The COVID-19 IMPACT on the Healthcare Community
The COVID-19 IMPACT on the Healthcare Community
Story by Kelly Harley | Photos by Michelle Holloway
In early March, life quickly changed. Healthcare personnel at Effingham Health System (EHS) geared up for an ongoing battle. In a matter of weeks, staff and patients would realize that the new normal was here to stay.
“When COVID-19 became a true reality to the healthcare industry, we immediately implemented best practices and took a proactive approach to our response efforts,” says chief executive officer Dr. Fran Baker-Witt of Effingham County Health System (EHS).
She says the hospital partnered with the Georgia Hospital Association, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and other resources to position the healthcare system to stay in front of the unfolding crisis. Dr. Baker-Witt says the pandemic is a gamechanger for the healthcare delivery model and practices put into place are likely here to stay for an indefinite period.
Creative Approaches Some practices put in place are creative approaches to serving patients. Effingham Hospital realized early on that one of the best ways to serve the community was through telemedicine.
Telemedicine is not new to EHS. In 2017, EHS partnered with Georgia Partnership for Telehealth and launched telemedicine programs in Effingham County schools.
“We are good at telemedicine, and the infrastructure was already there. It was an easy transition to stay connected with our patients, in particular the senior population,” says Dr. Baker-Witt. “Our patients responded very positively, and they love it.” Patients are not only grateful for the tool; they support the hospital’s restrictions committed to their safety and the safety of staff.
Another creative approach to patient care involves using technology in the hospital’s attached long-term care facility. The 105-bed facility is near capacity, and with visitor restrictions, the staff is keeping patients connected with family members.
“We use devices such as iPads and cell phones to launch video calls with patients and their families.”
Dr. Baker-Witt says in mid-May, they coordinated four parades for long-term care facility patients. Residents were brought out in small groups, and family and friends paraded by in vehicles decorated with signs and balloons. “It was so exciting to see the residents’ faces light up. It helped to build trust and confidence in our facility. People shared photos and videos on Facebook, and it was a gratifying moment.” Dr. Baker-Witt is proud to says that as of mid-May, there has not been one reported case of COVID-19 in the long-term care facility.
Safety Initiatives In addition to telemedicine and creative communications, the hospital implemented safety guidelines right away.
One of the first initiatives was the creation of an isolation area for people under investigation for possible COVID-19. Eleven rooms allow staff to isolate patients who may be showing symptoms or think they may have the virus. Staff and patients are screened before entering the hospital. Their temperatures are checked, and they have to answer a COVID-19 questionnaire.
In the primary care practices, patients must wait in their vehicles until called to come inside.
“From the screening at the front door up through discharge, COVID-19 is a constant reminder to staff and patients of mandated practices. We, personally and professionally, have an indelible imprint and reminder that we need to practice hand hygiene and sanitation,” adds Dr. Baker-Witt.
Perhaps one of the greatest things to come out of this is the outpouring of support. From the hospital staff to the community, there is no shortage of kindness and compassion.
“I have witnessed my coworkers go above and beyond what is expected of them. They come in day in and day out and strive to deliver exceptional care to our community. Our staff has been asked to step up, and they have more than delivered,” says Brittany Ford, an emergency room nurse at the hospital.
She is also in school to become a nurse practitioner and has a young son at home. She admits anxieties were high, especially as everything was unfolding. “The unknown of being in the emergency room and having to triage makes you more alert because you have to protect yourself and your coworkers. Having the screening outside helps relieve anxiety and allows us to prepare.”
Brittany credits teamwork for the success of the hospital’s response efforts. She also credits the community for boosting morale. “Our community came together to show us love and support. They wanted us to feel appreciated when we were away from our families.” Local churches and restaurants delivered countless meals to hospital workers throughout the height of the pandemic and brought in much-needed snacks and treats.
Dr. Baker-Witt says greater accountability has evolved through all of this. “The accountability that has been displayed between workers is impressive. There is an unsaid mandate in which they are holding their peers to high safety standards. Staff come together and appreciate one another. We truly are all in this together.”
The Future of Healthcare As for the future of healthcare, there’s no question that the new normal will soon become just normal. Some of the safety precautions in place at Effingham Hospital will likely become permanent, while other restrictions may lessen as the pandemic plays out.
Regardless of what happens, COVID-19’s impact is lasting. From a leadership standpoint, hospital operational staff was forced to reevaluate strategic direction. Planning for the upcoming flu season is already taking place, and logistically, the team is making sure there will be sufficient inventory with regard to personal protective equipment.
“This pandemic has inspired us to reevaluate total operations. We’ve realigned our priorities as we have seen a paradigm shift in how we care for and treat patients today and, in the future,” says Dr. Baker-Witt. “Despite all of the changes, I’m proud to say the delivery of the quality of care was never compromised.”
As for Brittany, this crisis reminded her of why she chose a nursing profession. “This experience, although stressful and difficult at times, has shown the world just how important and valuable our medical professionals are, and I am so thankful for choosing a career that allows me to care for my community.”
UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE AT EHS FACILITIES:
- Persons entering EHS facilities, including patients, will have their temperature taken and will be screened prior to entry.
- Anyone entering EHS facilities will be asked to wear a mask at all times.