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Working Together for Others - TriHealth and Xavier Collaborate to Meet COVID-19 Challenge

August 12, 2020
Working Together for Others - TriHealth and Xavier Collaborate to Meet COVID-19 Challenge

When TriHealth and Xavier University announced an expanded partnership three years ago, as two strongly committed mission–based institutes, they set lofty goals. The first four objectives, including the most ambitious goal -- opening a state-of-the-art health and wellness building -- were humming along, with health, counseling and well-being services beginning in August and the rest of the HUB opening by January 2020. An official ribbon cutting was planned for April.

COVID-19 changed all that, as more urgent concerns unfolded. TriHealth and Xavier began meeting in January to discuss a health threat across the world, and to prepare for what was to become a pandemic that would inspire further collaboration between these long term partners.

David Rigdon, practice manager at TriHealth Physician Partners Xavier University Student Health Services, manages TriHealth’s medical offices at the Health United Building (HUB) located on the Xavier campus. The HUB, a joint project between TriHealth and Xavier University focuses on the health and well-being of Musketeers. The health services team and David had worked to get the TriHealth medical offices up and running, and also to get the word out to students about the new services available at the HUB. Kaity Rowe, Well-Being and Coaching Coordinator, embedded at Xavier, worked on student programs to promote wellness. No one had any idea how COVID-19 would create new challenges, and, new opportunities, for the two partners to work together.

“We started to meet in January,” said David. “Our shared values fostered collaboration, and TriHealth was there to provide advice and support for a situation that hadn’t occurred in 100 years.” The group consulted with Steve Cleves, MD, TriHealth primary care physician and Medical Director of Xavier University Health Services, a Xavier grad himself, along with Stephen Blatt, MD, TriHealth Chief Medical Director of Infectious Diseases, to develop plans for students, faculty and Xavier staff.

Xavier and TriHealth made plans for providing students with information on how to quarantine, and if necessary, isolation methods were determined in case there were any positive cases. Fortunately, there were not. During Spring break, Governor DeWine intervened with the decision to end classes on Ohio campuses and move to distance learning. Xavier, staying true to their mission of serving others, was concerned that students might be struggling with that decision. When the university embarked on an initiative to contact every student, Kaity Rowe, along with other TriHealth team members volunteered to help with the calls.

At the same time, TriHealth was preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients. A command center born out of weekly meetings that had begun in January was set up at TriHealth’s headquarters starting a burst of activity. With so many unknowns, Cincinnati-based health care systems worked together to review safety plans for the projected surge.

The TriHealth/Xavier relationship kicked in to a higher gear. Just as TriHealth and Xavier worked together to ensure the Xavier campus was safe, when help was needed by TriHealth, Xavier didn’t hesitate. During a national and worldwide shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) Xavier provided donations of N95 masks, gloves, gowns and PPE, and also donated a ventilator -- all items TriHealth needed to ensure patients would get the care they needed. It wasn’t just patients who had needs. Some TriHealth team members working with COVID-19 patients wanted to keep their families safe. This meant not going home after work. John Jacobs, Director of the TriHealth Fitness & Health Pavilion, was pulled in to help with TriHealth’s COVID-19 response. He approached Xavier with an important request. Could TriHealth team members stay in the Xavier residence halls during this crisis? Xavier didn’t hesitate, and made the small dorm apartments cozy and welcoming. “They were there for us,” said Steve Mombach, senior vice president, Ambulatory Services & Network Development. “A better partner we could not have!”

COVID-19 created a “new normal” presenting another challenge for Xavier and TriHealth to work on together -- how to bring students safely back to campus. Meetings continued as the partners devised several scenarios and best practices for re-opening class rooms, sports facilities and residence and dining halls. As partners with similar missions to serve, it was a natural progression of all the work they had already done and will continue to do no matter what the future holds.

“The collaborative spirit between TriHealth and Xavier is fueled by TriHealth’s determination for Xavier to succeed,” says Doug Ruschman, Xavier’s associate vice president for Marketing and Communications. “With the entire TriHealth system engaged with us we can make decisions based on a medical perspective from the experts.”

Challenges remain, but those challenges will be met by two organizations working “together, for others.”