Epic’s Efforts to Return to Work Hits Mainstream Media

You may remember that we previously wrote about Judy Faulkner and Epic’s decision to return to work and not continue remote working.  Well, that decision has now hit mainstream news.  Today, Anna Werner from CBS This Morning with help from their partners at ClearHealthCosts covered Epic’s decision to return to work despite “objections from hundreds of employees.”

In the report, CBS interviewed Epic’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sverre David Roang, to understand their decision to return to the Epic campus.  Here’s part of his response:

“We know that we have this responsibility to healthcare workers around the world and to their patients to make sure that we are at our very best. The fact is that we can’t do what we do without being together at the absolute highest level.”

The report also said that Epic had already implemented features such as the following:

  • Private Offices for Employees
  • Enhanced Heating and Filtration Systems
  • Takeout only Cafeteria

If you want more details on each of these, you can check out this video on the Epic YouTube channel (Did you know Epic had a YouTube Channel?)

I’ll be surprised if this video doesn’t get taken down or at least made private, but it basically goes through the three items above and other suggestions on how to return to campus safely.  It also features an Immune Compromised employee who had returned to work, but had a sign on his door that noted he was Immune Compromised.  However, he’d talked with his doctors and decided that it was best for him to return to the office where he could focus better.

In the CBS News report by Werner, one employee expressed their feelings about Epic’s return to the office:

“I am deeply morally outraged by our response. I feel like we are not evaluating the risk that we are taking. I don’t want us to be the epicenter of the next breakout.”

CBS News obtained an internal customer survey report that echoed this sentiment and more.  When Werner shared some of these sentiments with Roang, he replied “I haven’t seen those expressions.”

In such a short segment on CBS News, this type of comment definitely makes Epic come off as tone deaf to their employees who have major issues going back to work.  I think it’s an illustration of how Judy has worked since the beginning.  When she has strong convictions about something, she holds the line on it and passionately defends it.

As the quote at the beginning of this article illustrated and our previous article, she passionately believes that being in person is important to their success as a company.  And she believes that their success as a company will improve healthcare and so that risk is worth it.  It’s not that she’s blind to the risks of bringing employees back.  It’s that she thinks they’ve taken appropriate cautions to minimize the risk and that the damage of not coming back is more costly than the risk of coming back.

What’s not clear to me is why Judy Faulkner is so hard-lined about this.  There are a lot of positions at Epic that work just as efficiently remotely as in person.  Plus, if someone is immune compromised, it seems like a huge organizational risk to bring them back.  Why wouldn’t she allow for some leeway and allow for some individual needs be addressed by managers in the organization and HR?  That said, it kind of reminds me of how Epic has approached EHR implementations.  There’s a certain way to do things and you can do them that way or find another option.

At the end of the CBS News report (and likely in response to the report coming out), they summarized an email Judy Faulkner sent out to employees as follows:

The company is now having nationally recognized experts review its plans and will make adjustments as needed. She also revealed since the start of the pandemic, 24 staff have tested positive, but said that none of them have said the source came from Epic.

Looks like there may be more to this story in the future.  How is your organization handling the return to work?  Is there a need for Epic and other EHR vendors to be back in the office?

UPDATE: A local report in The Cap Times is sharing that multiple staff are saying that managers are being demoted for expressing concern about Epic’s plans to return to the office.  One employee appropriately commented about Epic’s 13 principles saying, “But we’ve also been reminded a lot of Epic Principle 8 — ‘Dissent. Once decided, support.'”

UPDATE 2: A Reddit Thread has been started which is aggregating the coverage of this and trying to help organize Epic employees.

UPDATE 3: Epic has now changed course in an updated report saying that they’re still committed to come back to work, but that it’s hard deadline of the return to work for employees was more flexible.  This after they received a letter from public health officials that Epic’s plan to did not meet the workforce requirements set forth by the government.

UPDATE 4: Epic has since walked back their plans to force employees to return to work and is allowing for a more flexible return to work.  CNBC reported that 4,000 of the 9,000 Epic employees have returned to their campus voluntarily.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

8 Comments

  • John, This is a really important story. Epic has been in many ways at the forefront of advances in healthcare, and for the CEO to make this decision sends a signal about a) her belief about the absolute risk of this disease (not much) and b) what she thinks the rest of the world should do. People should pay attention to these actions by someone completely embedded in the hospital industry! And YES to bringing back private offices. I’ve heard so many complaints about the “open office” from people who have to work in them. Excellent story. Thank you for your dedication to the task! Best, Peggy

  • It is interesting that Epic really didn’t embrace the open layout formats that so many other companies did. However, I think them not embracing remote work in some way is going to be a real issue for them. It also makes me wonder what Judy thinks about Telehealth. Is she behind on that thinking too?

  • Because of course they have a YouTube channel.

    Epic has always been a caste system organization. If you dance close enough to the sun (Judy) you assume a sort of mutual parasitism.

    Otherwise, well… just ask someone who was ever hired as a Badger to work as Jr. staff (or dragged a suitcase chasing ‘certification’). The gaudy appurtenances of corporate wealth (and lack of humanity therein) speak for themselves.

  • And yet, Cerner, their major competitor, is continuing with full remote work for its employees for the rest of the year.

  • As John has pointed out in other pieces, one piece of Epic’s models is to hire young, and thus cheaply. Perhaps Judy’s thinking is more along the lines of analysing her data about employees and looking at median age, and what she thinks the risk is for that group, rather than being emblematic of what she thinks about the disease more broadly. But who knows.

    Brava for bringing back offices. As someone who has to perform a lot of writing for policies and complex analysis, it is a real point of contention to have to [attempt to] perform that in a cube farm. “Oh, but you can work in a conference room.” Good luck getting one. Consequently one ends up doing all of that work after hours. And since there is a glut of commercial real estate in many locales across our country, perhaps other employers will emulate this when they roll out whatever ‘coming back in’ means.

    But one hopes it will not be nearly as soon as Epic’s return, and not under nearly as draconian blanket orders. Many of us have worked for years remotely, quite successfully, and it would be a pity to have the ‘if we cannot see you, you must not be working’ crowd rule the day.

  • KL,
    It’s been interesting seeing the open office floor plan studies kind of backfire on organizations. I think it really depends on the work you’re trying to do.

    I’m also fine with Epic opening the office for those that would like to come back to the office. I think that’s a good step since many work better at an office than home and other reasons. However, to mandate that employees be back feels like an overstep.

  • John- Care to elaborate on your what Judy thinks about Telehealth comment? I thought they went head first in this area and launched their own product.

  • JD,
    I think it’s still an open discussion to see what they end up doing with telehealth. Plus, it’s one thing to have a little functionality and it’s another to really push it as a new mode of operation that facilitates a better patient experience. My comment was related to her comments that in person was so much better for work. If she feels that way, does she feel the same way about telehealth and she just did telehealth in the pandemic because in person wasn’t an option? Time will tell. Plus, if her customers push back on telehealth, will she just yield because of this belief or will she lead because it’s the right thing to do for patients? Or even better, will she step up and make telehealth more convenient for clinicians as well so that everyone benefits? Or will she want to just go back to the in person model?

    Of course, there are also a lot of other questions about this. The had a solution and swapped it out for a new one on Twilio. Does this mean they’ll not work with other telehealth providers because they have their own competing solutions? Will they make it hard for competing telehealth companies to integrate? How deeply will they integrate any telehealth product? Will they turn telehealth into a profit center for the company or the opposite and try to price out other telehealth companies? Doesn’t really relate fully to my comment above, but there are still a lot of unknowns and decisions that will have to be made when it comes to telehealth and Epic.

    Hopefully this helps you understand some of what I’m watching. Hopefully my concern is misplaced and she does embrace telehealth in a big way and transforms visits for both providers and patients. Will be interesting to watch and see.

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