The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly challenged our healthcare system, requiring hospitals and healthcare facilities to continually adapt, innovate and collaborate as we try to better understand and respond to this novel virus. For Weiss Memorial Hospital and our skilled nursing facility/post-acute care partners in Uptown, maintaining a close relationship throughout the pandemic has been a priority—and we have become more resilient as a result.

COVID Challenges

To overcome the many challenges of the pandemic, Weiss and our skilled nursing facility partners established COVID task forces. The task forces created new protocols involving strict PPE usage and guided the development of COVID units to isolate those affected by the virus.

“Our biggest challenge was not having enough information—or wrong information to guide us. Things were changing so rapidly at the onset of the pandemic,” stated Bert Heinemann, Owner, Everest Care Group that includes Uptown TLC. “Working together with our community partners has really helped.”

Weiss physicians have helped lead these COVID teams through the evolving pandemic landscape. “We were lucky to have Suzanne Pham, MD, Medical Director of the Weiss COVID Response Team, and other attending physicians to provide guidance and help us figure out how to deal with the pandemic,” stated Jay Evans, Vice President, Operations, Chicago Methodist Senior Services—Wesley Place. “There were a lot of unknowns, a lack of reliable information and fear from staff. We’ve come a long way from the early days of the pandemic.”

“In the beginning we felt overwhelmed amid the seriousness of the pandemic and the effect of the virus on the residents and staff,” stated Heinemann.  He told his staff, “We need to accept this new reality and face this new threat head on.” With Weiss internist Dominic Gaziano, MD, heading their new task force, they began to work more as an Emergency Department – becoming more like ED nurses and clinicians, providing each patient individualized care “right then, right now” as their needs changed. The rapid change in approach effectively decreased the number of patients needing to go to the hospital, which helped ease the pressure on Weiss. Uptown TLC reports no new COVID cases for several weeks. For Wesley Place, the development of COVID protocols successfully mitigated the virus for its residents. “Our clinical team is very proud of remaining COVID free among our residents,” said Evans.

Adequate staffing during the pandemic—due to illness and fear of the virus—also has been a major concern. Since universal COVID testing began, asymptomatic COVID-positive staff members continue to be identified, all requiring 14-day quarantine periods. For many hospitals and healthcare facilities, hazard pay and the use of nursing agencies has helped maintain adequate staffing. For Wesley Place, involvement in a new Illinois program that offers TNAs (temporary nursing assistants) and participation with their own nursing recruitment program with the Philippines has helped avoid difficult staffing issues.  For Mosaic Healthcare’s Lakeshore facility, investing time with each staff member has been key to alleviating staff shortages. Leadership began redefining roles, delegating responsibilities and empowering staff to address the healthcare threat more effectively. Weiss internist Olumuyiwa Idowu, MD, the facility’s medical director, also has played a critical role leading Lakeshore’s COVID task force.

Leadership at both Weiss and our skilled nursing facility partners share sincere appreciation and pride for the incredible dedication and endurance of staff during this difficult time.

“During each stage of this pandemic our staff has shown amazing resiliency. They come to work with positive attitudes and are proud to serve their patients. Not enough can be said to thank our CNAs, nurses, and team leaders for their dedication, compassion and perseverance,” shared Heinemann.

“At the onset of the pandemic the anxiety level of our staff was through the roof. Strong leadership by Shannon Jones, our Administrator and Director of Nursing, set ‘a lead by example’ precedent that trickled down to staff. It was the confident reminder that ‘you went to school for this, you’re trained for this’ that made the difference,” stated Nathan Davis, Chief Executive Officer, Mosaic Healthcare – The Mosaic of Lakeshore facility.

Adapting to a New Environment of Care

One bright spot amid the COVID pandemic has been the rallying together as a team, within and across healthcare facilities.  All serving a common purpose, Weiss and our skilled nursing facility partners are helping each other defeat a common enemy. And we’re coming out stronger as a result of tackling so many challenges along the way.

As the world becomes more “virtual” we have become adept at connecting our patients and residents to family members for much needed support. As healthcare professionals we have adapted quickly, sharing best practices within our own organizations and across our communities where distance no longer hinders collaboration.

Our communities are rallying behind our healthcare facilities as well. The outpouring of support from the Uptown community is palpable with each meal delivered and each donation made. “As a non-profit we rely on strong support from our community. Each year we run a Giving Tuesday campaign before Thanksgiving. This year we decided to run the May 5th Giving Tuesday Now campaign to help us during this challenging time. We received an outpouring of donations that went toward PPE for staff, and are keeping both staff and residents safe,” said Allison Follmer, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Chicago Methodist Senior Services.

A Strong Partnership Ahead

“Weiss and our post-acute care partners work hand-in-hand to provide patients with the right level of care at the right time,” stated Brenda Routson, Director of Business Development at Weiss. Many Uptown residents come to Weiss Memorial Hospital for care and receive post-hospital care at one of the area skilled nursing facilities. Some of these patients are long-term residents at these facilities, and some are there for short-term rehabilitation and are then discharged back to their homes in the community. Additionally, several Weiss physicians are medical directors at the area facilities. They are attentive to the elderly patients and provide continuity of care while the patients are in the hospital and then see the same patients in the skilled nursing facilities.

In response to the pandemic, Weiss and our skilled nursing facility partners have formed a Post-Acute leadership Forum to embark on projects that will provide an even higher-quality continuum of care network in the Uptown community. The Forum improves transparency, enhances communication, and provides opportunities for education and sharing of new processes between facilities. Our shared focus is on improving each patient’s healthcare experience while at the hospital or the skilled nursing facilities.

“Through our partnership we have learned a lot about our strengths and weaknesses and the importance of trusting each other. We are all smarter today than we were even six months ago and together we will move forward,” stated Davis.

Post-COVID, Weiss and our skilled nursing facility partners will emerge stronger with new regulations and protocols to serve as a foundation for future healthcare crises. Better communication, greater transparency and sharing of best practices have set the groundwork for a stronger healthcare system overall.