How Providence, Keck Medicine of USC and more tackle staffing challenges amid the coronavirus

As hospitals across the country prepare for the coronavirus, those in the hardest hit areas including Seattle, are experiencing staffing challenges due to the spread of the virus and cities closing their schools.

Beginning March 12, all Seattle public schools closed for 14 days, leaving some parents to worry about how they'll care for patients and their children. Renton, Wash.-based Providence is offering backup childcare and eldercare for employees who are impacted by school closures or other unforeseen events.

"This service is part of our existing benefits package for many work groups but has been expanded to cover all employees," said Mary Cranstoun, senior vice president of total rewards and talent acquisition at Providence. "We are also asking supervisors to work closely with their team members and allow added flexibility when it comes to changing shifts and allowing administrative employees to work from home if they are able to."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee asked earlier this week that childcare be provided for healthcare workers for free. CNBC reported UW Medicine is developing a plan for alternative childcare as well that could include a partnership with the local university.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Pittsfield, Mass.-based Berkshire Medical Center rearranged staff at its hospital and may bring in temporary nurses to cover for staff members who have been in contact with patients testing positive for the coronavirus.

The situation hasn't become as critical in other parts of the country, but healthcare organizations continue to make preparations. In Los Angeles, Keck Medicine of USC hasn't experienced clinical staffing issues, but has begun to prepare for the likelihood that there could be staffing shortages in the future. The system works with several staffing agencies and remains in close contact during this time. CEO of Keck Medical Center of USC and COO of Keck Medicine of USC Rod Hanners said the health system is looking into on-site childcare arrangements in collaboration with the university for staff members with children.

The system has also taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus among its staff.

"As of last week, all healthcare providers with Keck Medicine were credentialed to practice telemedicine in order to expand capacity, enabling virtual visits with patients as another option," said Mr. Hanners. "We know virtual visits help protect both our patients and our staff and will be even more important with increased social distancing."

He also mentioned that the health system is evaluating remote work options for employees who are not working directly with patients and making sure they have the tools they need to telecommute and still perform their regular job functions. It is limiting hospital visits to one visitor at a time when possible and screening all patients for COVID-19, including those who are being treated remotely from home.

"At present, we have sufficient personal protective equipment and related supplies for our staff and patients," he said. "We have increased our threshold for automated re-orders to take place at an earlier stage. As with all hospitals nationwide, our surge planning is well underway, including temporary structures for additional clinical screening and isolation."

Envision Healthcare, which includes more than 27,000 clinicians nationwide, is taking a similar approach. The company is supporting hospitals and healthcare partners across the country to provide treatment, share best practices and develop protocols and scenario planning.

"We are still in the early stages of this public health emergency, and while some clinicians are being quarantined, we have yet to see a significant change in workforce demand," said Adam Brown, MD, a practice emergency physician and president of Emergency Medicine Services at Envision Healthcare. "We are prepared to make adjustments in clinical teams as the situation evolves, including the deployment of ENVOY, our dedicated traveling clinical team, and the use of virtual health. We continue to provide our clinicians and hospital partners with regular updates, access to a 24-hour hotline, a website that is our digital playbook and other resources to make sure they remain safe while caring for communities across the U.S."


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