COVID-19 has undoubtedly affected every industry, especially those related to healthcare that have inherited the additional difficulty of caring for the sick and vulnerable during this trying time. However, not everything in the industry is negative. Challenges, especially ones as big as a global pandemic, have helped organizations grow and learn in ways they might not otherwise have. Challenges inspire teams to step up, and at the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA), team members have done so by supporting each other during this time.
Read an interview with Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mary Fox to learn her thoughts and reflections regarding COVID-19, and her hopes for 2021 and beyond.
What have been the biggest challenges regarding COVID-19 at VNA?
Our highest priority throughout this pandemic has been to do our best to prevent infection with COVID-19 in our patients, clients and staff. We are especially concerned about our frontline healthcare workers and their patients.
The biggest challenge in meeting this priority has been keeping on top of the constantly changing CDC (and other important) guidelines. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, these guidelines were in constant flux as our knowledge about the virus exploded. Our management team has worked diligently together to formulate sensible yet flexible policies for our organization.
Another challenge for VNA, as for most every other company in the United States, has been how to bridge the economic downturn. As a local, nonprofit, independent healthcare organization, the pandemic has spurred us to look for outside sources of financial support such as grants and government loans to bolster us as we journey through this unprecedented time.
What’s been the most unexpected challenge you faced regarding COVID-19?
For me, both as the Chief Medical Officer and a clinical physician, procuring and wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) has been surprisingly difficult. When the pandemic started in February, there were shortages in PPE. Our office manager spent countless hours hunting down the supplies we needed. Once the PPE arrived, our frontline workers underwent training to refresh their proficiency in its use.
The “lockdowns” in long term care and assisted living communities have also been an unexpected hurdle, particularly for our hospice staff. Unfortunately, despite state and national mandates to allow hospice staff into these facilities to care for terminally ill patients, our staff has often been turned away even with full PPE. This is especially hard on patient’s families since they are usually not allowed in either.
What are the main takeaways VNA has gathered from COVID-19?
VNA has learned a tremendous amount about the importance of calm leadership and effective teamwork during a time with no “templates” to go by. The integrity, tenacity and perseverance of all of our staff at the VNA has been absolutely inspiring in the face of unprecedented changes. I have been impressed time and time again with the ingenuity and fellowship within the organization during this pandemic and firmly believe we will overcome even this disastrous period in our long history.
What goals do you have for 2021?
As Chief Medical Officer, I look forward to expanding each of our excellent services. On every front, COVID-19 has changed the landscape dramatically. I want VNA to be one of the first local organizations to provide mass COVID-19 immunizations.
Additionally, I’d like to strengthen our Visit-A-Bit program to help support those seniors who have become even more socially isolated during 2020. I hope to see our care for patients with serious chronic illnesses under our Advanced Illness Management program expand to more remote areas in Missouri using virtual technology. Finally, people should be able to receive competent and compassionate care at the end of their lives without the fear that COVID-19 will prevent it.
For reliable information related to COVID-19, consult our Top 5 Public Health Resources.