Cone Health CEO Terry Akin talks about the coronavirus crisis

Newsmakers

GREENSBORO, N.C. — It’s safe to assume Terry Akin’s not going to sleep too well tonight. He leads a team on the front line of the local coronavirus battle. He’s the CEO of Cone Health — the health care service provider that has more than 12,000 employees, 1,300 physicians and 1,200 volunteers. They work in multiple facilities in Guilford and five surrounding counties. I spent a few minutes speaking with him on some of the big issues his organization’s facing. Here are some of his comments, which have been edited for brevity.

ON WHAT KEEPS HIM UP AT NIGHT:

“I would say certainly ensuring that we have adequate supplies and equipment to care for those who we’re going to be called upon to care for patients. That is a big challenge it repeats a theme that you’ve heard statewide and nationally: ensuring that we’re doing everything we possibly can to support our caregivers, physically, emotionally, and otherwise.”

ON CONE’S SUPPLY OF VENTILATORS AND PPE:

“So that is a challenge everyone in our industry is dealing with right now. We have what I would call adequate but limited supply right now. And also one of the biggest challenges we have is we’re not in a position to be able to give masks out to just anybody who wants one.”

ON COVID-19 TESTING:

“There are really two issues with testing. One is the availability of testing supplies. Again, I would say adequate but limited and we need more. And those supplies generally are swabs as well as what we refer to as transport media, which basically is the container and the tube in which the sample is placed to send to a lab for testing. Those are in relatively short supply. And then the other big issue is rapid turnaround testing. There’s been a shortage of availability of modes through which to get test turned around rapidly. We’ve now got a relationship with a lab in Texas that’s affording us 24-hour turnaround. There is also technology out there that will allow for even more rapid turnaround. So we’re aiming toward that. But I’ll tell you the, the 24-hour turnaround has helped a tremendous amount. It’s still not where it needs to be.”

*Neill’s note: Cone Health is following CDC guidelines and is only testing only those doctors believe are ill enough to be admitted to Cone Health facilities.*

ON THE POSSIBILITY OF USING THE RECENTLY-VACATED WOMEN’S HOSPITAL:

“Absolutely. We’re keeping that in our repertoire, so to speak. As you’re probably aware by way of the national emergency, some orders and guidance from the governor, most every health system has now eliminated elective surgical procedures. Those that are optional could be scheduled for later that don’t involve major clinical or life threat. So that has freed up significant capacity across our hospitals which gives us the ability to accommodate patients. Of course, those rooms have to be equipped with ventilators. And so we’ve got a supply of ventilators. We’re working on getting more. But depending upon what happens with the peak, so to speak, Women’s Hospital is ready to be made operational to take additional patients if need be.”

HIS BIG MESSAGE FOR THE COMMUNITY:

“Stay at home. And if you didn’t hear me the first time, STAY AT HOME! That’s the only thing that’s going to give us a fighting chance to stem the spread of this infection.”

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