Region’s nursing leaders collaborate to navigate COVID-19

There has been one unexpected bit of good news coming out of the Covid-19 crisis: Some of the health leaders at competing local health systems have been drawn closer together and are meeting more regularly to share ideas and talk about common issues.

That has happened with the chief medical officers, who have come together in the past two months as the Pittsburgh Area Regional Covid-19 Health Care Collaboration. And it’s also happening with the hospitals’ chief nursing officers, too.

The chief nursing officers are emailing constantly with one another and getting on calls once a week to work through issues that have arisen as the Covid-19 global pandemic swept into greater Pittsburgh.

The group that has arisen stemmed from the somewhat regular meetings of CNOs of the members of Bridges Health Partners, a Warrendale-based organization that includes Butler Health System, Excela Health, St. Clair Hospital and Washington Health System. Those meetings happened four times a year and usually included topics of interest, but they’ve become in recent months focused on how to deal with the nursing challenges surrounding Covid-19, said Mary Lou Murt, SVP and chief nursing officer of Monongahela Valley Hospital.

Now the top nursing executives of Allegheny Health Network and UPMC, who are not Bridges members, are taking part as well. The conversations began in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis as the lead nurses discussed how each hospital was screening employees, how they were staffing, how they were using and finding PPE and how they were ramping up for an expected surge. While the surge of Covid-19 patients hasn’t happened, the nurses have found plenty of other things to talk about: A recent call found the nursing officers talking about how their hospitals and health systems were preparing for the resumption of the surgeries and procedures that were postponed in the runup to Covid-19.

“We’ve really been able to share some ideas about how to best take care of patients and employees, and learn from each other’s successes and failures,” said Diane L. Puccetti, chief nursing officer of St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon.

Claire Zangerle, chief nurse executive at Allegheny Health Network, said she has found the group and the collaboration to be extremely important in helping to meet the crisis head-on.

“We’ve created this nice bond with the nurse leaders at the other hospitals,” Zangerle said. She said that she’s found the best practices at the Bridges hospitals to be informative and great ideas that could be employed at AHN.

“As a collective group of smart people, we’re coming together and saying, ‘let’s have a community response to this crisis,’” Zangerle said.

Helen Burns, chief nursing officer of Excela Health in Greensburg, calls the collaborative a “think tank for nursing strategy” in the Pittsburgh region. She thinks the Bridges chief-nurses group has always been worthwhile, but it’s even that much more so with the gravity of the Covid-19 crisis and the challenges it has placed on health care.

“We’re more collegial than competitive because while each organization has a unique culture, the issues that are confronting health care and nursing are the same,” Burns said.

St. Clair’s Puccetti agrees.

“They’re a great group. Their experience and knowledge base has been very helpful and insightful to me in my practice,” she said. “I think in this sort of unprecedented event, they’re a great support group.”


By Paul J. Gough  – Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times