Allina Health’s Penny Wheeler on Leading During Covid-19, Riots & an Uncertain Economy

During this week’s One Take CEO Interview sponsored by Platinum Group, President and CEO Penny Wheeler discusses how she’s leading $4.4 billion health care provider Allina Health during Covid-19, how it survived fires and looting last month that damaged or destroyed most neighboring properties, and how she and her employees look to effect meaningful change while facing an unpredictable future.

Allina invested more than $100 million to prepare for Covid-19 patients and went to more than 500 sources to find the personal protective equipment needed to ensure the safety of its employees and patients. It had to cope with unprecedented losses—at one point losing up to $3 million a day—as scheduled surgeries were cancelled or postponed in April and May. Then George Floyd was murdered only a few blocks away from its headquarters.

“This is almost surreal to think about what happened because we have not only our headquarters, but we also have a global market we help support, which is small community owned businesses that we wanted to keep safe. We had our warehoSlide2use with all our personal protective equipment. And then we have Abbott Northwestern hospital, our largest hospital in terms of number of patients, and we wanted to keep the patients and staff safe,” Wheeler recalls. “We had to move pallet after pallet of personal protective equipment to make sure that wasn’t harmed. We had to redistribute some of our patients quickly within the span of just a few hours to make sure we had the staffing and safety of the patients covered. We had to call and were grateful for the state’s response and the national guard’s protecting those assets. And we believed in the peaceful protests; oftentimes our employees were part of that. Our employees are in the community and are part of the community, so we were very supportive of that at the same time. It was a wild go being right in the center and it still, as you go down the street, you still shed tears for what destruction has occurred, but it reminds us of what we have to accomplish.

“The murder of George Floyd exposed with eyes wider opened that we have a racial pandemic in addition to a Covid pandemic in this country,” she says. “I think what I have seen through it, and hopefully we have the staying power to do this, is not only do we want to deal with the Covid virus in the safest most approachable way, but we want to get to the underpinnings of the disparities that exist in health care, jobs, housing, other aspects and work with the community to do that.”

During the interview, Wheeler discusses more how Allina has already been working toward those goals and what more it plans to do. She discusses how she’s leading Allina’s 28,896 employees through such rapidly changing times, and how yet to be dealt with is an anticipated $250 million loss for 2020.

Wheeler’s interview can be heard or downloaded from Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other similar services. It can also be watched on YouTube.

It is the seventh in a series of one-take, unedited conversations between former Twin Cities Business Editor in Chief Dale Kurschner and Minnesota CEOs regarding how they’re leading during the Covid-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact on their operations, and the economy. Episodes are typically  recorded home-to-home and have included discussions with Jeff Kiesel of Restaurant Technologies Inc., Christine Lantinen of Maud Borup, Paul Grangaard of Faribault Woolen Mill, Mark Stutrud of Summit Brewing and Stacy Demskie of Mainstreet Bakery.

The CEO interview series is sponsored by Platinum Group, Minnesota’s most experienced advisory group helping business owners and leaders with extreme challenges including financial setbacks, lender and landlord re-negotiations, turnarounds and bankruptcies. Kurschner is one of its consultants and specializes in communication strategy, crisis communication, reputation management and internal communication.

Complimenting the CEO series are interviews with key members of Platinum Group. This week’s is with Partner Steve Coleman, who specializes in helping business owners and leaders through major transitions.

Given today’s Covid-19 recession, Coleman says there are those businesses that are pausing and being conservative, and then “there’s a significant minority of owners that we serve who have very alertly said, ‘wow, this is so enormous of a changing SteveColeman2environment that there have to be some new opportunities that these disruptions bring to us. New opportunities I better be looking for.’ And so they have leaned forward. They are not being silent. They’re not looking down. They’re looking up and they’re looking out.”

During this short unedited, one-take interview, he explains how business owners are doing just that in part by finding good new partners, sharing their experiences with other owners and exploring new ways of looking at and doing things.

Coleman’s interview is available via these links from Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.


All One Take CEO Interviews are available for free on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

All Platinum Group interviews also are available for free on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.