Munson Medical Center President on COVID-19 Impacts, Finances, Hiring

by Craig Manning

Matt Wille joined the Munson Healthcare team as president and CEO of Munson Medical Center (MMC) in late September of last year. Six months later, the world was facing a global pandemic, Michigan was in lockdown and MMC was feeling the effects. The Traverse City Business News caught up with Wille to get an update on MMC and to find out how COVID-19 has impacted business operations – from finances to telehealth and beyond.

TCBN: A big talking point around the early part of COVID-19, when everything was shut down – including many operations at hospitals – was that that the lockdowns were going to have the unintended consequence of posing serious financial hardship for the very healthcare systems that would be essential if/when spikes and outbreaks did occur. How hard a hit did Munson take from COVID-19?

Wille: As we exited the first three months of the pandemic, the Munson Healthcare system was projecting $150 million of lost revenue and added COVID-related expenses, of which roughly half would be covered by relief funding. Since July, we have been better than forecasted, but down from the prior year. We will need to remain agile over the next 12-18 months and are acutely aware the pandemic will continue to dictate our operations, depending on the level of community infection and demand it puts on hospitals. This is why it’s so important for all of us to do our part by wearing masks, socially distancing and washing our hands to prevent spread of the disease.

TCBN: What has the process been like of getting back on track once some of those stay-at-home orders started to lift? A big worry in the industry is that all those elective procedures and all that deferred care from this year could lead to an extra busy year in 2021 for hospitals – as well as, perhaps, more urgent healthcare needs among patients that delayed care because of COVID-19. How has Munson gone about repopulating the calendar and ensuring patients that the hospitals are offering safe environments?


Wille: We’ve taken a very disciplined and phased approach to reopening so that we can safely provide the services essential to the health of our community while providing us the flexibility to adapt in the event of a COVID-19 surge. We have largely worked through the backlog of procedures that were either postponed or cancelled in March and April. It’s incredibly important that people do not delay care, particularly in emergency situations. We screen every person who enters one of our facilities, limit the number of visitors as well as capacity in public spaces, and require masks, which are scientifically proven to significantly reduce the risk of exposure. We have protocols in place to isolate any suspected or COVID-positive patients, and specific units where those patients receive care. Delaying emergent care for a heart attack or stroke is a far greater risk to your health than contracting COVID-19 in a healthcare setting, given all of the safety protocols in place.

TCBN: Speaking of safety protocols, what exactly has Munson been doing to ensure safety of staff and patients, and what can patients expect when they visit the hospital?

Wille: Everyone who enters one of our facilities is screened for symptoms of COVID-19, and everyone is masked – with some rare medical exceptions. We are limiting who can accompany a patient, whether it be in the hospital or at one of our outpatient facilities. Public spaces and waiting rooms are spaced with reduced capacity. In many outpatient settings, patients wait in their car until it’s time for their appointment; whether it is an appointment with your doctor or having lab work done, it’s always best to call ahead for instructions. All of our staff are screened daily and wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients. While the supply chain is still experiencing a disruption, we are adequately supplied with PPE and are actively monitoring and acquiring new supply every day.

TCBN: There were some layoffs and pay cuts at Munson back in June – about 250 job cuts, including 25 managers. What has the HR situation looked like since then? Have there had to be more layoffs? Has there been any hiring?

Wille: There have been a few additional changes since June, but similar to what we would normally see during this time frame in a given year. Almost all of the staff members who were furloughed have been brought back to work as services have reopened. We are actively hiring and recruiting for a number of positions, including nurses, nurse aides, patient transporters and environmental service workers.

TCBN: (Munson Healthcare President and CEO) Ed Ness said in a press release for the Munson recovery plan that he didn’t expect Munson would return to pre-COVID volumes for 12 months or more. How are things looking now on that front? How much of a gap is there before the system will be back to its previous level? Have predictions for what the next 12-18 months will look like been adjusted based on summer operations, or are they still more or less the same as they were in June?

Wille: While the numbers this summer were better than forecast, it is still uncertain what the pandemic holds in the next 12-18 months. Some of our community hospitals are still only seeing patient volumes at 90% of what they were prior to the pandemic. There is still no definitive timeline on a vaccine and we need to remain agile in the event of a patient surge – particularly as we enter the winter months and flu season.

TCBN: One big worry in June was that federal budget deficits and potential cuts to Medicare and Medicaid might have a lingering effect on Munson revenues, and therefore Munson operations. Has anything like that come to pass?

Wille: While we have not yet seen an immediate impact, we anticipate the outcome of this year’s election and economic challenges as a result of the pandemic will have state and federal budget implications to the healthcare system that we’ll need to monitor and assess moving forward.

TCBN: Before the pandemic hit, the TCBN did an article about telehealth in the region. At the time, Munson was in the early stages of dipping its toes into the technology. During the pandemic, telehealth seems to have gone from a niche offering to an essential one. How much has telehealth grown for Munson in this short period of time and how will that affect operations, patient experiences and the overall delivery of care going forward?

Wille: Munson Healthcare has conducted 25,000 virtual visits since March; they will continue to be an essential tool in the delivery of care beyond the pandemic. Telehealth and virtual visits provide a new level of access to healthcare in our rural setting. There is a need for behavioral health services and management of chronic illnesses, like diabetes, and we’ve seen telehealth make a big impact in these areas. During the pandemic, 92% of behavioral health services (were) conducted virtually; 78% for endocrinology and metabolism. Some of these patients were seeing a specialist for the first time because they were previously unable to travel to the office. The continued growth of telehealth will provide greater connection for patients and providers that will significantly benefit the health of the communities we serve.