Steering Einstein Through a Pandemic, and Beyond
One in an ongoing series
Ken Levitan was the captain of the team that shepherded Einstein Healthcare Network through the unprecedented upheaval of COVID-19. Levitan, Chief Administrative Officer, steered the Incident Command Center through 60 straight days without a break, holding twice-daily conference calls with scores of clinical and administrative leaders, calibrating decisions to constantly changing information.
Now, he’s preparing to take the network’s top job, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, when Barry R. Freedman, Einstein’s President and CEO, retires in January – at a time when much has changed in healthcare in the aftermath of the pandemic, and other changes are coming.
But Levitan says he’s reassured by much at Einstein that hasn’t changed: the people and the mission.
“We have an incredibly creative and collaborative team,” he says. “We’ve proven we can do anything based on how we responded with COVID. We’ve got a great group of people here.”
Levitan worked at Einstein for 10 years before leaving in 2015 for an executive position in the healthcare division of a for-profit consulting firm.
Drawn to the Mission
He was drawn back two years later by Einstein’s mission. “I love working in mission-based organizations that are doing good things,” he says. “That’s incredibly important to me.”
Levitan is committed to expanding Einstein’s mission throughout the network – Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, Einstein Montgomery, MossRehab, Einstein Elkins Park, Willowcrest – to confront the country’s systemic racism that has ruptured American society in tandem with the pandemic. He’s helping develop initiatives to make every part of the network “more diverse, more inclusive, more equitable and more devoted to social justice.”
Einstein treated more than 4,500 COVID patients during the pandemic, among the highest in the region. The future course of the virus is one of the unknowns facing Einstein that Levitan is preparing to confront.
“Nobody knows for sure what’s coming,” he says. “The Incident Command Center put a plan in place to deal with an additional surge,” ensuring the availability of adequate personal protective equipment, for instance, and studying potential changes to the physical plant to avoid suspending routine medical care. The command center still meets once a week to ensure the hospital is prepared for another outbreak.
‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’
Levitan noted that Einstein has been supported by the federal government through a significant CARES Act grant, enabling the administration to stabilize finances after COVID drained resources and besieged operations. The federal grant “helped put us in a stable place and made sure that we’re not going anywhere,” he says.
Longer-term prospects will be influenced by the outcome of a pending merger with Jefferson, he says, which is being litigated in court. Levitan says he wants people to “feel comfortable and assured that although we may have some long-term financial challenges, we’re not going anywhere and we’re on stable footing as we figure these things out.”
For Levitan, the top job at Einstein was not the culmination of a career plan. In fact, it was a job he experienced with some mixed feelings as a child. His late father, Mark Levitan, was Einstein’s CEO in the 1980s, and Levitan personally witnessed the incredible demands on his father’s time.
For him, however, the hospital’s top job comes at a propitious time of his life, when he can devote himself to its all-consuming pressure without worrying about raising a family. His two children are in their 20s and in graduate school.
Levitan himself fell in love with healthcare when he worked a summer job at Graduate Hospital between high school and college. “I started as a valet, but the nursing department was looking for some help with a workflow project and I was able to help them collect data and do observations. I found what the nurses were doing remarkable and fascinating.”
Levitan and his wife, Elena, moved from their suburban home to the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia after their son and daughter graduated college. They live with Izzy, a Shar-Pei and pit mix who’s named after the family’s beloved Isgro’s bakery in the Italian Market.
Levitan will spend the remaining months of 2020 under the tutelage of Barry Freedman, preparing to lead a healthcare system transformed by a pandemic, and pondering what has changed, what will change, and what will never change.
“What’s inspiring to me about Barry Freedman’s philosophy – which I emulate – is it’s about doing the right thing,” Levitan says. “It’s about making the best possible decisions in service to our mission and the people in our community.”