Traverse City News and Events

"We're Pushing Through": Munson's Matt Wille On Running The Hospital

By Luke Haase | Jan. 20, 2022

Matt Wille became president of Traverse City’s Munson Medical Center in September 2019. Twenty-eight months later, his job is very different, as he navigates the operational and financial realities of a pandemic on behalf of the city’s largest employer. The Ticker tracked him down by phone yesterday (Wednesday) morning prior to his morning leadership meetings to hear what’s happening in the halls at Munson during Omicron and a challenging labor environment.

Ticker: I realize it’s changing every day or even by the hour, but what’s it like in the hospital today and this week?
Wille: Great question. What it feels like today is we are looking into what the next trends may bring. Our COVID census really dropped down over holidays. They were at their highest peak ever in early December, and then started dipping down over Christmas and New Years. Now we’re starting to see that increase again, so we’re making the necessary preparations. And our staff has been incredibly resilient, every day caring for COVID or non-COVID patients. They’re making the best of a tough situation. Staff is resilient, but it takes a toll on them. But I’d say overall we’re in a good position.

Ticker: Sounds like some states have now peaked with the Omicron variant, while other states have yet to. What are you seeing?
Wille: Nobody really knows the answer. I saw an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that said Mayo [Clinic] is predicting the peak for Minnesota next week. We hope that’s the case here. We’ve got a whole team working on a contingency plan. We’re expecting peaks and valleys, and we’ll adjust as we need to.

Ticker: Where are your current patient numbers?
Wille: As of yesterday for the [Munson] Medical Center, our inpatient COVID number was 61. That peaked in early December at 88. We went down to the mid-40s and now we are creeping up.

Ticker: What about your non-COVID patient volumes? Are they where you want them to be?
Wille: They are. We are not having to postpone any procedures. Our census this time of year on average is around 360-390, and we have plenty of beds available.

Ticker: You have your morning leadership meeting in an hour or so. What’s on the top of the list this morning for you?
Wille: Yes, we have our 9am Daily Check-In -- or DCI — with department heads, and then a system huddle at 9:30 when each hospital in Munson Healthcare and the ancillary corporate services participate. But at the top of my list this morning? One thing we always look at is staff and how are we doing with some staff out sick, either themselves or caring for family members. Are we able to manage operations appropriately and ensure patient care.

Ticker: How are the numbers in terms of staff being out sick?
Wille: Those have somewhat followed our inpatient numbers, so a week ago maybe we were at a peak, and since those have actually decreased. And those are spread across all departments and haven’t really impacted operations.

Ticker: And what about non-COVID-related staffing, given how labor has become such a massive issue nationally?
Wille: There are challenges or opportunities in a lot of different departments. We are very aggressively recruiting, highlighting what Munson Healthcare has to offer. We’re also bringing in agency/traveling staff where we need to, so we do have travelers across many departments, whether that be in nursing, the ER, or as a phlebotomist.

Ticker: What has been the financial impact of all this? Guessing your costs are dramatically higher, but I know you’re also receiving a lot more federal dollars.
Wille: Yes, you’ve covered it pretty well. We have an increased cost of labor — and we want to be a good employer, so we’ve made a significant adjustment to wages, even before the pandemic. But the Medical Center and Munson Healthcare have always been in a sound financial position, and things have changed due to COVID, but we continue to remain agile. The government support over the last two years was very helpful, though we’re not planning for that to be the case going forward, so we are thinking through other strategies.

Ticker: But I’m guessing this entire pandemic is not going to be a net positive for your business.
Wille: That’s correct, overall. But we aim to continue to maintain where we historically have been, in a solid position.

Ticker: How is employee morale? I know you measure that periodically.
Wille: Yes, we do an annual survey for staff engagement, and we’re planning another in June. Another way we try to gauge morale is to make sure our senior leaders are visible and having conversations to hear how staff is feeling, and any concerns. As I mentioned, we made those compensation adjustments. We also put in place a recharge room, where staff can go when they need to have a moment to themselves and pause, or gather their thoughts. We also have offerings for wellness and mental health through our benefit packages, as well as learning opportunities or seminars about how they can care for themselves. It [morale] fluctuates day-by-day, but a core aspect now is that we’ve been through a lot together. There’s a belief that we see the possibility for the end and we’re pushing through.

Ticker: Is there one thing state or local government could do, or that locals residents could do to help the cause at Munson?
Wille: What we’ve really been trying to promote this entire pandemic is the vaccination piece. We want people to get vaccinated and get their booster, and even those -- and all of us -- to continue the social distancign, frequent hand washing and masking.

Ticker: But at this point, are there any people left who have chosen not to get vaccinated who can even be convinced to?
Wille: We hope as more science and data becomes available, we can further educate, but that’s yet to be determined. When you look at our hospitalization numbers, there’s a clear delineation between those vaccinated and not, so we’re sharing how that breaks out and showing it in infographics.

Ticker: So many reports about the potential long-term impacts long after the pandemic on hospitals, from financial to hiring to telehealth or even hospital consolidation. What do you see coming?
Wille: Well, you mentioned telehealth, and that will continue. It’s been an organizational strategy of Munson Healthcare, and that will be an increased emphasis moving forward. And another thing that will be expedited is we had new hospitals that joined Munson Healthcare just years prior [to the pandemic], so just a focus as a system. We've said we don’t want a Traverse City or a Charlevoix way of doing things; we want a Munson way of doing things, and to operate as one. So this will enhance system integration.

Ticker: Any other message for locals about the efforts at our hospital?
Wille: Get vaccinated, and continue to support our healthcare heroes. You know, we still get so many letters and posters. We all know people in healthcare, and we really need to support those people going through a lot and stepping up.

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