Cities, counties, and states across the country are navigating nuanced phases of reopening following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hot summer months are just around the corner, which many hope will further stifle the virus and its ability to spread. Meanwhile, long-term/post-acute care practitioners remain vigilant in their efforts to treat existing cases in the facilities they serve and prepare for potential relapses in the fall. We spoke with a few GEHRIMED users to learn how they navigated the pandemic successfully thus far and what their operations look like today.
Initially, LTPAC facilities nationwide shared the same clear goal: keep it out. But the living community infrastructure and high-risk population of assisted living homes and skilled nursing facilities create the perfect storm for a COVID-19 outbreak. As the coronavirus continued to spread, many medical professionals came to terms with the harsh reality that it wasn’t a matter of if they would face an outbreak, but when.
At this point, measurements of success shifted. Facility directors and the practitioners serving those facilities focused on collaborating as seamlessly as possible. Together, they provided all staff with the personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation tools they needed, established and adhered to patient isolation protocols, and offered the highest level of patient care possible.
“COVID-19 is a terrible tragedy, as well as a challenge, and a challenge brings an opportunity for improvement rather than complacency,”
While these priorities arose as triage efforts, successful practitioners and facilities are adopting them as the new status quo for their normal operations. “COVID-19 is a terrible tragedy, as well as a challenge, and a challenge brings an opportunity for improvement rather than complacency,” said Rob Cash, the CEO of Thrive Behavioral Sciences. “We’re constantly searching for ways to get better and provide our patients with better care, and it’s clear that really amazing stuff happens when our practitioners work together in these ways.”
Most LTPAC facility directors drafted and implemented new policies to protect the safety of both their staff and patients within a matter of weeks of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Washington state. However, without effective communication methods, those policies quickly prove ineffective.
In an effort to keep his entire staff up to date at all times, Dr. Frank Newlands from Physician Services Group of South Carolina started using video communications to disseminate important information. At least once a week, all employees receive a video message from him in their email inboxes that address everything from breaking COVID-19 news to policy updates to words from the CEO. The visual component keeps it personal, the video format makes it accessible, and the content keeps everyone on the same page. Dr. Newlands plans to continue using these video communications after witnessing their positive impact on his team and facilities.
As COVID-19 continued to spread, practitioner groups that visit a large number of facilities on a weekly basis quickly realized how problematic their comings and goings from so many buildings could be. Thrive Behavioral Science is one of those groups. To better support their facilities and protect their patients, they doubled down on integrating with PointClickCare, the electronic medical record platform that their facilities use. And in just a few short months, this tactic made a significant impact.
“The facilities were already strained on resources,” said president Steve Lomonico. “So, we fast-tracked the ones that had yet to embrace the integration, and it really did eliminate excessive paperwork for them. It also reduced our number of touchpoints in the facilities, freed up their computers for other important tasks, and allowed us to work both inside and outside of the buildings more autonomously.” Lomonico added that Thrive Behavioral Science has even witnessed an increase in business due to their widespread promotion, adoption, and support of this integration.
The offering and utilization of telehealth services boomed as we reached peak pandemic times, with many long-term care practitioners working to find smart ways to deploy the technology in living community facilities. Some found it more seamless than others, but all in all, it served as an effective additional line of defense against the spread of the virus.
However, some practitioners didn’t exactly follow along with this trend. Both Dr. Newlands and the Thrive Behavioral Science team were considered essential in the buildings that they serve, and they attribute some of their success to showing up, putting on their PPE, and helping in any way they could while strictly adhering to all safety protocols.
“We work in approximately 100 facilities, and we only have telemedicine in 10 of the buildings. We are present in the rest of them,” said Lomonico. “We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to pull that off because it’s just so much better to be able to practice on-site and pick up what needs to be picked up while we’re there. And it means their staff can continue working on the floor rather than porting a tablet around for us.”
Dr. Newlands and his staff have a similar experience. “Because of our model, we are in-house all week every day, so we have been able to see these patients and monitor them very closely for any changes that would elicit a hospitalization or a higher level of care, putting out fires as soon as possible,” he said. “If you’re going to have a physician group in your buildings, it really does need to be a partnership.”
No two practitioners are identical in how they have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and how they decided to respond to it. Different methods and strategies work better for different practices and facilities. With that said, it’s clear that appropriate goals, effective communication, and technology that helps streamline workflows are all excellent places to start. If your practice struggled to meet the challenging demands of COVID-19 and is continuing to do so, consider these elements today so you can regain your footing and feel more confident moving into the future.
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