Tava Edwards, manager of utilization management at Southwestern Health Resources, has been surrounded by the military her entire life. With her husband, brother and father all U.S. Air Force veterans, Edwards said this has helped prepare her for the extreme challenges and opportunities of her job, including those that COVID-19 has presented to the healthcare community in North Texas.
“When you're in the military, even as a spouse or daughter, you have a sense of community, like you're all fighting the same battle,” said Edwards, who manages a team of nurses and social workers based in Fort Worth. “Our team is a community. We all have that sense of duty, that sense of pride.”
In mid-March, Edwards was enjoying a long-planned camping trip with her family when a flurry of emails and calls alerted her to the growing coronavirus crisis unfolding in Texas. Health plans managed by her team were rapidly making adjustments to their business requirements, and her team needed direction to ensure that patients received the appropriate care during this national health crisis.
“I honestly felt they were thrown into battle without a leader,” said Edwards, who cut her vacation short and rushed home to help. “I knew I needed to be here.”
Part of the SWHR team
Edwards, a registered nurse, spent nearly four years at North Texas Specialty Physicians, where she reviewed hospital inpatient cases and examined diagnoses and treatment plans to make sure patients were receiving proper treatment. While there, she was promoted to supervisor, overseeing 18 nurses and social workers.
She transitioned to Southwestern Health in late 2019 and now manages a team of 27, again to ensure the best and most appropriate level of care for patients being treated in facilities within Southwestern Health’s network.
Edwards’ team helps determine which patients can safely return home and which require skilled nursing care. With patients allowed only 100 days of skilled nursing per “spell of illness” (a hospital inpatient stay), and a minimum of 60 days between incidents before the clock resets, she knows each decision must be thoughtfully made.
In her role, she is reminded of her late grandparents, which helps guides her decisions. “Every time we place a patient, I think, ‘What would I want for my grandmother and grandfather?’” she said. “I use that insight to guide me.”
Leading with vision
In addition to her military influence, her mother was an educator, so Edwards understands the value of empowering her employees and setting clear expectations. She said she wants her employees to feel a sense of accomplishment.
She also believes that employees thrive in an environment with clear structure, open communication and defined goals. She inherited a team with a flexible working environment and different levels of accountability, so she quickly standardized work hours and daily goals across the board. And she keeps the lines of communication open; her team can always reach her with questions or concerns.
“Honestly, I think that's why I've been successful,” Edwards said. “I set expectations, and I help employees get where they need to be. Communication is key. I can't help you if you don't communicate.”
I set expectations, and I help employees get where they need to be. Communication is key.
Edwards said she envisions herself with Southwestern Health Resources — ranked the nation’s top-ranked Next Generation accountable care organization — for many years to come. With a background working in nursing homes as a geriatric nurse, she likes the variety she sees in her current role, handling everything from orthopedics to cancer cases.
She is now working toward finishing her Bachelor of Science in nursing, taking advantage of Southwestern Health’s tuition reimbursement program. Without the encouragement of colleagues from within the organization, she said she might not have pursued this career path until her two young boys were grown.
“This job has kept me on my toes,” Edwards said. “Regulations are always changing. I’m never bored. It's actually fun to go to work.”
Preparing for new challenges in healthcare
Edwards thrives in her role, building relationships with her team and also with SWHR network providers, all with the goal of providing the highest quality care to patients.
She meets regularly with hospital care transition teams to educate them about Southwestern Health’s post-acute services. “I let them know that we are holding our post-acute providers to high-quality expectations and ensure that they are giving our patients the best possible care,” she said.
And when she hires new team members, she makes sure to assess their comfort level in a fluid environment. “We are learning every day, and the growth in our organization presents its own unique set of challenges,” she said. “We've done well, but it's very challenging. I'm proud of my organization, my peers, my direct reports.”
In this ever-evolving and challenging time, Edwards is confident in her team. “(COVID-19) has taken everyone's lives right now,” she said. “We try to get everyone to where they need to be with the least amount of exposure. It really takes the whole team, working together.”