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Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals Join Forces to Fight Pandemic and Energize Region

In early 2020, shortly after Dr. Cliff Megerian was chosen as the next CEO of University Hospitals, he met with Cleveland Clinic President and CEO Dr. Tom Mihaljevic for a dinner, at which the two met shared their visions for the region’s two largest — and historically, fiercely competitive — healthcare systems.

By the end of the two-hour meal, “we also realized that we trusted each other,” he said in a joint interview with Mihaljevic for Crain’s. They parted ways that night with a collaborative agreement on community service, believing they could do more together and pledged to meet regularly.

“And then COVID came along, and you know, what we achieved conceptually translated very quickly into a set of practical actions,” Mihaljevic said.

Like virtually every other health care system in the United States and beyond, the clinic and UH were working together in new and different ways to learn about the novel coronavirus, then educate, test, treat, and ultimately vaccinate the public. . They have worked with each other, government entities, community partners and other area hospitals including MetroHealth, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, Firelands Regional Medical Center and the Southwest General Medical Center.

As public health underfunding across the country has left many departments struggling to deliver needed services during the pandemic, hospitals have decided to play a bigger role in supporting public health initiatives and population, said Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy for the American Hospital Association (AHA), which represents hospitals, health care systems/networks, and their patients and communities.

“Because they were seeing this at essentially the same time in their community, I think it encouraged the kind of collaboration that we’re talking about here,” she said.

Across the country, a commitment to health equity and a desire to continue the mutual learning experienced during the pandemic are common driving forces behind continuing these collaborative efforts, she said.

Today, the relationship between UH and the clinic has evolved from an accelerated collaboration in times of crisis to an intentional and expanding partnership led by Mihaljevic and Megerian, who continue to meet at least once a month for lunch or dinner. Megerian officially became CEO of UH on February 1, 2021.

For the past year and a half, leadership teams from both systems have met quarterly, alternating between the UH and Clinic campuses, to consider how they might work together to benefit the communities they serve.

“At least in our common memory, I don’t think this has ever happened in the past; that the two management teams would actually take this half-mile trip and have a meeting together and sit in the same conference room with each other,” Mihaljevic said.

They started with four or five key topics for collaboration and have now grown to eight: workforce; supply chain procurement; research and education; community health needs assessment; opioid treatment and recovery; infant mortality; lead poisoning; and food insecurity. Each has at least one official from each institution.

Systems first outlined their commitment to collaboration in “STRONGER TOGETHER: University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic – COVID-19 Observations, Lessons Learned, Partnership and Roadmap for the Future,” an April 2021 white paper that they published jointly.

Because the clinic and UH share a similar geography and mission, “it’s easier for them to work together,” said Dr. Akram Boutros, president and CEO of MetroHealth, who notes that there are initiatives where they all work together.

Although MetroHealth is not part of the Stronger Together commitment, Boutros applauds the effort as progress toward broader collaboration in the future. If it were to include MetroHealth, “even better,” he said.

“We have to thank Tom Mihaljevic and Cliff Megerian for making this change (and) for not watching each of us because, you know, it’s a fight to the death, incredible competition,” he said. . “It’s thinking that we can do more for this community if we work together.”

Dr. Jim Merlino, director of clinical transformation at the clinic, also thanks Megerian and Mihaljevic – and their connection and communication – for the growing collaboration.

“And frankly, they love each other,” he said, “and that’s what is really, for me, the most exciting part about it.”

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