Q&A With Great Plains Health Chief Development Officer Fiona Libsack, FACHE

Great Plains Health in North Platte, Neb., is a 116-bed independent health system that serves 38-counties in west-central Nebraska, northern Kansas and northeastern Colorado.


What was the first month of the pandemic like for you?
The first month of the pandemic was a lot of late nights, early mornings and busy days as the varying disciplines of our leadership team worked together to ensure the swiftest and most effective response possible. Our priorities were in five key areas:

  • Safety
  • Staffing 
  • Supplies and testing 
  • Communication and education (internally and in our community)
  • Calm and supportive leadership

Still, during COVID-19, our Great Plains Health team continues to focus on these five priority areas, with the addition of ensuring that our organization remains financially strong.

How have you led during the pandemic? What leadership skills did you rely on, and how did you apply them?
One growth edge we will all walk away with after this unforgettable challenge is a greater understanding of who we are as leaders during a crisis and what areas we can strengthen. This reflection is a gift in a situation where there are few silver linings.

During the pandemic, I have had to communicate more, remain calm when others weren’t, provide hope when my teams were down, and educate much more frequently to ensure comprehension and engagement in ever-changing policies and processes.

Although I have had to rely on many leadership skills lately, agility and resourcefulness are the ones that I have had to rely on the most. As leaders, we must pivot quickly in crisis, often more rapidly than with what we are comfortable, finding new ways to do things and encouraging adaptability.

In the early days of the COVID-19 surge, we quickly realized we would need to rely on a different way to deliver patient care. Telehealth was our answer.

Agility was key to making this happen. In just two weeks, we expanded ED telehealth capabilities, brought hospitalist services live with telehealth and added 14 clinics in unduplicated specialties active in the telehealth program.

Since then, we’ve added three more clinics (orthopedics, wound and urology) and seven telehealth services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, palliative care, diabetes education, dietician consults and home health. In total, the physicians actively engaged in telehealth represent 98% of the Great Plains Health qualifying medical staff. Telehealth visits have quadrupled since February 2020.

We could not have pivoted as quickly as we did without the engagement and support of our physicians and the reimbursement and origination policies put in place during COVID-19.

What key lessons learned can you share? How will you use them going forward?
It is crucial to have the right leaders in place and to have established confidence and trust in those leaders before the crisis ever occurs. Often, we will hang on to a low performer because he or she may be slowly progressing and there is hope in the outcome; we have a fear of finding someone better or the low performance is just not our greatest priority. The trouble is, a crisis can occur before you’ve dealt with the low performer. And then what? Having a team in place that you can count on in a crisis is critical to an organization’s success in navigating through the challenges posed.

We were fortunate at Great Plains Health to have an expert and trusted team in place. We moved quickly, communicated well, found solutions where needed and relied on each other to get the job done. As I reflect on that, I can’t imagine having to deal with low performers while trying to deal with the pandemic, too. The urgency of the situation hit home the need to establish a trusted and competent team so that when crisis rears, we are ready.

Another key lesson learned is the importance of resourcefulness as a leadership skill. I can’t recall ever drilling this expertise down in an interview, but the pandemic has underscored how important having the skill of resourcefulness truly is.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, it has been resourcefulness that has allowed us to pivot quickly, identify creative partnerships with our community and find workable solutions for many of our challenges. When we were short on masks, we researched and established an ultraviolet germicidal radiation reprocessing center, allowing for the decontamination and reuse of N95 respirator masks. When we struggled to secure face shield shipments, we collaborated with local schools and libraries to use 3D printers to make our own. When hand sanitizer ran low, we worked with local liquor distilleries to find an alternative. As we saw growing numbers of COVID-19 cases, we worked with local businesses, schools and the public to educate in different ways.

There are countless more examples like this, but all lead back to the same skill—resourcefulness. When leaders are adept at resourcefulness, their resiliency climbs, and they are more successful not only in a crisis but in their everyday work. This must be a skill that we identify in leaders through the hiring process.

How did your experience compare with other crisis situations? Did you use lessons learned from it? How? 
In November of 2019, our organization experienced a cyberattack that shook our entire health system at every level. We were fortunate to have good leadership and expertise in our information systems department, medical staff and among our senior leadership team to guide our organization through the incident successfully.

Just three short months later, the COVID-19 crisis began to emerge. Our success coming out of the cyberattack is largely attributed to having strong leaders in place and ensuring consistent, timely and meaningful communication with all stakeholders throughout the event. We have applied the lessons learned from this event to meeting challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.