When Darin Goss was chief operating officer at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, the hospital was just one of many in a very large community, he said.
Now, he's in Olympia where Providence St. Peter Hospital is a major focal point for COVID-19, patients, nurses, emergency room and mental health services.
"We have a responsibility and accountability to the community," he said. "I feel more pressure in that space but I'm confident we can do it."
Goss, 45, was named chief executive of Providence Health and Services Southwest Washington, which includes Providence St. Peter and the Centralia hospitals, as well as Providence Medical Group, earlier this year. In all, Providence employs about 5,000 people, making it one of the region's major employers. Goss has been on the job since early August.
He replaces Medrice Coluccio, who announced her retirement late last year.
Before his Burbank-based job, Goss worked at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona for 18 years, eventually becoming a hospital administrator.
Before coming to the Olympia area, Goss was still in Burbank, dealing with the early, hectic days of the pandemic. Now, hospitals, including Providence, are getting a better handle and understanding of the disease, as well as a better understanding of how to care for and protect patients and staff, he said.
Providence has a COVID-19 testing site in Hawks Prairie. It has tested about 18,000 people to date, or about 200-250 per day, according to information shared with The Olympian.
During the pandemic, Goss said the hospital has seen some patients delay their care because of COVID-19 concerns, but also many have turned to Providence's technology options. Goss said there has been a ten-fold increase in virtual care.
Meanwhile, a hospital employee shared her thoughts about the new hire.
"He doesn't know us and we don't know him," said Lonnie Pitts, a certified nursing assistant, who has worked at St. Peter hospital for nearly 20 years.
The past is the past, Pitts said, saying she wants to look forward and see real solutions and real change, not just "band aids on things that are broken."
"I'm hopeful we can do that with the new CEO," she said.
PItts thinks the hospital is understaffed, and is seeing more patients who need more care, including those with mental health needs.
She also feels the hospital is getting more violent patients, and she would like to see more training for how to deal with those patients. It's something the hospital has done before, but it needs to come back, she said.
"Let's start off on a positive note and not a negative note and come together," Pitts said.
Goss sat down with The Olympian to share his own thoughts, too.
Question: What's the response to COVID-19 been like and what have you learned from the pandemic?
Answer: It's been six, seven moths now with COVID-19. Personal protective equipment, which feels normal today, wasn't normal six months ago. It's an infectious disease and we know how to care for it, but we know more today about how to care for it. We've managed patient volumes, and it's been fairly consistent lately, and we're starting to get comfortable about how we care for patients. Safety has always been a top priority. We are far stronger today than six months ago.
Q: What's the outlook for the hospital over the winter and into next year with regard to COVID-19?
A: We're monitoring what the next six months will look like, including the pandemic and flu season on top of it. We are prepared for it. Every time we see a holiday we're cautiously looking at (COVID-19) transmission rates, and transmission rates are just starting to come down here, but we are prepared for a surge in cases. We've secured personal protection equipment and feel confident that we will be ready for it.
Q: Does that surge mean you have enough beds?
A: It may mean we have to come up with other places to see patients, but yes, we do.
Q: Do you still have a no visitor policy and will that policy change?
A: We still have a no visitor policy in place today. But we are working with the county health department and we review transmission rates weekly. We have made some changes. For example, end-of-life care. We know that's an important time for a visitor to visit their loved one and we know that visitors play a role in healing patients. We routinely keep looking at the policy and probably will be making changes. The criteria we're looking at: Do we have enough personal protection equipment for visitors and we want to make sure we don't have an outbreak in the hospital. We have been a little more cautious.
Q: Has the hospital expansion started?
A: We're actively back in the planning process and I'm hoping for more information next year. It's a 52-bed expansion, and where it fits and sits is being designed, and it's open to all patients. As the county continues to grow, it's part of our mission in meeting the needs of those we serve.
Q: When will work begin on the new mental health hospital in Lacey?
A: We are in the process of doing a joint venture with Fairfax Behavioral Health to build a new mental health hospital. The needs are great here in this community and continue to grow, and the acute care setting (at Providence) isn't the best place for it. We expect to be before the city of Lacey next month, and hopefully we start construction in 2021. It can't come online fast enough.
A: We have a dedicated unit for behavioral health patients (at Providence) and it remains full all the time, and when it's full those patients are then moved upstairs in the acute care setting when they really need a different type of service and support structure. That's also taking a bed away from someone needing surgery or in our emergency room. A behavioral health hospital provides a very different resource and support structure than in-patient care.
Q: Every year it seems the nurses at Providence threaten to strike. How do you want to work with them?
A: Our nurses are part of our Providence team and part of our family. They have and will continue to provide excellent care and we want to maintain excellent relations with our union. But I recognize that not every day we're going to be on the same page and we will navigate through that. But I do feel our nurses are a valued part of our team, its our largest workforce, and we do want a great relationship with the union. But I recognize that during every bargaining session we're not going to see eye to eye. If there is a strike, patient safety always remains paramount.
Q: What's morale like these days?
A: COVID-19 adds stress to anyone, caregiver and patients, and that stress doesn't just leave. We are finding our way on how to care for the disease, but I do think we have seen more stress in patients and caregivers and we're trying to support caregivers, asking: What else can we be doing to care for their mental, spiritual and physical health?
Q: How should people prepare this winter?
A: I encourage everyone to get a flu shot; we're underway with flu shots for our staff as we speak. I think we're better able to handle it because of the personal protective equipment. The Southern Hemisphere is a great predictor. We haven't seen the flu on a large scale there, so I'm hoping that plays out here as well. We have enough on our hands right now.
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