources and without a safety net.”

Next is a big kudos to CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards for some recent transparency regarding the hospital’s care of COVID-19 patients.

In a May 27 tweet, he answered what many of us were wondering. With all the coronavirus talk, what’s the actual volume of patient care? Here’s his tweet in full: “CoxHealth COVID data: 78 positive of 5,230 tested, 1.5% positive, total COVID admissions =30 (20 discharged to home, 7 deaths, 3 current inpatients) PPE-N95 masks =179,213. Number of employees reassigned to other work = 120, total layoffs =0. What other questions do you have?”

Edwards did go on to answer some question from his Twitter followers. A couple responses surrounded the death tally. Edwards confirmed the seven reported by CoxHealth were all severe COVID-19 cases from the early micro-outbreaks in nursing homes.

By comparison, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department reports 128 confirmed coronavirus cases and seven deaths after a positive diagnostic test, as of May 27. There’s been one other death in the city/county that was a probable COVID-19 case. That means CoxHealth handled all the confirmed COVID-19 deaths, but as Edwards noted, “These were very vulnerable elderly patients with underlying conditions. ”Another reply requested CoxHealth “please buy Mercy.” Edwards didn’t respond.

He did address a question about Mercy Hospital Springfield laying off and furloughing hundreds of employees. Edwards candidly said, “I am not sure we are doing the right thing from a business perspective. I hope so. When this industry gets complicated, I often rely upon the advise of my father. ‘Do what is fair and right for employees, the rest will sort itself out.’”

Edwards’ dad, Charlie, also was a CoxHealth CEO.

Earlier in the month, Edwards was recognized as the No. 1 hospital administrator during the COVID-19 pandemic by EM Docs, a Facebook group comprising 22,000 emergency physicians. Those doctors on the front lines selected their Top 5 administrators. They essentially answered these questions: Who went above and beyond, responded with poise, compassion, and leadership that was nothing short of transformational and heroic? Most importantly, who listened to you, who acted as your champion, and who should be applauded? Who should other administrators emulate?”

Edwards rose to the top, along with administrators in Utah, Indiana, New York and Alabama.

Edwards was credited for giving $100,000 out of his own pocket toward the new CoxHealth Employee Heroes Fund to assist staff members or their families who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Among several remarks from CoxHealth docs, Dr. Kari Cooper had this to say of Edwards: “He, as well as other members of the leadership team, have been remarkably transparent in relaying the rapidly evolving thought processes and concerns which have contributed to their decision-making. … Edwards was able to spearhead an effort that resulted in a 51-bed ward-style ICU for COVID patients being constructed in only two weeks. ... He has been a vocal advocate for the community and hospital; he has not hesitated to publicly call out government and other officials when their positions have been ill-advised.”

Gutsy. That’s what I say – of both Blevins and Edwards.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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steve counts

good story, smart move

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