Michael D. Scherneck looks back on the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and feels grateful that he made no bet on how long the virus would continue to spread globally.
“I would have bet that in September 2020 that would have been behind us,” he said.
From his seat as President and CEO of Southeast Georgia’s Health System, however, Scherneck has seen the ups and downs of the past two years, spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. the deployment of vaccines that can end the pandemic.
Scherneck officially retired on Friday knowing there is still a lot of work to be done in this community to fight COVID-19. He is optimistic, however, that the end of the pandemic is approaching and that the local health system will continue to play a central role in caring for this community until then.
“We are here to take care of the community, and when I say this community, I mean the entire region of Southeast Georgia,” he said. “It’s our community. “
Scherneck joined the healthcare system in 2003 as CFO. In 2015, the system’s board asked Scherneck to take on the role of interim CEO and then chose him to take on that role on a permanent basis.
“I never would have dreamed that I would have been in this kind of role, but it was really a great opportunity for me, just a great experience for me personally and frankly a great way for me to end my career”, said he declared. noted.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Scherneck was used to a much larger community served by many hospitals. Southeast Georgia’s health system, meanwhile, serves an area that reaches 60 miles north of the Florida border and 30 miles inland from the Georgian coast, he said.
“Here we are the hospital,” he said. “Here in Brunswick we are the hospital, in Camden, and we have the opportunity to be friends and family taking care of our friends and family.”
It also gives the healthcare system a duty to serve patients from all walks of life, he said. And that service must be provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We’re the only providers here, and people are going to come to our health care system and our doors because we’re the only community hospitals here,” he said.
Scherneck has witnessed the significant growth of the healthcare system for nearly two decades, which now includes around 175 providers. The health system plays an important recruiting role and helps attract more health professionals to the region, he said.
This is essential because the healthcare system serves a wide range of patients.
“We have to make sure that if someone doesn’t have insurance, we have to be there,” Scherneck said. “Someone who’s got Medicaid, we have to be there. If it’s someone with good insurance, we’ve got to be there.
“We’re here for everyone, whether they live in Brunswick, St. Simons, Sea Island, along the I-95 corridor. We have to be there.
Scherneck’s time in the CEO seat was not lacking in challenges. He led the healthcare system through three major hurricane threats as well as the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020.
From treatment to testing to vaccine deployment, the health system has been at the heart of the community’s response to COVID-19. Scherneck said he was proud of the way every staff member in the healthcare system has taken on this responsibility.
“In the healthcare system, probably 75% or more of our lives are consumed by COVID, and I’m glad we’re here to be able to support the community,” he said.
Scherneck said he has been focusing from the start on what he calls “the fundamentals,” which are the tools that will bring the pandemic under control.
“Vaccines are helpful, I think masks are helpful, I think social distancing is helpful,” he said.
The mental anguish, however, caused by the pandemic cannot be underestimated, he said, and healthcare workers have borne much of the burden.
Scherneck also witnessed highlights, such as when the vaccine rollout began and health system workers were on the front lines bringing the vaccines to the community.
“You could tell they knew they were making a difference, and it showed in the way they treated people,” he said. “We have done more than 50,000 vaccinations. “
But any idea that COVID-19 will ever go away altogether is too optimistic. It’s here to stay, in one form or another, and the question that remains is how long the virus will continue to fuel a pandemic.
“It’s going to be with us forever, and the question is how to go from a pandemic to an endemic,” he said. “And I think we’re getting closer and closer to that.”
Scott Raynes will succeed Scherneck and begin his role as CEO and Chairman today.