Q&A With Hartford HealthCare CEO Jeffrey A. Flaks, FACHE


What was the first month of the pandemic like for you?
In a crisis, you have to throw out the book on how you run the operations normally. You don’t have the luxury of time when making decisions or the benefit of being perfect. You make decisions that you feel are best for the organization and patients based on current information. But being faster doesn’t mean being better; you have to adapt and change when you have newer and better information. That’s what we did.

How have you led during the pandemic? What leadership skill(s) did you rely on, and how did you apply it/them?
One decision that we made was we were never going to look at the economics until after we’ve dealt with the crisis; this—taking care of people—is our purpose. This is why we’re here. It’s the fundamental reason why Hartford HealthCare exists. During this historic moment, at the end of day, we’re going to do what’s necessary, whether it was scouring the globe and paying tremendous mark-ups on critical, life-saving PPEs, we had to do it. We would deal with the finances later. We always had a high degree of confidence in our agility within Hartford HealthCare. This moment really highlighted what it meant to be a system of care—more than a hospital. Being a system allowed us to redistribute people, medical technology and equipment where it would do the most good. 

What key (one or two) lessons learned can you share? How will you use them going forward?
It’s natural to look forward to things returning “back to normal.” But in healthcare, there must be no going back. In several important areas, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped us recognize that what we accepted as “normal” was nowhere near good enough. “Better than normal” is our goal—a health system that is more equitable, more convenient, more engaging and more prepared.

Each crisis presents unique opportunities, and we’d be foolish to squander the rapid advancements and innovations we’ve undertaken. With careful planning, attention to data, use of technology and the inclusive elevation of voices from our most at-risk communities, we have an opportunity to create a new normal that sets the pace for the country.

How did your experience compare with other crisis situations? Did you use lessons learned from it? How?
I would compare this to my experience of working in healthcare in New York City during 9/11. I was working at the tertiary/trauma hospital closest to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when the twin towers came under attack. I never thought I would see anything like that again.

Now, as chief executive of Hartford HealthCare, the parent of Hartford Hospital and six others in Connecticut, we have been at the forefront of another unprecedented crisis—a global pandemic—that is different but challenges the magnitude of 9/11. It presents some of the same daunting challenges: responding quickly to a situation that is fraught with the unknown. 
The COVID-19 outbreak has taken a heavy toll on patients, doctors, nurses and hospital finances.

What are you focusing on currently regarding COVID? What is most important now?
We’re preparing for all scenarios—I think we have to. We’re preparing as if there will be a second wave, although right now, our testing shows very low prevalence. But we know that everything can change in a moment. Still, we’re doing everything possible to ensure that there isn’t, at the same time. And that’s the tension we are working with at the end of the day. We’re still on high alert. COVID-19 is still in our community. We have to be even more prepared to the extent this happens again within our community.

We are also laser focused on testing—it is absolutely vital to containment. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done in testing and the fact that we have surpassed completion of performing more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests, helping to lower the state’s infection rate to below 1%.

We will continue to offer testing at numerous sites, through mobile units at nursing homes, homeless shelters and other congregate living situations. 

We have committed to doing whatever is necessary and whatever it takes to test and to protect our community.