LIMA — Where would we be without the skilled healthcare professions in the community? Probably in a lot worse shape in light of the ongoing pandemic.
When the pandemic hit last spring, Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center had to adapt overnight to a new normal.
“Within the walls of the hospital, we had to look at the various roles and skills of our healthcare workforce and be ready to adapt and to be working in different areas to use different skills and to be willing to be trained in new areas,” said Ronda Lehman, president of Mercy Health Lima. “We needed to reach out to patients in a different way. So while people were quarantined or at work, we needed to be able to figure out how to communicate with them, how to do virtual telehealth visits and establish a different relationship with our patients than what we had in the past.”
Lima Memorial Health System already had measures in place in case a pandemic did hit, like it did.
“We were nationally recognized for our comprehensive infection prevention program before (the pandemic) started. So we got a jump start on it a little bit. We really implemented a large number of new safety measures based on the recommendations from the CDC and other experts,” said Mike Swick, president and CEO of Lima Memorial Health System.
Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys was also ready.
“We’ve implemented many strategies to continue to operate safely,” said Cynthia Berning, president and CEO of Joint Township District Memorial Hospital. “Staff monitor their health daily for signs and symptoms to ensure they are safe to come to work. Employee masking is required at all times. Most meetings have been converted to virtual; those that are held in-person have been moved to a space that will allow for physical distancing. We have limited entrances to the hospital and placed screeners at that entrance to monitor signs and symptoms of those patients and care partners entering the building. We have limited visitors within the facility and implemented alternative video visits to keep patients connected with their loved ones. Waiting rooms have been modified to allow for physical distancing. Just-in-time rooming has been implemented at many of the practices to decrease exposure to other patients seeking care.”
Lima Memorial used technology to help them during the pandemic.
“We still have our disinfecting robots which are able to basically eliminate 99.9% of the germs in the hospital. So those have been running 24/7 and thanks to the generosity of our foundation, we were able to add two more. So now we have four that are really set up to be able to make sure that when we look at what we have, the safety of the community is important to us,” Swick said.
As for the lasting lessons learned from the pandemic, it’s clear virtual health is here to stay.
“The public has embraced it,” said Dr. Matthew Owens, chief clinical officer at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center. “It’s certainly not a majority of the visits that we perform but about 20% or so of every visit that we conduct is done through a virtual means. Patients like the ease of access and not having to travel, particularly if they’re coming to see us from a bit farther away.”
Swick says the biggest thing they’ve learned is just how good their staff is.
“I just didn’t know how good until this pandemic kicked off. I’m so proud of our team because of the dedication and commitment to both the patients and the community. People were doing jobs that they weren’t doing before and they were able to step up for that. I think probably the best message during this pandemic is we’ve learned to be flexible. Every time we ask someone to step up to the plate, they did it every time,” Swick said. “They put the patient and family needs ahead of their own. (They’re) healthcare heroes, they really are in terms of what they are able to do for us.”
Changing gears to help treat COVID-19 was something Mercy Health Lima was able to do because of their staff.
“One of the things that it has definitely taught us is to not be so attached to what we’ve always known, and how to learn to pivot very quickly,” said Cory Werts, chief nursing officer at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center. “We definitely learned to be extremely agile. It was overnight where we had to turn operations upside down and figure out how to best take care of those patients and best take care of the staff.”
Both Lima hospitals have done what they could to keep their staff’s mental health in check.
“The more we’re listening to what they’re going through and addressing how that’s impacting them, the better off that we are,” Werts said. “Through that listening, we have definitely developed programs and partnerships, built around ensuring that they feel supported and they have the tools and equipment they need to do their job, as well as allowing them to process anything that has impacted them mentally also.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.