By EWA MATUSZEWSKI
This column was not supposed to be about COVID-19—yet it must be. Not only because the virus continues to thrive in various parts of the country as I write this on the cusp of the 4th of July holiday weekend, but because in many ways the hard part has just begun.
I do not mean to minimize the extreme sickness and loss of life during the pandemic’s peak. That was a tremendously frightening and heartrending time not only in our nation but globally, and healthcare professionals at all levels used heroic measures to tame a fearsome, unknown enemy that was – and is – the virus. Their work continues, while ours has begun in fits and starts.
By “ours,” I refer to those of us in the healthcare community who are not treating patients in the hospital or rehabilitation facilities. I also refer to leaders beyond healthcare – business owners, managers and supervisors who must convey through their actions the seriousness of the virus and its easy spread. The standard has been set, with an array of health and safety protocols such as screening questions for potential COVID-19 symptoms or exposure, temperature screening, masks, physical distancing, hand washing, and reduced capacity. Some mandated, some strongly encouraged, all wise.
Businesses such as restaurants, hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors have long had state-mandated health protocols in place. Yet that doesn’t mean workers in these establishments don’t need training post-pandemic. For example, temperature screenings with a digital scanning thermometer seem easy enough to master, right? Yet, when my temperature was taken prior to a recent hair appointment, my temperature reading was 106. I asked the attendant if I was actually still alive. A colleague was told her temperature was 94 by the dentist’s office receptionist and 93 by the nail salon receptionist. She still got her pedicure and her teeth cleaning. I was initially denied a haircut, but after repeated temperature reading attempts, I instructed the “health officer” that the scan had to take place approximately one inch from the forehead. When operated correctly, the thermometer reading assured me I was alive and well – and haircut worthy.
Training, even with the seemingly simplest of tasks, cannot be overlooked or relegated to the “we’ll do it when we have time” pile. There will never be time unless it’s prioritized. And prioritize we must, if we are all to be soldiers in the battle against our current virus villain and whatever other evils may lie ahead.
Physician offices are not immune. Part of our organization’s back to work playbook includes a safety checklist. The majority of member physicians have competed and returned them; those who haven’t, tend to use the “lack of time” excuse. There can be no excuses in a health crisis such as the one we face now. Physician practices must set the tone for health and safety, not only to protect patients, but to set an example so that patients and staff carry over these precautions into their own personal routines.
On a related note, I want to address the need for pandemic preparedness and prevention among our smaller cities and townships. The mega cities will certainly put this on the top of their list if it wasn’t already there. Preparing for terrorist attacks has likely been discussed by communities of all sizes, yet pandemic prevention preparedness, I’m not so sure. I reached out to our own tiny township to offer the assistance of our healthcare team for pandemic preparedness services, but there was no response. Perhaps they do already have one, or were busy… or my message went to a spam folder. I like to draw the analogy of fire prevention – which has been very successful in educating the public on how to prevent fires, as our fire departments have gotten better equipped and knowledgeable on minimizing or battling fires. Governmental units, please know that we in the healthcare community, whether small or large private practices, hospitals, or physician groups, are available and willing to help you tailor pandemic (or other catastrophic) prevention training and response measures. It sounds trite – yet it’s so true: we are all in this together.