Coronavirus and on-site, near-site health clinics

The 2020 coronavirus outbreak has changed the way the country’s workforce goes to work. When the pandemic hit in the spring, employees who were able to work from home scrambled to set up spaces and technology to be able to do so. Employers made decisions on essential employees and remote guidelines. The coronavirus has also impacted the way on-site and near-site health clinics operate for the safety and well-being of those employees.

During “normal” times, about 17 percent of US employees worked from home at least 5 days a week. Once the pandemic hit, that number soared to 44 percent. By September, the number of employees teleworking leveled off somewhat at 22.7 percent. These numbers reflect those employees who were able to do their work from home.

Prior to the pandemic, on-site and near-site health clinics offered convenient healthcare for a company’s employees, and often for the employees’ families. Approximately 17 percent of US employers with at least 500 employees offer primary care through such clinics. However, during the coronavirus outbreak, these clinics face challenges not only because employees are working from home – and the clinics are no longer convenient – but also because of the need to maintain the healthcare protocol designed to protect staff and patients.

Elation Health has published a COVID-19 Resource Guide to help you stay on top of the latest developments and focus on your patients.

Just as employers are discovering a need to manage their workforce in new ways given the restrictions and precautions currently in place, they also now must communicate with their employees about how they are dealing with issues such as access to healthcare.

Some communications best practices for employer clinics include:

  • Establish an emergency response command task force — all departments represented, reporting to the C-suite.
  • Establish a clinical response team, physician led — a team of clinicians who can track Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) information and summarize and distribute it to employees. 
  • Communicate with the employee population regularly via a patient app
  • Post information on the intranet and include information for appointment scheduling, the nurse call hot line, and telehealth. 
  • Educate employees on slowing the number of patients to not overwhelm the health care system.    
  • Track lessons learned for post-pandemic response debriefing and process improvement. 

Many clinics are now offering telehealth services, are conducting pre-screenings via phone calls, and are offering pop-up screening sites. They are also finding that they must reschedule preventive services that would require employees to travel to the clinic, risking further exposure.

In April, Larry Boress, Executive Director, National Association of Worksite Health Centers (NAWHC) provided guidance on best practices for employers regarding their on-site and near-site clinics, including:

  • Assign a single point person to relay consistent messaging.
  • Monitor the CDC’s website for guidelines and recommendations.
  • Maintain rigorous cleaning and sanitizing above and beyond normal processes.
  • Operate separate exam rooms for triage of cold and flu patients, including separate doors and rooms for consultations. Provide clear instructions to employees for when and how to use separate areas.
  • Set up an educational voicemail message to help employees self-triage based on symptoms and provide communication about next steps to take for further evaluation.
  • Maintain privacy practices and HIPAA requirements.
  • Alert local and state health agencies if there is a suspected case of COVID-19.
  • Identify local testing sites and develop connections for referrals.
  • Review and update existing procedures and be flexible and adaptable to CDC changes or changes based on events in their surrounding area.

In addition, there are new ways the clinic vendor can provide valuable resources during the coronavirus pandemic. Along with staff members, the clinic vendor staff can help:

  • Create a centralized taskforce to identify the best emergency preparedness actions.
  • Review return to work and sick leave policies.
  • Consider how best to support high-risk staff identified through prior interaction with the clinic.
  • Formulate a communication strategy for virus update information through company intranet, mailings, email, and external website.
  • Establish a response team to disseminate information to staff and executives.