Shannon McCowan, chief operating officer for Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, put it simply: 2020 was a challenging year.
“It has changed the way that we look at delivering health care,” she says.
It should come as no surprise that companies and their employees’ understanding of health care has shifted drastically over the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a completely new idea of how health care is delivered, provided and sustained. Here in the Upstate, the challenges the health care sector face are no different than in other parts of the country. While COVID-19 isn’t the only concern companies and health care professionals have, it certainly has left its mark.
Disruptions to running a health care business
Not only have hospitals and medical clinics stopped some of their normal services, but their entire business became intricately tied to the pandemic. Telehealth, the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies, has grown exponentially, McCowan says. Before the pandemic, there were hardly any telehealth options at Bon Secours, but the health system rapidly adopted the technology.
Additionally, at the onset of the pandemic, there were concerns over the shortage of personal protective equipment — medical face masks, face shields, gloves, and so on — and there were pandemic-related supply chain disruptions. When some manufacturers stopped producing as the economy hit a rut in the spring of 2020, McCowan says finding health care instruments, including surgical equipment and supplies, also became a concern.
“Those folks that are working in the supply chain and supply distribution lines,” McCowan says, are “unsung heroes.”
“It has strengthened relationships between our vendors … but it has created new relationships as well, because we have looked at alternate suppliers and providers that before we may not have had to rely on.”
Another challenge is the logistics of managing a staff of health care professionals during a pandemic. Not only do staff need to be on top of the COVID-19 units, but, McCowan notes, there are still other patients who need care.
And just like the medical equipment manufacturers that had to halt production due to the pandemic, health care providers have had to stop some treatments over the course of the pandemic as they’ve also been forced to furlough staff. McCowan says Bon Secours has looked to bring in agency staffing, which is already stretched thin due to the situation across the country.
Educating companies on keeping employees safe
Medical professionals are also trying to help companies understand not only what’s happening during the pandemic but how to keep employees safe in general.
Companies have reached out to Bon Secours to perform on-site temperature checks, screenings and education on the correct usage of PPE, says Denise Diaz, director of business health services at Bon Secours.
“Mostly, companies are looking for preventative services, so they want to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to health care,” says Diaz.
“I try to encourage [companies] to cross-train people, so that somebody is not doing the same thing, making the same widget using the same motion 10 hours a day, five days a week, 12 months a year,” says Bon Secours’ Dr. James Oliver who works with Diaz and provides medical assistance to the health system’s business partners. “Some companies wisely rotate jobs and rotate them according to mechanical use, so that [the employee is] not overusing certain parts of their body.”
Health care, the workplace and the future
The health care policies and benefit programs offered by companies are also getting a once-over. HR professionals have seen their jobs drastically change in 2020, not only having to come up with new work-from-home policies but also navigating health protocols to ensure a healthy work environment and access to adequate care.
“There’s a lot of employee assistance programs in corporate benefits where employees are able to speak with professionals around mental health, stress and anxiety,” says Matt Wilson of Scott Benefit Services, a company that provides support to Greenville and Spartanburg area companies. The use of those programs has “skyrocketed,” he said.
At Prisma Health, Kelly Crocker, director of benefits, says the three priorities the health system are sticking with going into 2021 are virtual access to providers, expanding total wellbeing initiatives and expanding their financial wellbeing programs. The financial wellbeing aspect includes helping connect employees with vendors that could help with debt consolidation and student loan assistance. “It’s all around finding the right access for them,” Crocker says.
For changes in health care policies, Leslie Hayes, founder and president of The Hayes Approach, an HR consulting firm in Greenville, says many of her clients, which are small to mid-sized businesses, are just trying to weather the storm at the moment. That may change when companies start to renew their benefits packages in the next year.
What is critical now is safety in the workplace, which is the focus of daily conversations with clients, says Hayes. “If you’re running a warehouse, you can’t drive forklifts from the house. So how do we keep people safe, how do we get the work done — things as seemingly simple as how do we perform a two-person lift on a heavy item in a warehouse if two people have to be 6 feet apart at all times?”
Pandemic aside, Wilson says there are two important things for companies to be doing when it comes to possibly reassessing their benefits package for employees: understand how the benefits offered will marry up with business goals and strategy and make sure employees are educated about health care. He also recommends diving more into health care data: “Without great data, it’s hard to make great decisions.”
Hayes says HR professionals are seeing more creative solutions working with primary care services directly. She says there are bound to be more varieties of those choices to allow people to receive more affordable health care services. Hayes mentions the rise in telehealth has also changed how health care is delivered.
“I think all of that is going to inform the way that the health insurance companies position their plans, and the way that health plans are structured and delivered,” she says.