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Using creativity and compassion to keep people safe in an ever-changing environment

Visitor at reception desk wearing face mask

When a global pandemic looms, how does an academic health system keep its thousands of frontline employees, vulnerable patients, learners and visitors safe? Through ingenuity, flexibility and compassion.

During a year of palpable public fear, halted and re-started elective procedures, and constant reinvention of policies and guidelines, VCU Health’s departments of safety and patient-centered services have collaborated in unprecedented ways to keep its community safe.

Restricting visitation, but allowing loved ones to be near

When hospitals across the country began restricting visitation, VCU Health established a temporary no-visitor policy to ensure safety of its patients and community. Immediately and widely communicating nuanced visitation policy changes was a priority, but VCU Health also understood the important role that family and friends play in patients’ healing and recovery.

The patient centered-services team developed two programs to ensure hospitalized patients could interact with their loved ones during its three-month full visitation restriction. The first, a virtual visitation program, equipped every nursing unit with a rigorously cleaned, traveling device – either a tablet or computer mounted atop a wheeled pole or a smart phone – preloaded with Zoom, text messaging and FaceTime so patients could see their family and friends. From May 1 - July 16, over 1,400 calls were initiated through the program. Through a second program, a virtual greeting card initiative, VCU Health hand-delivered over 400 notes to hospitalized patients from loved ones and strangers.

“Thumbs Up” for employee health

Concerned about its employees’ overall wellness and resiliency – not just the possibility of infection – VCU Health established a “Thumbs Up” program so team members could express their preparedness for the shift ahead. As an employee entered the hospital or clinic, they were met by a greeter who asked for a Thumbs Up indicating that they were feeling well, rested and ready to provide excellent patient care.

The program was adopted with enthusiasm, as colleagues cheered each other on and played music as their coworkers entered the hospital. Those who needed assistance were provided counseling services, wellness initiatives, free hotel housing if they did not want to go home to family after working with patients, and additional resources.

At-the-door wellness screenings

As the pandemic began, VCU Health quickly stood-up wellness screening stations at each of the eight entrances to its medical center to help ensure the health of all who entered the facility. The VCU Health safety department collaborated with in-house epidemiology experts and PPE procurers to develop a procedure and process for screening symptoms of COVID-19, and trained over 120 employees to conduct the screenings.

Seeing an average of 300 patients, 40 vendors and 3,800 team members per day, these screeners check for symptoms of COVID-19, de-escalate issues, request appropriate supplies and efficiently communicate with units throughout the hospital.

During a time of so many unknowns, VCU Health continues to develop creative solutions to keep its environment safe, without compromising the human-touch that employees, patients and their loved ones need.