From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders of local health care systems have been holding conference calls daily to share information about the challenges they face.

Operations officers of heavyweight hospital systems Piedmont, Emory, Wellstar, Grady, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Northeast Georgia have used these sessions to talk over issues like surges in cases and shortages of supplies.

Dr. Jonathan Lewin, president and CEO of Emory Healthcare. (Emory)

CEOs also have been heavily involved, and have worked together to write opinion pieces about the pandemic. These leaders have shared best medical practices and worked to create common messaging to an uncertain public. Communication on when to stop elective surgeries – and when to resume them – was part of the process, as was discussion of practical topics like how to screen visitors to hospitals.

Such collaboration has stood out as a striking departure from the typically ultra-competitive nature of the local hospital market.

“It was one of the silver linings of the pandemic,’’ Dr. Jonathan Lewin, CEO of Emory Healthcare, told Georgia Health News. The result projected “a sense of calm and cohesiveness across the community,’’ he said. “It was a common approach to a common problem.’’

The pandemic brought hospital leaders together in a way that hadn’t been seen in Georgia in a long time. There was even some trading of supplies: extra masks exchanged for testing swabs.

The collaboration, Lewin said, “has been a delight. We all share the mission of improving the health of our communities.’’

That type of collaboration is the underlying theme of Health Connect South, about to hold its seventh conference in Atlanta.

Set for Sept. 24, the conference maintains its goal of promoting regional collaborations among companies, universities and health care companies.

Past combinations highlighted by Health Connect South include UCB partnering with Georgia Tech to create an innovation accelerator in Atlanta.

This year, the Health Connect conference will be a virtual event due to the pandemic.

“The online platform will not dilute at all the quality of the speakers and message,’’ said Russ Lipari, CEO and founder of Health Connect South. “We’ve got a great health care community.’’

“We seek to bring attention to the great works of those in our health community and the example they provide of how to work together – particularly in times of crisis,’’ he added. “Our hope is that our larger community will be inspired by the collaborations going on, many times unnoticed, throughout our health community.’’

Among the panels will be CEOs John Haupert of Grady Health System, Carol Burrell of Northeast Georgia Health System, and Candice Saunders of Wellstar Health System discussing the hospital collaboration.

Dr. Carlos del Rio speaks during a Latin American Association event in May. (File)

COVID-19 will be a central focus of the conference. Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory University infectious disease expert, will speak about the future of the disease fight, along with Dennis Liotta, executive director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development.

Another panel will feature the partnership between the CDC Foundation and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine on addressing the health equity implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership will monitor and assess the impacts on vulnerable populations, including racial/ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and those of lower socioeconomic status.

Another panel will discuss the Emory Healthcare Innovation Hub and its partnership with Verizon, which aims to spur the development of healthcare solutions powered by 5G.

School-based health clinics and their connections with their local communities will headline another panel.

And at the outset of the conference, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan will discuss his Georgia Innovates Taskforce, a panel of more than a dozen Georgia leaders who will help accelerate his goal of making the state the technology capital of the East Coast.

–Andy Miller

This story was reported by Georgia Health News and published here in a partnership with Reporter Newspapers.

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