The hospice industry has long been on the front lines of caring for the seriously ill and dying. In the 1980s, during the HIV/AIDS crisis, the hospice industry was crucial in caring for patients who had AIDS, as well as working with the healthcare industry to develop and share the need for testing and protection. To have the same impact on the coronavirus (COVID-19), hospice leaders must have a strategy to optimize their operations. Optimizing operations will allow hospice agencies to endure and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Preparing and Activating Agency Emergency Response
As required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Conditions of Participation, hospice agencies must have an Emergency Preparedness Plan to address the needs of hospice patients and continue hospice operations during a local or national emergency. Historically, pandemics have been included but have not been a high priority in an Emergency Preparedness Plan. It is time for hospice agency leadership to pivot toward addressing the COVID-19 pandemic as an emergency.
Updating your Emergency Preparedness plan to address these new challenges, including updating policies, procedures and protocols, establishing communication plans that are transparent and provide clarity for team members and preparing your team for how this pandemic will affect them as healthcare professionals. It is not too early to activate the agency’s Response Team. Staying ahead of the surge of illness by activating your processes early on will allow operational barricades to be cleared, opening the path to operational efficiencies.
Focus on the Team
Focusing on the team includes consideration for their mental and physical health. Acknowledging this will allow hospice agencies to continue operations and avoid some of the staffing challenges that they could be facing during this pandemic. Tuning in to the mental health of your team and providing the right support at the right time is a valuable use of time and resources.
Many hospice professionals will be able to continue to support exceptional hospice care as part of a group. It is important to identify team members who may be experiencing additional mental health stress. These team members will need to receive a more one-on-one approach to support their mental health. Utilizing your psychosocial, spiritual counseling and bereavement team members is one of the easiest ways to support the mental health of your team during this crisis.
The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is affecting the entire healthcare industry. As PPE production ramps up, the demand for PPE will remain high, but the burden of not having enough will begin to lift. The relationship with your supply vendor will be tested during the coming days, weeks and months. Setting the expectation that the relationship is built on mutual honesty and trust will set the tone that will be needed to weather this storm. Understanding that the pricing of the PPE products is affected by the market, the amount available to order and when delivery is expected will save you the time, energy and resources that need to be focused on preparation, activation of the emergency response and the hospice team. Hold your supplier accountable and help them to understand that they are a member of your team.
By making changes now, your hospice agency will be ready for the surge of change that will occur as a result of COVID-19. Time and resources are a commodity that should be spent on caring for patients and your team. Optimizing operations will have a positive impact on the care that your agency provides.