When I joined Marshfield Medical Center-Beaver Dam as chief administrative officer a little more than a year ago, I had plenty of ideas about how I could affect positive change for our employees as well as for our patients, residents and children.
I was all ready to hit the ground running. But before I had the opportunity to even meet many of our department leaders, COVID-19 made it clear to all of us that it would be the major agent of change at our health system, and the community at large, for the foreseeable future.
Over the course of the year I’ve learned a lot about myself and the MMC-BD team. I’ve been proud of the agility and determination they displayed, nimbly making significant changes, often at the drop of a hat, in order to best serve our community during each stage of the pandemic.
While we’re not out of the woods yet — vaccinations continue amid the spread of variant virus strains — we’ve begun to turn an eye toward a post-COVID health care world. We recognize many things have changed, both around us and within us. Now it’s time to embrace that change, keeping what is good and discarding what is not. It’s a unique opportunity to take a difficult series of experiences and use them as a catalyst for positive change.
Telehealth and broadband
It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and in that regard, COVID-19 has been instrumental in increasing the number of telehealth services available to the community. Telemedicine has been a part of health care for many years, with teleradiology perhaps the best example. Utilizing technology, subspecialty radiologists are able to read high-quality images many miles away from where the image was captured.
But the use of telehealth, where patients can use technology to access care from the comfort of their own home using tablets and smart phones, really started to hit its stride during the pandemic when it was necessary to limit the number of people entering our facilities.
Beyond its pandemic applications, telehealth has the opportunity to expand services in rural areas, whether patients are accessing care from home or able to visit with a specialist hundreds of miles away from their local health care facility. It also helps those who experience limited mobility or find it difficult to travel.
But as we were reminded during the pandemic, broadband access in rural areas remains an issue in Dodge County and around the country. Wisconsin Public Radio reported more than 430,000 rural Wisconsinites, about 25% of the rural population, lack access to high-speed internet, ranking Wisconsin 36th nationwide. That percentage is higher in rural areas such as ours located outside of urban counties, where less than half of residents have high-speed access.
As evidenced throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 often highlighted inequities already built into our system, but I’m proud that Marshfield Clinic Health System has taken a proactive approach to this issue, working with state and local stakeholders. Gov. Tony Evers has also set a goal to provide affordable internet to all state residents by 2025. This would go a long way to ensuring everyone in Dodge County has the ability to access the ever-growing list of telehealth services.
Unfortunately, the stresses and rigors brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic led to many early nursing retirements, which only added to the workforce shortage many in health care were already feeling. It’s important that we also address the fact that those who remain have been through a trauma they probably never expected after caring for so many of their friends, family and neighbors throughout the pandemic. We will need to proactively address their mental and physical needs in the coming years and will continue our focus of caring for the caregiver while maintaining a supportive and engaging workplace environment.
As we move forward with recruitment, we’ll be prioritizing team members who realize that health care is a calling, one where we’re reminded daily about our “why” — the reason we chose health care in the first place.
One positive aspect of the pandemic was the opportunity it afforded us to rethink the patient experience. We started a Guest Services Ambassador program that will remain at MMC-BD long after COVID-19 is behind us.
The program began as a way to greet and screen each guest who entered our facility in order to protect the health and safety of patients, visitors and employees alike. Over time, the idea has expanded to include what I see as concierge-type services for our patients and visitors. The work associated with the pandemic has so often been heavy, so it’s been nice to dedicate time to an effort which will make the patient experience as rewarding as possible for everyone who entrusts us with their care.
When I walked through the MMC-BD doors for the first time I had envisioned my first year going completely differently. But that’s one of the great things about life isn’t it? You walk into a situation expecting to change the environment around you, and instead the environment changes you. So while many of us faced a difficult set of circumstances this past year, the flip side is it has left us with many tremendous opportunities, and it’s up to us to make the most of them.
Angelia Foster, chief administrative officer, Marshfield Medical Center-Beaver Dam.