Tuesday, March 24 Update
So many of you have reached out to ask how we are doing and what we need. Thank you! I am going to respond to each of you but wanted to provide a general update, as it will take me a little while to get caught up on emails.
So much has changed in a short time. We have reconfigured clinic flow to operationalize outdoor triage and transformed our previous staff entrance into an isolated assessment space for anyone presenting with fever or respiratory symptoms. We spent an afternoon in all-staff training around new policies and procedures related to COVID-19. The majority of our administrative staff have moved to work remotely. Nutrition consultation and counseling are conducted remotely, and all health education programming and classes are temporarily suspended. Dental is providing emergency services only. We are now using a telehealth platform for virtual visits and are moving as many office visits to telehealth as possible. We continue to operate our clinic dedicated to people experiencing homelessness with new procedures and the use of our outdoor space as a waiting area. We have a designated provider covering sick visits each day. We’re wearing scrubs and have detailed routines of showers and separate hampers at home, so we limit the risk to our families.
In partnership with the Coronavirus Support Network, we have created a helpline for our patients and our community. This system allows us to rank incoming calls by risk factors and utilizes volunteers to provide information and route appropriate requests to our health care providers. We are the first pilot clinic for this program, which will be used by hundreds of clinics across the nation over the next two weeks. We hosted the Westside Future Fund’s community broadcast on Friday to offer facts and resources to our community. So we have been busy, and I have never been more proud of our team.
While we have mobilized quickly, the last week has also been a reminder to me of how the inequities in our country further complicate this crisis. Many of our patients do not have access to medications, if not for our dispensary. While telehealth is a solution for some of our patients, others do not have smartphones or reliable access to any phone. Testing for COVID-19 in Georgia remains limited. We are not testing at Good Sam so if we want to test a patient we have to fill out a request on the Department of Public Health’s website. We select one of the driveby locations and then inform the patient that we will know after 24 hours if they were approved for testing. We had a patient Friday who is living in a shelter but has no phone to be notified if he is approved for testing and no transportation to get to a testing center. I am reminded that our response in this crisis is critical, but our work, mission, and advocacy must continue both during and after COVID-19.
Many of you have asked how you can help. Here are a few specific ways:
1. We need volunteers to sign up for shifts for the hotline. The volunteers for the call center work remotely from scripts and help us give information and route calls to the appropriate people. Volunteers do not provide medical advice, so you do not need to be a provider. Our longtime volunteer and PA, Mike Tremmel, is heading up our volunteer team. You can sign up here or email me, and I will connect you with Mike.
2. At this time, our staff medical providers are addressing all calls from symptomatic people needing medical advice. At some point, it is likely we may not be able to keep up. If you are a provider who would be interested in helping advise people by phone to prevent unnecessary clinic and ER visits related to COVID-19, let me know, and I will start working on how best to accomplish this as needed.
3. Donate or encourage others to donate. As most of our patients are uninsured, a move toward triage and telehealth will result in a dramatic decline in patient revenue. We are committed to retaining as many employees for as long as possible, but this will require new revenue sources.
4. Pray. We would love prayers for wisdom in what feels like a million decisions a minute and protection for our staff and their families.
5. Encourage your sphere of influence to stay home. As we post updates on our website and Facebook, please share. I keep telling my friends and family that what I am doing is damage control. Their decisions are the only hope of changing the direction of the pandemic in the US.
To keep all of our volunteers and partners informed and connected to us during this time, I am working with John Allison to provide weekly updates here the form of a short blog or video. We look forward to having you all back at the clinic, but for now, be safe.