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Keeping the “Community” in Community Hospital

When Augusta Health’s hospital incident command structure was activated on March 13, 2020, in response to COVID-19, priorities shifted dramatically.

Establishing a Well-Functioning HICS

Augusta Health’s paramount priority in 2020 was keeping its team members safe while caring for a community impacted by a pandemic. The organization’s hospital incident command structure developed and activated an unexpected and all-consuming “product line” to manage COVID-19.

The HICS transformed the hospital almost overnight: carving out negative pressure respiratory care units within the hospital to care for COVID-19 patients; creating an essential negative pressure hallway within the ED; converting an urgent care center to a respiratory assessment center and mass testing center and directing anyone with respiratory symptoms to seek care at that single location; establishing a COVID-19 care call center; and coordinating all the policies, procedures, staff and supplies needed to plan and care for a surge in patients.

Implementing a Clear Strategic Plan
In 2019, Augusta Health’s board of directors approved a five-year strategic plan, Journey 2025, a comprehensive directive to meet the community’s emerging health needs. The plan defines eight driving strategies, implementation tactics and quarterly milestones. Several tactics are combined into the organization’s Enhanced Access driving strategy, including primary and specialty outpatient satellites in three geographic locations; a dedicated diabetes center on campus; virtual health through telemedicine; and a dedicated outpatient facility on campus to accommodate the community’s growing need for accessible and affordable outpatient services.

Deploying Frequent Communication
Since March 2020, the staff and community have received regular communication about hospital activity and community trends. Augusta Health is the community’s primary healthcare provider; therefore, it was essential that the organization communicate critical information about the pandemic proactively. Though the primary content of communications has been COVID-19-related, progress on other hospital projects also has been incorporated into messaging.

Internal email messages from the CEO and virtual town halls provided staff an opportunity to address Augusta Health leaders in a Q&A format. During the rapid evolution of the COVID-19 response in spring, employee communications were sent daily for the first 45 days and then twice weekly. A COVID-19 section was created on the hospital’s website with statistics, informative articles and updates on the hospital’s policies and procedures. Clear and consistent messaging to the media reduced community concerns and promoted safe and healthy behaviors. More than 550 internal and external communications were deployed in 2020.

Taking Care of Us
As the largest private employer in the area, Augusta Health pledged there would be no furloughs during the pandemic. Employees who elected to remain full time were retrained and redeployed to directly support COVID-19 efforts. Additional employee support included childcare assistance; ready-to-eat, take-home family meals from the cafeteria; and free hotel accommodations. The system also provided professional, emotional and spiritual support, and the community supported the staff through donated supplies and visible messages of encouragement.

With anxieties mitigated and jobs secure, the team has continually been able to focus on patient care at a time when it is desperately needed.

Adapted from “Keeping the ‘Community’ in Community Hospital,” Healthcare Executive, Mary N. Mannix, FACHE, president/CEO of Augusta Health, Fishersville, Va.

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