Dear State Leaders, Partners and Stakeholders:
On March 19, we presented you with our Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) addressing how critical operations would continue during the COVID-19 crisis. We would like to take this opportunity to provide you with an update on our COOP implementation and highlight some of the plan’s key components that are helping to minimize service disruption and capitalize on resources both agency-wide and with our community partners.
As the pandemic worsens, we are responding to growing challenges and taking every possible measure to prioritize the safety of our staff, keep the doors of our facilities open to those most in need, and innovate our delivery of high-quality care. Our staff are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response providing critical health care and social services. In order to protect our staff, patients, and clients to the greatest degree possible while still providing the same, or in some cases increased, level of patient capacity, we have redesigned several aspects of our operations and the ways in which we support those operations.
According to several media reports, other FQHCs are seeing significant drops in patient volume, ranging anywhere from a decrease of 30-80%. And according to an analysis by Capital Link, a non-profit financial services company that works with primary care associations, the significant drop in patient encounters means that 37% of health centers in Illinois are at risk of shutting down within the next three months.
However, I feel compelled to share with you that this is not Aunt Martha’s reality. The results of our efforts over the past several weeks, some of which I shared with you in my last communication, have already become apparent. We have rather successfully mitigated our reduction in patient volume, with patient volume being down less than 15% over the past few weeks and more than 5% of that being attributed to suspension of all non-emergent dental services based on recommendations from the CDC and the American Dental Association. I am exceptionally pleased to report that through the expansion of telehealth network wide, yesterday Aunt Martha’s was able to surpass our daily projected patient encounter numbers by 9%.
In order to maintain those capacity levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are of course dependent on our frontline staff – our physicians, nurses, therapists, medical assistants, medical office assistants, and the many other dedicated staff who care for our patients and clients on a daily basis. Over the past several weeks, we have seen very limited staff call-offs, with the number of people calling off on a daily basis ranging from 35 to 40 staff agency wide, which represents only 4-5% of our nearly 800 staff members and a small fraction of what some other health centers are experiencing.
While our low call-off rates are a testament to the dedication of our staff, we believe that it would not be possible without leadership’s regular, comprehensive communication with staff. Since my last communication, the Aunt Martha’s leadership team has performed dozens of site visits, sent a total of 10 all-staff memos with updates on our COVID-19 response efforts, and hosted two live webinars that provided informational updates as well as Q&A sessions. Our latest webinar occurred on Friday, April 3rd and was attended by approximately 600 of our nearly 800 staff. It provided us yet another opportunity to detail our response plan efforts and our commitment to ensuring staff, patient, and client safety. Following that webinar, I received direct communication from nearly 15% of our frontline staff expressing their appreciation for the webinar and stating that the information provided had elevated a lot of the anxiety they had been feeling.
We are grateful for your continued partnership and support which has helped us remain agile and resourceful during this extremely challenging time. While we face many obstacles, rest assured that we are making every effort to protect the safety of our staff while continuing to serve our communities.
President and Chief Executive Officer
The following are adjustments we have made to health center operations in order to maintain staff and patient safety:
- Where possible, we have shifted staff to providing telehealth services and other telework that are HIPAA-compliant. In a period of one week, we saw an increase of telehealth usage by 70%.
- We began piloting a new curbside appointment plan for patients exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms at our Chicago Height Vincennes health center on April 6.
- We have signage on our front doors asking patients to call or text and safely remain in their vehicles until they receive a call or text that they may safely enter the clinic.
- They will be greeted at the door by our staff, asked to put on a face mask, and escorted to an isolation room to be seen by their provider.
- We have installed 12 plexiglass shields at seven of our health center locations.
- This week, we are installing 30 table top plexiglass barriers at the reception areas of all of our health center locations.
- We have aggressively enacted social distancing measures at all of our locations pursuant to guidance from the CDC.
- We have implemented deep cleaning protocols in accordance to EPA, OSHA, and CDC standards.
- Our janitorial vendors have switched to using hospital grade disinfectant to clean our location’s hard floor surfaces.
- We have worked with a certified industrial hygienist to establish a decontamination protocol.
- We are utilizing micro-fogging sanitization at our locations using a high-grade EPA-approved disinfectant on every surface.
- We have started the installation of sanitizers on our HVAC systems to continuously clean and decontaminate indoor air.