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Dr. Tommy Ibrahim, President & CEO, contributes a regular column to The Freeman's Journal, Hometown Oneonta, and AllOtsego.com. The piece below was published in August 3, 2023 editions.

Dear Friends, Neighbors, and Colleagues,

Dr. Tommy Ibrahim

In a recent column, I shared my confidence that Bassett Healthcare Network is poised to meet post-pandemic healthcare challenges and emerge thriving on the other side. Today, I want to highlight what exactly that means for you — our patients and community neighbors.

Labor shortages are posing problems in many industries, but in healthcare it is more than an economic crisis. Staff shortages lead to longer wait times for appointments, test results, hospital beds, and treatment — all of which can potentially result in poorer outcomes for our patients. The deeper crisis is how worker shortages reduce access to care.

As you would expect, one of Bassett's top priorities is addressing the healthcare worker shortage by hiring more people. Last year we invested nearly $50 million in employee compensation increases to make our wages more competitive and improve our benefits programs. Since then, we have started offering sign-on bonuses for all staff (including up to $20,000 for nurses), retention bonuses, and referral bonuses. All the while, we are undergoing internal improvements that we hope will make our network a place where people want to build their careers. As a result of this important focus, Bassett welcomed 1,177 new hires in 2022 across its facilities, including 181 registered nurses alone. Learn more about career opportunities available across Bassett's campuses by visiting our careers page.

We still have work to do to improve recruitment and retention, but economic analysts predict that the national healthcare worker shortage may continue for at least another 10 years or longer. We can't simply hire our way out of this crisis – we need to be creative with our solutions. Bassett's mission to improve the health of our patients and wellbeing of our communities demands that we also address the access to care crisis with imagination and vigor. Here are some examples of what we've done so far.

  • Every health system has employees with qualifications beyond what they use in their current position. Earlier this year, we developed what we call an Integrated Labor Pool to tap into those professional resources. Any caregiver who is willing and able can join. Then, when a need crops up in the network, we can draw from this robust reserve of highly skilled workers to help open more inpatient beds. This system is both efficient and flexible, taking advantage of available resources. With about 60 participants so far, we've laid the groundwork and the program has a very promising future.
  • TeleHealth is an essential tool for increasing care access in rural health. It is easier for patients to keep TeleHealth appointments, it reduces the impact of last-second cancellations, and it extends our practitioners' reach beyond geographical limitations. I also see automation and artificial intelligence playing an important role in the near future. These technologies have the potential to free our practitioners from burdensome administrative tasks to spend more time where it matters most — with patients. To encourage the use of telehealth services, last year we opened our Get Care Now Digital Front Door. Our numbers show it's working – over the last two years, our average number of virtual visits per month rose from just under 4,000 to well over 5,000 — a more than 25% increase. That trend has been steady, even as pandemic restrictions began diminishing. Learn more about these care options – including daily on-demand video visits and online e-visit questionnaires with diagnostic services – by visiting our Get Care Now page.
  • We have been streamlining our hospitals' internal workflow processes. As a result, we are increasing the number of inpatient and outpatient surgeries we complete weekly and decreasing the average length of hospital stays for our patients overall. This means patients can get the care they need more quickly – including elective surgeries. 

Bassett's ongoing work to optimize care across our communities – and better serve you – requires strategy, diligence, and patience. We thank you for continuing to entrust us with your care through unprecedented industry challenges on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bassett's caregivers are passionate – the heart and spirit that goes into caring for our family, friends, and neighbors every day is not to be understated. This includes putting our heart and soul into finding access solutions and improving care experiences across the continuum.

When Bassett thrives, it is because we want you to thrive. It is our privilege to serve you.

Wishing you a joyful rest of the summer and good health,

Dr. Tommy Ibrahim
President & CEO
Bassett Healthcare Network

You can read the post on All Otsego here.