One of the biggest challenges home care agencies have faced over the last 12 months is navigating the COVID-19 crisis, to keep operations going while minimizing the risk to employees and clients. Most agencies have adapted well to new ways of working remotely that have left their offices and other facilities relatively empty.
As government restrictions are gradually lifted, home care agency leaders now need to determine how and when to begin the complex task of bringing staff back to the workplace in the aftermath.
Your workforce’s health and safety need to be the top priority as you consider how to bring operations back to some semblance of normality – safeguarding staff well-being is vital because no plan to resume ‘normal’ operations will succeed without it!
When planning a return to the workplace, there are many things to consider for both office staff and caregivers. The timing and processes you adopt will depend on several factors, including the risk level of the type of work they do, the location of your home care agency, local and state orders, and much more.
It is also critical to look at how returning to the workplace will impact efficiency and productivity and consider how your staff are likely to feel about returning to an office environment or reestablishing in-home visits with clients.
A recent survey revealed that almost 70% of employees said they would not return to the office or worksite if asked by their employer, with 51% of those citing fear of getting sick as their main reason for staying at home.
Therefore, your plans will need to take into account what is required to guarantee your employees feel safe and secure about returning to workplace environments.
Here we’ve put together six key considerations to make when planning the safe return of your staff to the workplace:
1. Review and update your risk assessment
Just as you would under normal working conditions, it is important to first identify and assess risk – both physical and psychosocial – in your home care agency working environments.
As COVID-19 measures are lifted, it will be necessary to revise your risk assessment, paying attention to any anomalies or situations that could cause problems and how you can help your agency become more resilient in the long term.
It is essential to involve your home care team in the risk assessment revisions early on and engage your risk prevention or occupational health provider if you have one. Engaging your staff in assessing risks and developing responses will not only help in designing preventive measures they can work with but also in ensuring they are implemented successfully.
As input to your assessment, you will also need to obtain up-to-date information from the public authorities on the COVID-19 situation specific to your area.
2. Make an action plan
Once your risk assessment is completed, the next step will be to make an action plan with appropriate measures for your home care agency.
In Part 2: Nine Key Considerations to Include in Your Action Plan, we look at practical preventative measures you can implement as part of your action plan, to safeguard office staff and caregivers.
Whichever measures you decide to include in your action plan for implementation, it is vital that you clearly communicate these to your team and provide any training necessary to ensure the measures are correctly followed.
3. Ensure clear and early communication
Open, two-way communication lines with office staff and caregivers will be necessary to clearly explain revised policies and processes for them returning safely to work. Coordination and transparency are critical during these early stages of transition, and targeted communication provides an ideal opportunity for you to ensure all staff:
- know and understand their rights
- know who to contact with any queries or concerns
- understand new workplace flexibilities and other HR policies and procedures
- receive policy updates and further guidance, as needed
- are educated about any technology you are using to keep them safe, while also protecting their privacy
- are inspired with confidence and trust.
If you haven’t already done so during the COVID-19 crisis, now is the time to find the most effective way for your home care agency to keep the channels of communication open and maintain staff engagement. While telephone calls and scheduled video conferencing meetings can address many communication needs, mobile communications and In-App chat messaging will also be essential. These can help you deliver critical information in real-time and ensure a faster response from your team, while also providing valuable opportunities for social interaction between colleagues.
With 53% of workers wanting better mobile experiences for work applications and data, if you aren’t already using mobile devices as a primary channel, now is a great time to start. Make sure you put the power of mobile technology and smartphone apps in the hands of everyone on your team and not just caregivers. Mobile platforms, like SMARTcare’s app for iOS and Android, are available for every user, from caregivers, office staff and schedulers on the go, to clients/patients and the families that care about them. All completely secure, with role-based mobile access to ensure everyone gets to see just what they need.
Remember, you also need to consider how agency workers and contractors will access the same information as your direct employees.
4. Provide training
Special training will need to be considered, depending on the type of work each member of your team will be carrying out, along with general information on COVID-19 procedures, including:
- the signs, symptoms, and risk factors associated with COVID-19
- where, how, and what sources of COVID-19 employees might be exposed to in the workplace
- how to prevent the spread of the virus at work
- what your home care agency is doing to protect them (including site-specific measures)
- wearing facemasks in the workplace (including your agency’s policies related to their use)
- how to put on, use, and take off PPE correctly
- how to clean, maintain, store, and dispose of PPE safely
- what the limitations of PPE are.
5. Stay well-informed and proactive in planning for the future
It’s important to remember that this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint!
As the pandemic crisis subsides, with vaccination programs being rolled out across the country, information is likely to be issued specifically to the home health care industry, which will be frequently updated. It is vital that you continue to stay well-informed and proactive. Sign up for alerts from trusted sources like the CDC or your local health department.
The overwhelming amount of information related to COVID-19 can make it difficult to differentiate the accurate and reliable from the vague and misleading. Always check the original source of information is an established and qualified provider.
Staying on top of the latest trends and using accurate data to predict what is coming next has always been key to success in home care, which is even more critical during the pandemic. With the right tools in place, you can use real-time, actionable information to make better decisions with confidence. You can also connect to other sources of information to forecast impacts on your agency, for example, hot spots in local areas that may affect or interrupt your operations.
You can use a mobile app-based COVID-19 tools set to continue to monitor and mitigate risk for your caregivers and clients. These systems continually remind your staff of the best practices for mitigating infection and give real-time alerts if any team members do become symptomatic.
Most of all, continue to talk daily with your staff and caregivers to understand what is happening in your immediate business environment so you can continue to adapt to any changes rapidly.
While vaccination against COVID-19 should eventually bring the pandemic to an end, it is important to draw up or update your agency’s crisis contingency plans for potential shutdown and start-up events in the future.
Even small businesses can make a checklist to ensure they can be proactive if such events occur in the future.
6. Use software tools to mitigate risk
For most home care agencies, it will be a complex challenge to bring workers back onsite in a way that keeps them safe, makes them feel secure, and reduces risk. The only way to accomplish all of this efficiently is to automate as much of the process as possible. Implementing an automated solution like SMARTcare software can help.
The SMARTcare COVID-19 Tool Set gives you all the information you need fast, so you can:
- make critical decisions based on the latest information
- quickly communicate changing conditions to your workforce
- send real-time, consistent communication to your staff/caregivers about health and safety protocols, policy updates and guidance
- educate staff about the technology you are using to keep them safe, while also protecting their privacy
- tap into your own tools, policies, and systems for case management, alerts, and workforce planning as you work to help build confidence and protect your team
- provide an immediate point of contact for any staff queries or concerns
- take actions to manage and minimize illness-related risks to your workforce.
With so much at stake, you cannot afford to leave anything to chance. Take control of your home care agency’s return-to-work journey with technology that makes an unprecedented situation much easier to manage and sustain.
In Part 2: Nine Key Considerations to Include in Your Action Plan, we look at practical preventative measures you can implement as part of your action plan to safeguard your office staff and caregivers, including engineering controls, basic hygiene, social distancing and contact tracing.
Let us know how we can help!
To apply for Tool Set access, agencies can go to https://smartcaresoftware.com/resources/covid19toolset-apply/