Fighting Covid-19: Behind-the-scenes of SA’s largest hospital group, Netcare – CEO insights

Covid-19: We’ve never seen such a deadly, contagious disease, Netcare CEO Richard Friedland told BizNews. He shares rare insights into what has been going on behind-the-scenes of South Africa’s largest private hospital group. He says his team is bracing for an expected surge in coronavirus infections – particularly in Gauteng. After the business was hammered by Covid-19 containment measures, South Africa’s largest private hospital group is recovering. It returned to profit in the first half to the end of March, but its recovery is still below its pre-pandemic performance. Dr Friedland shares insights on the management strategy for the business to come out stronger on the other side of Covid-19. – Jackie Cameron

Netcare CEO Richard Friedland on Covid-19:

We’ve treated 73,000 people since the advent of Covid. 44% of those patients (32,000) were admitted to hospital. That’s an enormous amount and it just gives you an indication of just how virulent Covid-19 is. A further indication of that is the fact that 26% of those people were sick enough to require ICU and high-care admission. We’re dealing with a very virulent, severe illness here. Those numbers really are the real story here.

On the mortality rates:

Our mortality rates are running at about 16%-17%. The reported deaths from Covid are in the region of 55,000 people. But the excess deaths calculation is substantially higher. There are some people out there suggesting that more than 150,000 people have died from Covid. It’s been a very difficult and anxiety-provoking time for healthcare workers. They’ve been at the frontline – tragically, we’ve lost 76 of our frontline heroes – and many of our staff have contracted Covid. Either in the community (mainly there) because there’s very little social distancing and transport is a problem.

But with the advent of the vaccine, I think that psychologically and mentally, people are feeling a lot safer and a lot more able to cope with Covid. That’s not to say we need to let our guard down or that we don’t have to maintain social distancing and wear our masks, but it does give us a level of additional protection that brings a lot of comfort to our frontline workers.

On managing the business in this crisis:

We used two fundamental principles here. One is the principle of disaster management, in terms of command and control. We changed our management structures and command control to form what we called Gold command. I headed up Gold command, and it superseded all of the management structures in our various divisions. This was done so that we were totally focused on how to cope and curve this pandemic. The second thing that we embraced very strongly were the principles of occupational health and safety. That is absolutely critical in a pandemic and in containing an infectious disease. I think that was critical to us in managing this pandemic.

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