I spoke to Jerry Tillinger, CEO of US Digestive Health. As you know, US Digestive Health is the $130M private equity funded platform based in Pennsylvania. Here’s what he had to say on the COVID-19 disruption.
1) What are the 3 things you are focusing on right now at your practice?
Patient care is always our number one focus, so we are working daily to triage patients with a balance between risk of exposure versus risk of harm from delay. Telemedicine is helping with that, but the rapid integration of that new modality is putting new stresses on patients, providers and staff. Protecting my staff and providers is a close second, so infection control and PPE protocols are paramount. On the business side, managing cash flow and liquidity is the number one concern; as our operations are moving at a small fraction of normal, it is imperative that we have strong liquidity so we can restore operations when the crisis abates.
2) What questions should GI practices be asking themselves over the next 10 days?
This crisis has moved much faster than anything we have every experienced. Natural disasters are usually short and intense, so there is a preparation, survival, and repair pattern. Not this time. We are getting updates on the outbreak and how we should be operating multiple times per day. We are just making the transition from disaster management into recovery planning. We are looking at the various scenarios for a “return to normal” so we can start caring for our deferred patients as effectively as possible.
3) What steps are you planning to take if your region goes into a lockdown? Any thoughts on business impact?
This is a moot question here in Pennsylvania, as we went into a “stay at home” order several weeks ago. We have consolidated services and facilities so we can maintain necessary patient care with a minimum of risk to staff and patients. Telemedicine is key component of our ability to provide care, so we implemented that immediately as we closed physical offices. Business impact is challenging, but our capital partner, Amulet, has had ample experience with distressed business management. Their guidance was invaluable and we were ready to adapt our operations and finances when the crisis went hot in our market.
4) Are you seeing any COVID-19 patients at your practice?
Especially, those with GI symptoms. Our work with COVID-19 patients has been very limited. We have strong hospital systems in our market, and they have been extraordinary partners. The hospitalists have been very cautious about exposing the specialists to contagion, so most of our consults have been electronic versus hands-on.
By Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices.