Listen as we speak to Willow Health Care about how they've adapted during COVID-19.
Announcer: Welcome to the JMARK Business Innovation Technology Experience.
Male Interviewe…: Welcome everybody that is watching online or will watch online or watching later or listening later in the podcast, we are excited to be speaking with Shirley Alter the CEO of Willow Health Care Group, which is a long-term health care organization. And we’ve had a very, very lively pre-conversation. So looking forward to a fun conversation today.
So as we get into everything, it’s been a little bit crazy the last couple of months. And I imagine for you, it’s been exceptionally, I don’t know, maybe I don’t know if stressful is the right word? But with all the changes and everything you’re doing to try to protect the residents in your facility and your employees, did you have any employees that actually could move to a remote situation? Or do you have to actually be everybody on site?
Shirley Alter: We have actually all had to be on site. Perhaps we could have gone remote. We elected as a team to come in and be a support system for all of our five facilities, simply because in the health care world, we expect our employees to be at work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. So we all elected as a team to set the precedent that we would come to the office and that we would participate with them in however way we possibly could.
And with COVID, it has brought many challenges. Just like the rest of our country, we’ve been shut down, we’re not allowed to have vendors. CDC guidelines, Department of Health and Senior Services have set forth many regulations, which are hard, but I understand why we’ve had to implement them and do the things that we have done. So yes, it kind of has been a challenge, and in the world of which we live in today, communication is a big deal, not only among ourselves, but whenever we try to communicate with our families. And then to take it even one step farther, which is really critical in our organization, is the telemedicine aspect of it.
Male Interviewe…: Can you talk a little bit about that and how you’ve embraced telehealth and how that’s worked during this during COVID?
Shirley Alter: Telehealth, or telemedicine, it’s been something that we had never tried before until we were forced to do so in this pandemic. It’s actually turned out to be a really good thing for us. It has allowed us the ability to continue allowing our nurse practitioners to have eye-to-eye contact with our residents. It’s easy to communicate when you’re seeing each other face-to-face, of which we’ve utilized that, versus the telephone. We’ve actually been able to take our systems in place and actually show the residents, whether it be a skin assessment or contracture or something of that nature that actually needed to have a physician’s or nurse practitioner’s eye on them. Our physicians have even done their rounds via telemedicine. And one of the reasons why we elected to go telemedicine is because our providers go to so many different facilities and they potentially themselves could be a carrier, be asymptomatic, and bring something into our residents.
I’d like to say kudos to our staff and to our facilities, to date, we have not had a resident that has tested positive for COVID. So I say kudos to the infection control process, but in order to be able to implement the infection control process, we’ve had to do that through telemedicine and through different means of communication.
Female Intervie…: So how the all they will to keep up the culture within your organization during this obviously stressful time?
Shirley Alter: So, and I assume whenever you mean culture, you mean with the interactions, because we’re really big about promoting family involvement. So we have done a lot through FaceTime. We’ve done a lot through Facebook through chats, which has been a little bit challenging because some of our population, they are not used to modern technology. It’s been the phone system. So now it’s like, “Whoa, I actually get to see a face with that voice.” So the outcomes have been really good. If you ask me if there was a challenge, we are in a rural area, so sometimes our internet service is not the greatest, but we’ve been able to make it work.
Male Interviewe…: How has technology played a part in helping you to thrive and reduce risks during this time?
Shirley Alter: So with the ability to communicate, we’ve done a lot through our Tell and Team systems. That allows us to have eye-to-eye contact and meetings with our administrators, our directors of nurses, and even doing some education with our frontline staff. This has given us the ability to walk through programs, because you can select share your screen and we can actually see what they’re doing, or maybe see what’s holding them up from going onto the next process. You look at it from a financial aspect. Pre-pandemic, we would travel to the facilities. Financially, we’ve noticed that it has been a benefit to our facilities, because we’re not wasting an hour and a half driving. You actually get on your calls and you take care of business because nobody wants to sit behind a screen. We got to get going, we got to get this taken care of.
So it’s been really productive for us in all aspects. To put a dollar figure to it, I don’t know that we’ve actually sat down and done that. We’re governed by a seven-member board of directors. We have even conducted our board meetings via Tells, and it’s worked, it’s worked. And it’s actually been beneficial to those board members, because they are a board that volunteers their time, and some of them are still active workers in our community, and that doesn’t necessarily pull them out of their office, now. They’re able to be in their building, but yet participate.
Female Intervie…: You’ve talked about several changes that you all have kind of had to make, and we talk a lot about how it’s important for companies to utilize this time to adapt and innovate and come out in the better normal, not the new normal. So what changes have you all done that you foresee actually keeping?
Shirley Alter: Oh, we will continue to do our continuing education this way. I think one of the things that we’ve noted is in our AR review meetings, we have several processes that we do monthly, and this allows us to have the total record right there. It gives the ability for both people to go to their file systems and have them right there on hand. So, I mean, I would venture to say that most of the processes that we have adapted through this pandemic, we will continue.
Male Interviewe…: That’s really great. I find it so interesting that we go through life and we get in habits of doing certain things. And in business, we get in habits of doing certain things, and we think it’s the most efficient way. We like to think we’re efficient and organized and focused. And then this gets thrust upon us and our behaviors have to change, we’re forced to change. And we find out that some of those changes are actually more profitable for the organization, they help us be more productive, they help us be more focused, they help us take care and help people better. And I think that is such an important aspect that a lot of business owners aren’t getting right now. And I applaud you for what you’re doing, because we’ve seen so many companies that are holding onto the past and not embracing those changes of new behavior, and the telehealth, and driving to different places, and that behavior changes is most likely going to produce a lot of positive benefits for you and the residents. And I’m guessing that’s allowed you to better thrive during this the situation. So that’s really great to hear.
On another note, you talked a little bit about family and stuff and the culture, with this aura of risk hanging over you and people worrying about taking something home to their families, worrying about bringing something into the facility, to the residents, how has that affected the culture and the morale and stress in the organization? And how have you been able to overcome that?
Shirley Alter: It’s really difficult, because people are scared, they want to see their loved ones, they want to still be an active part of their lives. It’s difficult, and it’s difficult for our employees because there are so many unknowns out there. So what we’ve tried to do is to be a sense of normal for our staff and for our residents and for our families. Like I said, we’ve encouraged the social media, the chat sessions, the FaceTime, the Teams and all that. But we do deal with an older population, so it has been trying. I think you have to be innovative, you have to be willing to open up your thought process, because like I said earlier, we don’t know what our new normal is. I think that we’re going to have to be proactive in the approach, even moving forward. What’s out there for us to use? What haven’t we tried? What do we need to be trying? Because I think this pandemic can be with us for a while longer.
Male Interviewe…: That is very true. We just sent an email out today talking about that. We keep thinking we’re getting to the end of the first wave and things keep going up. And this idea of adapting to the hopefully better normal is really where business leaders need to focus. I was curious when you were talking about the residents and some of them not on Facebook and challenged technologically. What have you been able to do to help them to connect with their families? I’m guessing that they haven’t been able to come in and see them?
Shirley Alter: Correct. CDC and Department of Health and Senior Services have just opened up visitation guidelines within our skilled facilities. So therefore, the families are able to come on property now with scheduled visits. You still have to maintain your six foot distancing, and we use barriers or plexiglass shields to keep the separation between the families. As we move forward, we’re trying to educate the families with our process to say, “We may have 110 degree heat index out here. So it’s not going to be conducive for you or your residents to sit out here and do this. Let’s take it to a screen.” Some of these things, once we teach the process, and it’s educational training, we’re going to have to figure out how we can communicate to the family that you can stream this actually to your television. So it’s ongoing education. You have to adapt or adopt the motto that we’re never too old to learn. Change is always good. Change is always good.
Male Interviewe…: Absolutely. Well, maybe not always, but depends on how you look at it. It’s an opportunity.
Shirley Alter: Yes, you’re absolutely right. It’s all in how you look at it. And we are choosing to take the stance, something good always comes out of something bad.
Male Interviewe…: Right. I wanted to ask, lost my train of thought. I know you’ve looked at Workplace by Facebook, which is a program that we use at JMARK, it’s been a massive help in us. How do you see that possibly playing into the future of keeping the organization and the families connected to people?
Shirley Alter: You know, that’s something that we’re very, very interested in because it’s hard to reach every employee in your facility. And one of the common grounds that I’m seeing and hearing with people is, probably 95% of all of your employees have some form of a cell phone or technology, and that they have the ability to access Facebook. So you can send the messages to them, and they can be personal, it doesn’t have to be a group or whatever. You can build your support groups there. And whether it be a work situation or a home situation, people need that. They need the sense of connection. And right now, we’re saying, stay isolated, so my sense of connection is going to be in technology.
Female Intervie…: Yes. So you talked a little bit about staying secure as far as obviously COVID goes, but security risks, as far as technology goes, is a huge issue right now.
Shirley Alter: It is.
Female Intervie…: Especially with [crosstalk] organizations, it’s only gotten worse with COVID. So how are you all dealing with that?
Shirley Alter: Are you talking about cyber breaches and things like that?
Female Intervie…: Yes.
Shirley Alter: We have a very tight network, so I will have to say we’ve definitely put our hands in the hands of JMARK there, and they take very good care of us, and we have very good firewalls and security systems built there. One of the things that we’re doing with educating the staff is passwords and changing things of that nature more frequently. I don’t know if I answered your question correctly or not.
Female Intervie…: Definitely. And passwords is huge. The CEO of Kmart is constantly hammering that into everyone.
Shirley Alter: They are. And one of the things that we have also started doing here is called the phishing alerts, where you get a email that could be a little bit deceitful. It’s just educating people on what to look for and what’s out of our scope. I don’t necessarily receive emails at two o’clock in the morning from some of my colleagues. So if I would get something that was sent at that time, we’re wanting to teach people to recognize what is out of the norm.
Male Interviewe…: Yeah. The security is off the charts right now. It’s insane. Security was bad before COVID-19 and now it’s just gone exponentially up. And I loved how hackers put out a statement that they weren’t going to hack health care organizations during COVID, and then turn around and see massive hacks going on and … never, never lowered your guard.
Shirley Alter: Yeah. That was very kind of them.
Male Interviewe…: I wanted to look into the future a little bit, and how do you see Willow Health Care planning with technology, but even outside of that, but planning for the uncertainty of the future?
Shirley Alter: Oh gosh, planning for the future, I think it’s ongoing. I mean, just even right now, we’re looking at a different phone system, which will all be internet based, which will allow us more ability to communicate, we’ll be able to expand our services and outreach more people, I think. It’s kind of a new area for me, but I’m excited to get into it. We’re going to start our training process on that in about three weeks. So that’s one of the first steps that we’re doing, is looking into a different type of phone and communication system, definitely between our facilities, but that will branch out with our vendors and families and stuff as well.
Male Interviewe…: You’re talking about phone systems, like going to a virtual phone system-
Shirley Alter: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Male Interviewe…: That allows you to basically connect from anywhere?
Shirley Alter: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Male Interviewe…: And have there been any technology changes you’ve had to make or that you plan on making because of COVID-19 and the situation?
Shirley Alter: Well, you kind of hit on the security measures of it and educating there, that’s a big deal, because HIPAA is a big deal in the world of which we live in, those types of breaches. So security is a big thing for us.
Male Interviewe…: Yeah. On another note, how has the community been around you? I mean, you’re in a rural area, what’s been going on and how has Willow played a part in helping the community move forward in this situation?
Shirley Alter: Our community has been very, very supportive. As we all said, we are all learning together as we go through this pandemic. We’ve had town hall meetings. A lot of our meetings have all been virtual, just because we’ve kept the social distancing. We’ve complied with all the state and federal guidelines that have been set forth to us where you don’t meet in groups of 10 or more. It’s presented its challenges but, as a rural area, everybody has been very supportive.
We continue to learn. We continue to try to put out information to our families regularly, to the community regularly, that impacts us. Because of course, everybody likes to come in and solicit to your facilities and bring their products in, but they’ve been very respectful as they realize should the COVID come into our facilities, it really impacts our geriatric people or people that are compromised. So it’s working at the present.
Male Interviewe…: Great. Well, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, and I really appreciate all the work that you’re doing in your organization and helping all of your residents, especially during this time when there’s so much uncertainty and so much fear. And it sounds like you have done an amazing job protecting your residents and also keeping on top of technology and the changes that are happening and using that to your benefit.
Shirley Alter: We couldn’t have done what we have done thus far had it not been for our support with JMARK and the fact that they are very, very proactive and they’ve invested a lot with us through this challenging time. They’ve been very proficient. Whenever we’ve got a question or an idea or a suggestion, they’re just a call away from us. So it’s been a great learning experience for both.
We’ve been with JMARK for the past several years, but I feel like our relationship continues to grow. And we just really appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to partner.
Male Interviewe…: That’s great. Well, we also appreciate it, and everybody here loves serving you and taking care of you and we make a great partnership.
Shirley Alter: Thank you.
Male Interviewe…: Thanks everybody. Have a wonderful day.
Shirley Alter: Bye bye.
Male Interviewe…: Thank you very much for your time.
Shirley Alter: Do we get to watch this before we publicize it?
Male Interviewe…: Oh, it’s live. We can’t do anything about it now.
Shirley Alter: We’re not live now, right?
Male Interviewe…: No, we’re not live right now.
Shirley Alter: Okay.
Male Interviewe…: Well, you have a wonderful day and thank you very much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. And hope we didn’t take away too much from your day.
Shirley Alter: You’re awesome. We’ll find out if we’re related down the road.
Male Interviewe…: Sounds good. Take care.
Shirley Alter: See you. B-bye.
Male Interviewe…: Bye-bye.
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