The pandemic has been difficult for community hospitals across the country, but there have been positive effects as well.
Some pandemic issues highlighted long-standing challenges. In turn, leaders gained a deeper understanding that cultivated innovation. Now, pandemic lessons are helping improve operational efficiency and patient care practices. These new methods will benefit community hospitals well into the future.
Leaders at CHC’s owned, managed and consulting-client hospitals are taking stock of several issues and using pandemic insights to adapt and improve.
Care models must be flexible. The pandemic highlighted the benefit of telehealth and remote monitoring. The model helped to fill gaps in transportation and patient mobility while it also helped providers care for patients safely. Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) continues to reimburse for telehealth services, offering a much-needed lifeline of revenue to the healthcare industry. Although final decisions haven’t been made, there is some consensus that this policy will remain.
Technology is vital. The healthcare industry revealed many blind spots during the pandemic that can be addressed
with technology. For example, the industry lacked visibility into the global healthcare supply chain, making it difficult to optimize emergency PPE manufacturing and distribution. Additionally, the move to telehealth was hindered in many rural areas due to a lack of basic Internet access. Moving forward, the role of technology in healthcare will continue to increase. That acceleration will be accompanied by a related and analogous demand for cybersecurity to protect private patient data.
Adaptable spaces enhance patient care. Caregivers needed flexible spaces that could be transitioned quickly to improve patient care and workflow management. Caring for COVID patients demonstrated that nimble care delivery and flexible spaces are the future of healthcare. An adaptable facility can help caregivers easily transition spaces as needed to care for patients or adapt to new technology. Additional features such as improved airflow and more isolation or negative-pressure rooms are also on the wish list of hospital leaders across the country.
Clinical workers must be protected. As PPE supplies dwindled, non-traditional suppliers stepped in to ensure hospital employees’ safety. It was immediately clear that nothing was more important than protecting the medical professionals who needed to continue treating the ill and developing creative solutions needed during an emergency.
When schools were dismissed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a predominantly female healthcare workforce also faced challenges of protecting their own families from illness and accessing child care. Moving forward, hospital leaders are working to ensure they have access to an adequate supply of PPE and personal support to stay mentally and physically healthy as they care for others.
Community collaboration is key. Across the country, community organizations and businesses stepped up to support healthcare workers. The pandemic showed that everyone can play a role in improving community health. Additionally, it became clearer that community problems such as gaps in transportation and child care have a trickle-down effect on healthcare and other industries as well.
Optimizing the supply chain is about more than access. Certain pandemic contingencies will carry over and affect product acquisition and utilization during “normal” times. For example, CHC Supply Trust and its 100+ hospital members are purchasing more reusable vs. single-use gowns. Looking forward, supply chain strategic planning will seek to avoid further shortages by, for example, increasing on-site supply inventory in certain categories and finding more domestic sources for supplies.
Community and rural hospitals benefit from government support. The American Rescue Plan, signed into law on March 11, 2021, allocates money to rural health care providers that have experienced COVID-related lost revenue and increased expenses. The program provides funding for PPE and administrative costs, and allocates grants to support health care providers’ mental health. These funds, along with programs such as Critical Access Hospital (CAH) designation, are critical to the long-term sustainability of smaller hospitals.
Quality care is paramount. The pandemic underscored the significance of clinical quality, patient safety, as well as adherence to best practices for community hospitals. Although CMS suspended reporting and reduced the financial impact of the Value Based Purchasing (VBP) Program during the pandemic, it did not lessen expectation for hospitals to provide quality care. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an even greater need to focus on these quality measures in an effort to determine the impact of COVID-19 on patient outcomes. Now it is time to determine what has been effective and what has not worked. We must continue to measure existing quality indicators and identify new quality indicators important to evaluate given the changes in care delivery processes.
Recruitment and retention are vital. During the pandemic, community hospitals faced significant worker shortages and developed new and different positions in patient care, management, infection control, quality, environmental safety, and other areas. Hospitals are creating task forces to evaluate and address necessary changes in hiring and employee retention programs. Some of the issues to tackle include assessing skill gaps, re-engaging furloughed employees, building an agile workforce, enhancing employee safety programs, increasing emphasis on employee retention and intensifying ongoing recruitment.
Around the country, community hospital leaders are striving to place their hospital on a strengthened, sustainable path forward, even as they continue to face challenges of COVID-19. Many are turning to CHC for help because of our experience working with rural and community hospitals across the country. CHC can help your hospital improve its operational and financial performance. Contact CHC today to gain access to our experience and implement our best practices.
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