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On March 16, Oregon Governor Kate Brown made an announcement that would have seemed improbable, even a few weeks prior.  

“Metro hospitals will act as one, large unified hospital system for the treatment of COVID-19,” Brown said at a press conference. “There will be a centralized, coordinated center for managing hospital bed inventory. We will expand bed capacity by adding beds in non-hospital settings.” 

For the sake of COVID-19 patients, Oregon Health & Science University, Providence Health and Services-Oregon, Kaiser Permanente and Legacy Health are not individual health systems in competition with each other. They are a single unit working together to push back against a deadly disease.  

Brown’s remarks are not shocking in this new era of Coronavirus. As COVID-19 cases surge in America and threaten ICU bed capacity in every single state, local health care communities are figuring out the best way to contain and combat the pandemic by collaborating like they’ve rarely done before. With medical resources getting strained to the limit, it’s all hands-on deck (as long as those hands aren’t touching each other).  

Temporarily pushed aside is the cutthroat, competitive health care environment that emerged in the late 2010s, where new health care players in retail outfits like Walmart and CVS and big tech companies emerged in full force and M&A activity between provider and payer organizations was the norm. Hospitals are cancelling elective surgeries and non-essential care, despite the potential downstream revenue impact, at the request of the federal government, state health departments, and industry associations. They are sharing best practices and resources. 

“What we’re seeing is, and we’re seeing it in organizations that are strong at the highest level, we’re seeing organization over individual, society over organization. This is promoting a level of teamwork unlike everything anything I’ve seen within the organization, across organizations and across populations,” says Lou Shapiro, CEO of Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City.  

Read more: HSS CEO Lou Shapiro on reallocating 85% of resources to battle COVID-19 

Fighting a common enemy 

In parts of the country where the coronavirus has taken the region by storm, health care organizations have had to collaborate quickly and often. In the war against the disease, there is a common enemy and as Shapiro says, no one is excused from participating in this fight. He says that in NYC, HSS, NewYork-Presbyterian, Weill Cornell Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering are joined at the hip. “Those organizations are collaborating right now as if we’re one,” Shapiro says. 

It’s a similar situation in Washington state as well, says Providence St. Joseph Health’s Chief Digital Strategy Officer Sara Vaezy. The health system is taking its investments into AI, machine learning, and virtual health and repurposing those innovations to help the battle against COVID-19. Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH) is using its capabilities to spread the wealth across the region and the country.  

Read more: Coronavirus: Health care accelerates innovation in pandemic response 

PSJH is giving other health care organizations access to its AI-enabled triage tool and working to integrate a capability within that allows patients to follow-up with their own provider. Moreover, with temporary federal waivers allowing for cross-state practice via telehealth, they are also talking about helping out other health systems with their virtual health technology as well.  

“What’s essential right now is we have a partnership and legal framework to support the technology [PSJH] has built, so we can make it widely available knowing that we’re making continuous changes and other health systems are going to be in that same ecosystem with those changes,” says Vaezy. “We’re rapidly working through that and requests have gone up [significantly].”