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How to close your hospital (temporarily) due to COVID

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You’ve been social distancing for months, gone completely curbside, but what if that still isn’t enough? What if a staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and the rest of the staff is exposed? What if you need to close your hospital temporarily until the risk of further infection is over?

What’s your plan?

So far, not many AAHA-accredited hospitals have had to close due to COVID—though several other hospitals have—but with cases spiking in many parts of the country, it could just be a matter of time. And you need a plan.

Veterinary practice consultant Melissa Thompkins, CVPM, has a plan. And you’re welcome to borrow it.

Thompkins owns South Coast Veterinary Management Solutions in Long Beach, California. As a former practice manager, she knows how to run a hospital—and how to temporarily close one. She posted her plan for COVID-related hospital closure on her website and discussed the key points with NEWStat.

Thompkins says any plan for temporary closure starts with clear communication. With your staff, with your clients, and with your vendors.

Staff

First, establish clear lines of communication with your employees. Before you send them home for the duration, get their updated contact information. That may sound like a no-brainer, Thompkins says, “But you’d be surprised how many hospitals don’t have ready access to employee phone numbers.” She’s seen hospitals using staff contact lists that are two years out of date.

Thompkins says it’s critical that you have their emergency contact information as well. That might seem like another no-brainer, but Thompkins says a lot of hospitals don’t collect that info. If you can’t get ahold of a team member through regular channels, it might be because they had to be admitted to the hospital; you need to know who to contact to find out.

If you’re closing due to employee exposure, Thompkins says it’s vital that you keep in regular touch with all staff to track their health: “Have they been tested? What are the results? Are they showing symptoms? How are they feeling? Make sure you have contact info for local government health agencies so you can update them, too.”

Clients

Make sure you’re communicating what’s going on to your clients. Thompkins says it’s important to be transparent: “Tell them why you’re closed. Let them know how to access their pet’s medical records, how to get their prescriptions, and where to go for medical care until you reopen.” The hospital needs to be on top of that, Thompkins says. “Nothing will [anger] a client faster than them having to scramble to figure all that out for themselves.”

She’s seen this happen at one practice that had to close due to COVID. “A client called and their voicemail said, ‘Please leave a message, we’ll call you back in 24 hours.’ Three days later, the client still hadn’t heard anything. And they were very upset.”

Don’t risk losing a client over a disorganized closing. “Make sure you have the ability to check your voicemail, or email, or whatever communication tools your clients use, and check it regularly.”

Vendors

Alert your vendors that you’re going to be closed and make appropriate arrangements. Thompkins suggests considering the following: Are you getting shipments? What’s going to happen to them? Are they going to be sent back? Or are they going to be piling up at your front door? If you have cremation pickups and drop offs, you’ll need to cancel those, too.”

Thompkins says the point is to have a plan in place before you decide you have to close. “So, if it does happen, you can just spend an hour notifying whomever you need to notify instead of scrambling to pull together all that information at the last minute.”

“This is stuff you need to figure out now, today,” Thompkins adds. “How will you handle remote access? Are you going to use computers from the practice? Or will staff use their own computers at home? Are you going to be able to transfer phone calls? If you do close, who’s going to be making the decisions and handling communications? And who’s going to do it if that person gets sick?”

Decide now, Thompkins says, before you need to know.

Photo credit: © iStock/Kanawa_Studio