A few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the East Coast, Pulmonary Associates of Richmond (PAR) in Virginia had its chief executive officer depart, leaving a crucial role open for one of the nation’s largest private pulmonary practices, with more than 30 physicians, 19 advanced practice clinicians (APCs) and about 175 employees.
Amanda Tucker, director of operations, had to step in and play both roles prior to and through the pandemic. According to PAR’s Karen Leyda, Tucker was instrumental in working to get the large group quickly shifted to telehealth despite historic reluctance to adopt the services by the physicians.
The pulmonologists “wanted their patients to come in,” especially since most of the visits involved a patient with some type of illness. But since many of the physicians also rotate in and out of the local hospitals’ ICUs, it became a necessity once COVID-19 arrived and they insisted on shutting down offices to keep everyone safe.
“We found out on a Monday that the doctors wanted the staff to be cleared out, and all staff were gone by Tuesday,” Leyda said, noting that in that day, dozens of staff were sent home with computers and getting set up to use Doxy.me while also calling all of PAR’s patients about shifting to telehealth visits.
Patients “kind of fought us at first” about telemedicine, since they didn’t understand how visits over the phone or via video would work. “We had to calm some of those fears … and now some of our patients really love it,” Leyda said.
Keeping connections strong
That rapid expansion of telehealth meant that PAR stayed fairly busy through the first months of the pandemic, which meant very minimal changes in terms of furloughs. Aside from some recently hired employees who weren’t trained yet who were furloughed, the only other changes were furloughs in PAR’s sleep center, which was shut down through June — at which point the sleep techs returned.
Since then, PAR’s offices had a soft reopening in June, with one front desk person and one medical assistant available to help bring in patients who don’t have access to video visits.
Leyda said there was a learning curve in keeping everyone motivated and making sure work was getting done, but she credits Tucker for having Zoom meetings regularly and ensuring managers checked in on staff. “Amanda’s done an amazing job at trying to keep them encouraged. … She’s been a great resource for us managers,” Leyda noted.
“The first day that I had to pack them all up and sent them home, I won't lie, we had people in tears,” Leyda said. But with a mix of thank-you messages to the staff and ongoing engagement to help them staff comfortable with working from home, “now I have people that don't want to come back” to the office, Leyda admitted.
Leyda stressed that those communications with teleworking staff were important in letting employees know “that we’re here for them” and emphasizing a family-style connection among the team. “You spend majority of your life at work,” so that family focus was vital for PAR to keep morale up and “keep people focused and wanting to do their jobs,” even while struggling with the inherent fears of life during a public health crisis or the demands of managing children home from school.
“Everyone has stepped up in this time of crisis, but [Amanda] has went above and beyond for Pulmonary Associates,” Leyda said. “I feel very blessed that she is our operations manager and friend.”
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