Sauk Prairie Healthcare’s Rapid Improvements to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Sauk Prairie Healthcare (SPH) has earned a regional reputation for superior care in a friendly environment, including recognition for clinical excellence, community impact and patient experience. SPH was able to maintain high expectations for outcomes while rapidly responding to the pandemic. An incident command system was activated with the goal to protect staff and the community.
SPH quickly implemented this incident command system to formally plan logistics and communications surrounding the pandemic. This system is still in place as of March 2021, with plans to continue to support decision-making and respond to needs that arise until the pandemic has ended. Teams were assembled to address everything from infection prevention strategies and clinical treatment protocols to supply chain solutions, facility enhancement needs, COVID-19 testing and vaccination, community partnerships and response, and even childcare coverage for employees. This rapid deployment resulted in drastic changes to operations, some temporary and some long-lasting.
In August 2020, about six months into the pandemic, SPH already had over 70 significant improvement efforts specific to the pandemic response. The teams assessed what went well and what could be improved for each change. It has been the willingness of SPH’s providers, team members and communities to pitch in to help in any way possible that contributed to success. SPH also had a very robust and systematic way of making decisions based upon national, state, regional and local guidance.
Key elements to the incident command system that made the response successful include:
- Initial daily incident command meetings led by Shawn Lerch, CEO, covering all clinical areas, supply chain, facilities, environmental services, infection prevention, quality/patient safety and finance. Later in the pandemic, this moved to a modified schedule meeting three times per week, and most recently was able to be reduced to a single meeting each week.
- Regular publishing of internal “situation report” to provide clear and concise information to all employees and partners. Daily reports were sent early in the pandemic and later reduced.
- Weekly publishing of internal “analytics report” containing state, regional, local and facility-specific data for decision-making.
- Activation of steering teams focused on large implementations, each with multiple workgroups targeting components of the overall effort allowing for rapid development, implementation and decentralized decision making.
- Involvement of community partners in the response through philanthropic support for new needs related to enhanced protective measures, mask making, innovation projects and community messaging campaigns.
- Communication strategies to keep staff and partners current with internal, local, regional, national and worldwide progress. This helped address concerns and identify needs quickly. Strategies included townhall sessions for all staff, business townhall sessions with local partners, “We Not Me” masking campaign and #SaukItCOVID social media campaign for social distancing, in addition to the distribution of reports mentioned above, as just a few examples.
Key operational changes have included:
- Implementing a virtual care model over several weeks. Prior to the pandemic, SPH had no virtual care options and through focused effort, the team was able to evaluate, implement and begin utilizing a virtual care platform in primary care, specialty care and acute care.
- Integrating a virtual work environment/work from home model deployed quickly and continuously refined. Prior to the pandemic, very limited work from home situations existed across the organization, but to protect staff and patients in the initial response, a new virtual work environment was created to include expanded VPN capabilities, virtual communication and meeting platforms, standards of virtual meetings/conduct and new team/department norms.
- Benefit restructuring to support staff through reduction in hours, quarantine situations and vaccine reactogenicity.
- Continuous employment: There were no layoffs during the pandemic response by actively redeploying staff to new roles such as COVID-19 screening, testing coordination/swabbing, innovation projects and other identified needs.
- Developing and executing a centralized drive-thru COVID-19 testing location in a matter of weeks to support patients being referred for testing, presurgical patients needing to be tested and countywide community testing.
- Transforming spaces in an administrative building into “hotel rooms” for staff to utilize if they were feeling too exhausted to travel, had sick family members or just needed a place to relax after a shift.
- Built a six-bed COVID-19 unit within the existing acute care operational area which was environmentally isolated from all other care areas allowing to keep patients local while ensuring there was minimal risk to other patients in the facility.
- Developing and implementing employee COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Effort included education of staff, electronic documentation of staff vaccination, physical processes supporting all aspects of vaccinating and public communications/promotion of how important getting vaccinated is to SPH and to the community when they are eligible. Achieved over 80% vaccination rate with all employees.
- Holding a community mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic offsite from existing clinical spaces. Vaccine clinic went from concept to execution in two weeks and has been crucial in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, and the sometimes limited resources of a small rural hospital, SPH was able to rally and thrive together with the community, providers and team members to maintain the mission to provide extraordinary health care from the heart, one person at a time.