Q&A: Merging during a pandemic? ‘It was the perfect time’

In October 2020, just before the U.S. became the first country to have 10 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, Atrium Health merged with Wake Forest Baptist Health. It was unusual news given the stories that were stealing headlines. Atrium President and CEO Gene Woods tells us how he and his team got it done.

What was the hardest part of sealing the deal with Wake Forest Baptist?

The most challenging part, by far, was producing almost a million pages of data for regulators in the middle of battling a pandemic. So my team was focused both on managing the waves of COVID-19 patients while also envisioning a future whereby our organizations would come out of it better, stronger and faster. Additionally, we were two organizations with distinguished histories, so it was important to clarify on the front end the ways in which we each needed to change—in order to achieve our ambition of becoming national leaders—and how that change would enable us to better serve our communities together than we could apart.

Why embark upon this during a pandemic?

It turns out that it was the perfect time to embark on our combination, because it enabled the sharing of each of our best practices relating to pandemic response. As a result, we were also able to participate, together, on some of the larger vaccine trials, and we were able to contribute to the science in that regard. Obviously, our teams were exhausted from dealing with the day-to-day challenges of taking care of COVID-19 patients and protecting our teammates, but in the midst of the obstacles we all have faced, this combination provided a hopeful new future to work toward in partnership with a like-minded organization.

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What were the pros and cons of merging during a global crisis?

The biggest pro, for us, was that we both had greater access to talent and best practices as a result of combining our respective pools of resources. This alignment was an integral part of reaching as many people as we did during the peak of the pandemic, enabling us to achieve big wins such as putting almost a million vaccination shots in arms, launching our hospital-at-home program to preserve bed capacity and distributing over 3 million face masks to our most vulnerable populations. The con, in one respect, was the strain of adding the work behind such a monumental combination to everyone’s already overflowing plate. But moments such as these are where the value of a great team shows up, and I couldn’t be more proud of how everyone stepped up to make it happen.

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