COVID-19 Casts Shadow On Cleveland Clinic's Centennial Celebration

Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Dr. Tom Mihaljevic addressed how the hospital system will balance the continued management of the coronavirus pandemic and the hospital system’s 2021 goals during the annual State of the Clinic address on Jan 13. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]
Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Dr. Tom Mihaljevic addressed how the hospital system will balance the continued management of the coronavirus pandemic and the hospital system’s 2021 goals during the annual State of the Clinic address on Jan 13. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]

As the Cleveland Clinic enters its 100th year of operations, the hospital system is looking to the future. But the clinic can’t look to the future without addressing the present COVID-19 pandemic.

Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Dr. Tom Mihaljevic addressed how the hospital system will balance management of the coronavirus pandemic and the hospital system’s 2021 goals during the annual State of the Clinic address Wednesday morning.

This annual address is typically used as a vehicle to share the clinic's financial gains or losses from the previous year with the public. This year, however, Mihaljevic skipped giving a detailed financial report because the books are not yet closed, he said.

The clinic had a “modest gain” in operating income for 2020, which includes money the hospital system received from the federal government through the CARES Act.

CARES Act money was distributed to businesses to help offset financial losses from the pandemic. The Cleveland Clinic received $423 million in CARES Act grants, according to a hospital spokeswoman. 

The clinic also saved money this year by postponing capital projects and forgoing raises for staff, Mihaljevic added.

Despite the grants and cost cutting, the hospital system did not meet its budgeted plan due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Even before the pandemic, some hospitals were losing money, according to the American Hospital Association. The pandemic forces some hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic, to direct attention and funds to urgent, COVID-19 care, while other services had to be slowed or stopped. 

The State of the Clinic was a virtual event this year. [Cleveland Clinic]

Vaccination Update

After the address, Mihaljevic gave an update on COVID-19 vaccinations for clinic staff: All frontline workers who wanted the vaccine have gotten it.

The vaccine isn’t mandatory for clinic personnel, but it is highly encouraged, and Mihaljevic said more people have accepted the vaccine as the first phase of Ohio’s rollout has continued. 

So far, the general acceptance rate for all employees is more than 60 percent, with even higher stats for doctors and nurses. About 80 percent of Cleveland Clinic doctors and about 75 percent of the hospital’s nurses choose to get the vaccine, according to Mihaljevic. 

Despite the vaccine, Mihaljevic said the pandemic is far from over. 

“We are actually in the midst of the worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. 

Health Care Access

The Cleveland Clinic, like most hospitals, had to increase online doctor’s visits during the pandemic using telehealth.

Mihaljevic said one in five Cleveland Clinic patients used telemedicine in the last year.

“Making ourselves available to those in need is the first step in providing care,” he said. 

Increasing telehealth options is just part of the clinic’s goal to meet patients where they are, he said.

“The challenge of contemporary health care is to get each patient in front of the right caregiver and meet their individual needs,” he said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to put technology into the service of our patients.”

To do that, Mihaljevic emphasized the need to allow patients to schedule telehealth visits at times that work for them, like nights and weekends. 

Future Goals

Mihaljevic also announced Cleveland Clinic’s new mission statement during his address: Caring for life, researching for health, and educating those who serve. The goals related to that new mission statement include doubling the number of patients served by 2024.

The clinic currently serves more than 2 million patients. However, Mihaljevic said the pandemic is putting the 100-year-old institution slightly behind on plans to meet that goal. 

The hospital system also plans to address racial health disparities, in part by thinking outside the typical health care box.

The clinic is partnering with Meijer to bring a grocery store to Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood as part of the plan to meet this goal, he said. And Cleveland Clinic is expanding broadband capabilities in the Fairfax neighborhood, as well as providing computers and digital tools to expand access to technology.

Mihaljevic also said the organization has a goal is to increase diversity in the Cleveland Clinic workforce so employees better reflect the communities they serve. 

In late 2019, Cleveland Clinic announced it would start providing paid parental leave, and Mihaljevic said that benefit and many others became even more important during the pandemic. 

“It was very, very important to expand support for our caregivers outside of the workplace,” he said. “All of us know what this pandemic has done to every family in the United States, the strains all of us are under, and you can imagine what those strains look like for people who are in health care.” 

Due to these strains, the Cleveland Clinic expanded childcare services for caregivers and made unused hotel rooms available to health care workers, so they could isolate and keep their families safe, Mihaljevic said. 

Approximately 1,300 caregivers are out every day due to COVID-19, he said.

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