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Updated: October 18, 2020 C-Suite Awards 2020

Flaks makes Hartford HealthCare central player in CT’s COVID-19 response

Jeff Flaks

Acting decisively in a crisis is nothing new to Jeff Flaks, CEO of Hartford HealthCare. As a young hospital administrator in New York City, he helped mobilize resources during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — his hospital was the one closest to the Twin Towers.

“I learned a tremendous amount about the centrality of a hospital and a health system in a tragedy of epic proportions,” Flaks said. “Those lessons were invaluable to me.”

So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Connecticut, Flaks was ready to take the lead.

“There are some very common elements in terms of the need for hospitals to rise to that occasion to support our communities,” he said.

First, Hartford HealthCare ramped up its preparedness at its seven hospitals and other facilities as early as January, well before the first reported cases in the state. When the first COVID patients arrived in early March, Flaks and his team took the lead in keeping residents informed with daily briefings on the pandemic.

“From the very beginning, my perspective from a leadership standpoint was that we were going to lead with complete transparency,” he said.

The system also set up a comprehensive COVID-19 testing program, reaching out to the community to test widely and free of charge. Hartford HealthCare’s testing data was subsequently incorporated into a model by MIT that correctly predicted that the state would reach its initial pandemic peak in April and May.

Another promise Flaks made early on was to provide the best pandemic response regardless of cost.

“We would not allow the financial implications of the pandemic to drive our decision-making,” he said.

Hartford HealthCare was well-positioned to absorb some of the estimated hundreds of millions in lost revenue caused by the pandemic due to its healthy financial position, Flaks said. He has also dedicated resources in recent years to expanding access to health care in the Hartford region, opening a new facility in downtown Hartford in August.

“I’m very pleased that we’re making such an investment in our urban center,” Flaks said.

Tech-forward efforts like the collaboration with MIT have also been a hallmark of Flaks’ leadership, which includes a medical technology accelerator program that has led to the location of 10 startups in the city.

“I have a very strong personal perspective of health care as an economic driver,” Flaks said. “We can leverage the strengths of Hartford HealthCare to create more jobs, more prosperity in the region.”

For now, when people ask him when things will return to normal after the pandemic, Flaks has a ready answer.

“We are going to be better than normal,” Flaks said, citing increased access to care thanks to telemedicine and innovations like a 24-hour mental-health hotline.

“There are many improvements that we made in terms of innovations that occurred during the pandemic,” he added. “It’s all for the betterment of people that we serve.”

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