Many long-term care providers have found wisdom in Winston Churchill’s advice to never waste a crisis. Amid an already challenging market, funding cuts and increasing regulations, COVID-19 is stretching providers thin as they care for and protect our most frail and elderly citizens. Vigilant testing, cleaning and transparent communication are now built into the daily routine at long-term care facilities across the nation. Some new processes and protocols may end as soon as a vaccine is widely administered while other processes will be added permanently to facilities’ best practices. Those who are truly excelling in the face of this daunting challenge are providers who have found a way to not only preserve patient safety, but also enhance patient care and well-being. Below, we profile two communities that have done just that.
Green Hills Community and Healthcare Management Group (HCMG) are two health care providers who have successfully implemented new protocols to keep residents connected to family and the outside world while navigating the COVID-19 environment. By focusing on the importance of residents’ mental health as well as physical, these communities have been able to adjust procedures to ensure residents keep receiving the type of personal attention and preventative care that can truly improve outcomes.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Green Hills and HCMG had both established outreach programs and formed alliances with other healthcare providers and social service organizations. When the pandemic hit, those partnerships allowed Green Hills and HCMG to quickly pivot toward enhanced initiatives with an increased emphasis on resident and staff safety.
THE VITALITY OF TELEHEALTH
Before the pandemic, Green Hills and HCMG had already established telemedicine programs, giving them a significant advantage as they already had the staff, equipment and technical expertise on-site. For example, HCMG was using telehealth to implement a communication system for cardiac rehabilitation patients as they were discharged from the hospital.
“By inserting ourselves between those inpatient and outpatient silos, we’ve created an opportunity to ensure that care follows the patient after they are discharged,” said Shane Craycraft, corporate director of clinical services at HCMG. “Critical round-the-clock monitoring gives us the data we need to intervene in real-time before the disease progresses, eliminating unnecessary ED transports.”
Adding more touchpoints allows health care providers to proactively intervene in the lives of their patients as early as possible. “From a clinical standpoint, we now have an opportunity to follow a patient through their entire continuum of care,” said Stephanie DeWees, vice president, administrator at Green Hills.
In this example, telehealth allows providers to leverage care coordination and outreach to improve outcomes for patients. In the COVID-19 environment, this is especially valuable, as it allows patients to stay out of the facility while still receiving preventative care.
“We are able to carefully monitor our patient’s health, which empowers us to develop a history with them and their families that will help us to create better care plans,” added DeWees.
HIGH-TOUCH CONNECTIONS FOR FAMILY
With families unable to make in-person visits due to COVID-19, many seniors housing and care communities are allowing family members to join virtual telehealth consultations. Not only does this serve as an important boost for the resident’s mental health, it also improves care as well-informed family members can better assist their loved ones.“Encouraging families to play a role in the care experience is empowering, as it helps patients and their families to better understand and engage in their own care,” added DeWees.
Both Green Hills and HCMG have found that by using technology and data, they can create pathways for a personalized approach toward holistic care. “The value of telehealth is that we now have more real-time patient data regarding the health of our residents,” said Craycraft. “This puts us in a position to provide proactive care and to position ourselves as an advocate for the patient.”
Green Hills offers year-round child care services and is committed to providing intergenerational care, a tactic that has proved beneficial to all parties. Keeping that commitment during COVID has been a challenge, as preventing residents from being exposed becomes the first and last priority. While the need to socially distance has eliminated direct one-on-one contact between residents and children, residents can still see children playing in the open play areas, making for a joyful environment that replaces some of the missing intergenerational camaraderie. Further, as most group activities have been indefinitely cancelled due to the need to socially distance, Green Hills has allocated additional staff to replace group activities with a wide variety of one-on-one activities.
For its part, HCMG hosted a socially-distant Grandparents’ Day drive-by parade to boost residents’ spirits. In addition, the community provides canine companions to residents whenever safely possible and has an outdoor vegetable garden that keeps residents outside and active, at least in the warmer months. Both communities are constantly seeking creative strategies to connect residents with others despite the limitations of COVID. From card game tournaments to mobile happy hours, staff is empowered to implement innovative ways to keep residents engaged and connected in the absence of physical family visitations.
REAL-TIME INFORMATION IS CRITICAL
One important and cost-effective strategy that communities can execute is the creation of a reputable information hub. News of the pandemic is constantly evolving, placing a greater emphasis on accurate and timely communication to keep everyone informed. Never before have long-term care facilities been in a position where its staff, residents and families have relied so heavily on real-time information from a facilities’ leadership team. Using social media updates, Zoom calls and other methods of electronic information sharing, Green Hills and HCMG understand that knowledge brings comfort. In the same way that state governors provided daily COVID updates, both communities learned that when they proactively provide information, they can prevent rumors and panic while providing valuable, life-saving information.
Green Hills and HCMG are embracing the power of technology to provide real-time information, engage with family and residents, and improve patient outcomes. By building on their already established partnerships and programs, both communities have been able to re-allocate scarce resources and rapidly adapt to changing circumstances, keeping their residents connected while navigating the pandemic environment.Subscribe