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EFFICIENCY & PRODUCTIVITY · September 8th, 2021

How We’re Making Our Hospital Pandemic-Proof

by Stephanie Garcia

PRACTICE DIRECTOR, AAVEC

Late last March, on an ordinary morning after working a late shift, my coworker and I shared a pot of coffee in the break room at Anne Arundel Veterinary Emergency Clinic (AAVEC). We watched our governor on the news announce a new state-wide lockdown. Suddenly our morning was not so ordinary. She turned to me and said, “I hope you are ready. Now we get to see how pandemic-proof we are.”

Fast forward to today, and Covid continues to linger. Cases rise and fall, uncertainty persists, but we’ve also learned so much and evolved into a stronger team. Still, my coworker’s words continue to impact nearly every decision we make: Are we pandemic proof? So as we look to safeguard our future, we also look to the past: what worked, what didn’t, and what changes are here to stay.

Here are six tactics that we’ve incorporated into our standard practices to help pandemic-proof our hospital.

1. Make masks a permanent part of our lives (even post-pandemic)

Masks not only protected us from Covid, but since we’ve been wearing them, fewer team members call out sick for the flu, colds, or other seasonal illnesses. Most of our staff can’t remember getting sick once last year. When the pandemic passes and masks are no longer a requirement, we may continue to ask employees with coughs, allergies, or flu-like symptoms to wear one while they work. We also plan to keep plenty in storage in case there is a future shortage.

2. Prevent backorders with backup supplies

After a shortage of masks, gloves, gowns, and tape, we learned we could not depend on federal relief to secure PPE for veterinary hospitals. Therefore, we’ve updated our inventory process to help us monitor and maintain a backup of certain supplies.  To start, we made a checklist of supplies and PPE most likely to be scarce during a pandemic. We then order them in moderation throughout the year and account for a reasonable backup supply. The list also helped us identify items that could be reused or replaced with more eco-friendly versions, helping us save money and the environment!

3. Keep safety measures top-of-mind for staff

Many heightened safety measures, from sanitation protocols to frequent handwashing, are here to stay. Since last year, signs promoting the measures have blanketed our breakrooms, bathrooms, and common areas. But as with most signage, they start to blend into the wall after some time, leading people to forget. To ensure our team remains mindful, every quarter, we update our signage to stand out. We might incorporate different colors, language or use humor to encourage a second look. We’ve also found that switching out our safety products encourages more consistent use. For example, we placed a popular soap from Bath & Body Works at every sink that smells so amazing people can’t wait to wash their hands.

4. Support team wellness with a permanent stress-free space

Throughout the pandemic, as emergency visits skyrocketed and people were stretched thin, we regularly reached out to ask what they needed to cope with the resulting stress. We discovered our staff found comfort in two things: food and quiet refuge away from the busy ER and exam rooms. First, we converted an empty office into a comfort zone. Every month we change the decor to reflect an ongoing holiday or seasonal theme that lifts everyone’s spirits. Second, we stock the room with popular beverages and snacks. We ensure all food is individually wrapped and easy to grab in case they want it on the go. We also included plenty of healthy options as many folks noted they were trying to avoid the quarantine weight gain. One staff member remarked the room was the only place they felt like they could find peace.

We also hired a Trauma and Occupational Therapist who visits us four times a month. She helps our team with things like burnout and compassion fatigue as well as the best way to communicate with other team members and clients during this difficult time. It has improved our culture drastically and the staff really appreciates it.

5. Lighten workloads with a volunteer program

Most veterinary hospitals these days find their waiting rooms packed and staff in short supply. To help lighten the workload during the pandemic, we launched a new community volunteer program to support non-veterinary tasks like stocking, cleaning, or organizing. While the program isn’t a significant solution to shortages, it does help reduce the types of tasks team members would typically do after a long and difficult day. The staff is deeply grateful for the relief. Before Covid, we never had a volunteer program, but we intend to keep it running post-pandemic.

6. Free up space with digital records

With social distancing requirements and more client service representatives joining us to support high demand, space in our hospital has become more scarce than ever. We noticed records were taking up a lot of room, so we scanned everything and purged all paper. We moved all treatment sheets to iPads (and the iPads are easy to disinfect throughout the day). Now with everything digital, our technicians spend less time searching for records, and all our phone stations are set apart at a safe distance.

A FINAL THOUGHT

Some of these tactics might not be applicable or possible for every hospital. Still, it’s essential to recognize which Covid-driven changes positively impacted your team or processes. By discussing these challenges and achievements, you may discover what they love about the new normal. Innovation can be contagious; you will be amazed at how many of your quick Covid-driven fixes are permanent solutions.

For questions about these tactics or more details, please email me at SGarcia@AAVEC.com.

Stephanie Garcia

PRACTICE DIRECTOR, AAVEC

Anne Arundel Veterinary Emergency Clinic | Annapolis, Maryland

Stephanie joined Anne Arundel Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Annapolis, Maryland in 2015 as an overnight emergency technician. Throughout her career, she’s worked in emergency & critical care, ophthalmology, internal medicine, orthopedics, specialized soft-tissue surgery, and more. She now serves as the team’s education coordinator – focused on creating opportunities for her team to learn and grow. Her passion lives in teaching and investing in the personal wellness of the veterinary care staff.

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