Roadmap to reopening your hospital: 4 takeaways from the AHA

As hospitals consider reopening to visitors and resuming certain services, they must balance the need to offset financial losses from the COVID-19 pandemic with the need to ensure the safety of staff and patients.

Michelle Hood, executive vice president and COO of the American Hospital Association, said this means communicating effectively with patients and staff as well as considering concerns such as the number of COVID-19 cases in a community.

Ms. Hood joined the AHA this year and previously served as president and CEO of Northern Light Health in Brewer, Maine.

Here, she provides four takeaways for hospitals as they navigate reopening.

1. A hospital's decision to reopen — and how much — should be dependent on factors including the number of COVID-19 cases in the community being served by hospital, the size of the facility and the hospital's ability to create separate pathways of care for COVID-19 or prospective COVID-19-positive patients, according to Ms. Hood. Availability of personal protective equipment and testing should also be considered

2. Although some hospitals have started to offer certain services again, many still encounter lack of demand as patients may be hesitant to come into hospitals during the pandemic. "Unfortunately a lot of people are delaying or deferring care because of uncertainty, because they're worried about" contracting the virus, said Ms. Hood. Therefore, communication to patients about the safety measures taken at the facility is important. Ms. Hood recommended that hospitals target patients who have chronic illness and require care. She said these patients should hear directly from medical staff about why it is important they continue to come in for blood pressure tests, annual exams and other care.

3. During the pandemic, hospital staff seek information about ever changing safety and patient care protocols. Organizations initially provided this information through incident command centers, and daily huddles occurred between management and staff to ensure workers understand the "why" behind changing protocols, said Ms. Hood. She now hears from hospitals that those two-way discussions are still happening — even if it is less frequently than the beginning of the crisis. She encourages hospitals to continue the talks.

4. Hospital staff have been dealing with unprecedented circumstances and are reporting exhaustion amid the intensity of the COVID-19 environment, said Ms. Hood. She said staffing, in turn, is becoming a concern among hospitals as overtime and other staffing modifications used early in the pandemic becomes a less likely approach. To address these issues, Ms. Hood said hospitals continue to introduce technology solutions to improve healthcare services and reach out to staff who might have been furloughed or laid off due to less non-COVID-19 care being provided. 

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