President and chief executive officer , Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of York
What has the last year been like for you and Encompass Health?
The last year has been anything but normal or ordinary. We endured census fluctuations and high acuity patients as people were waiting to go to the hospital until they were extremely sick, mainly due to fear of contracting COVID in the hospital. Early on, we realized the way we delivered care needed to transform. Patients with the virus needed to be confined to their rooms, so the treatment team needed to be creative on how to maximize the patient’s functional abilities within those four walls.
Family involvement and training is a big part of what we do and since we had to limit visitation, that needed to be done telephonically or via Zoom. We also needed to get creative around visitation as patients are typically with us an average of 12 days. We assisted with lots of FaceTime calls and put room numbers in all the patient windows to allow families to do window visits with their loved ones. As information on the virus continued to evolve, we made changes to our protocols, PPE, etc., on what seemed like a daily basis. It was a lot of rapid cycle change to ensure our caregivers and patients stayed safe. This was extremely difficult and sometimes confusing for our team.
We are fortunate in rehab to value the importance of teamwork, and this served us well during the last year. Every one of our employees was crucial in ensuring we continued to deliver the same high-quality care to our patients; this was only accomplished through superhuman teamwork. There was also an outpouring of empathy among our caregivers, as many contracted COVID, had family members who were very ill and passed away, had childcare challenges and just dealing with the overall stress that the pandemic caused. We were also fortunate to participate in the recovery of many patients who survived COVID. There was nothing more rewarding than to watch a patient who had been in the hospital for months – some who they didn’t think would survive – come to our hospital, get the rehab they needed and walk out the door to hug their family for the first time in months.
What do you think the business community could learn from the rehabilitation side of health care?
Teamwork and the important role every person on the team contributes to the patient and company success. To achieve greatness, you cannot work in silos – each department intertwines in some way with all the others and that collaboration needs to be nurtured and fostered. Communication is key to ensuring everyone is on the same page and working toward united patient and hospital goals. Empathy and compassion for your teammates, patients and families. Think outside the box – this was especially important over the past year, needing to make major changes to processes and policies, but we do this every day with our patients to help them overcome their limitations and challenges to get them to be as independent as possible to return home.
You came to York two years ago from Massachusetts. What differences do you see in these communities from a business standpoint?
There are a lot of similarities from where I come from in Massachusetts to York. What I do see more of here is the multitude of small businesses and the community support for those businesses. I love going to downtown York and browsing the small shops – they are all so unique.
Now that we’re emerging from closures and limitations due to COVID, what is something you’re looking forward to doing in the area this summer?
I love to paddleboard and hike so will continue to take advantage of the great recreational areas in York County. I am looking forward to going back to restaurants, and I won a tennis lesson from the Go Red for Women luncheon so will try my hand at that. On the business side, I will be glad when we can get back to shaking hands when meeting someone for the first time – it is extremely awkward and unnatural not to do that.
About Michelle Fitzgerald
Michelle Fitzgerald, 53, joined Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of York as president and chief executive officer in April 2019. She has more than 25 years of healthcare leadership experience, having spent the previous nine of those years at UMass Memorial Medical Center as a director of rehabilitation services and senior director of outpatient services.
Fitzgerald received a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from Simmons University in Boston and a master’s degree in healthcare administration from Worcester State University, also in Massachusetts.
She lives in West Manchester Township and has two children — a 26-year-old daughter who is a marketing and product manager for AutoZone in Memphis, and a 23-year-old son who will graduate from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in December with a degree in mechanical engineering – and three grandpuppies.