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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, May 20, 202005:20 AM EST

‘Baptism by fire’: Ackerman COO comes aboard amid a pandemic

Vicki Reich quickly settled into her new job, despite the circumstances.
by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

Ackerman Cancer Center COO Vicki Reich did not have a typical onboarding process on her first day on the job March 9. 

“Pretty much out of the gate,” Reich said.

She and the team at Ackerman Cancer Center were planning their response to COVID-19, figuring out how they could continue providing care to their patients safely.

Before the end of her first week, Mayor Lenny Curry declared a state of emergency for Duval County and made more executive orders in the days that followed. 

“I’m disappointed it happened for any of us, I would have rathered it didn’t happen at all,” she said. “But it forced me to jump in. Not just start and get my toes wet, but dive in.”

Reich came to Ackerman from Charlotte, North Carolina, where she served in leadership roles at Atrium Health. The majority of her time was spent working in radiation oncology.

The facility put Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines into place and checks everyone’s temperature and screens them at the door, implementing extra cleaning and sanitation and allowing one visitor per patient at a time. 

It involved constant communication among the team, she said. Reich said she wanted to make sure all employees had their voices heard, and could bring their ideas to the table on how to keep patients safe. 

Reich said she emphasized to the team to stay calm. She said throughout the years, she has dealt with crises and has been trained to handle them.

“It’s not possible to overcommunicate during a crisis,” she said.

Once protocols were set, Reich said she was able to “actually start doing my job.” She wanted to meet with all the employees individually to watch them work and learn what was going well and what was not.

With all that has happened since she started, Reich said she still has not sat down with everyone, but responding to the virus helped her to meet and speak with everyone much sooner than she would have in normal circumstances. 

After spending nearly 18 years working for one of the largest public health systems in the country, Reich said she was ready for a change. 

Working at Ackerman Cancer Center would be like having the benefits of working in a large medical institution, but with the feel of a smaller practice, she said.

“Really large hospital systems have a lot of vertical hierarchy and a lot of bureaucracy, and that’s fine and it works, but I was ready for a change to a private practice model,” she said. 

“We can be so much more nimble and unencumbered by competition for resources across a huge system.” 

Despite the unusual circumstances, Reich said she settled into the job quicker than she expected. 

“In some ways, baptism by fire isn’t always a bad thing,” she said. “You just jump right in and roll your sleeves up.”


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