Patient access team provides front-line pandemic support

Customer service workers fill new roles inside clinics and outside testing sites

Mature male in a face mask visits with patient access team members at hospital front desk.

A patient access team member is often the first and last face someone sees when visiting a Sanford hospital or clinic. They have a wide variety of responsibilities, including patient registration and scheduling.

“We’re kind of the bookends to the service,” Sharlene Thompson, director of patient access management, said. “We’re that first base of customer service.”

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When the pandemic shut down activities across the state, the patient access team set aside their regular responsibilities to help out across the Sanford organization. “We were looking at staffing in completely different ways,” Thompson said.

Pandemic brought a different set of needs

They began by installing Plexiglas at registration locations and setting up temperature checking stations. Some team members moved locations to support other areas of the organization.

“Last year was extremely volatile for our access team members, because we were moving departments around continuously to try to create overflow for our emergency department and overflow for departments that were really growing,” Thompson said.

Many team members moved their work to the front lines.

“The drive-thru testing put an enormous strain on our patient access team members,” Thompson said. “How do we now say, ‘You are no longer going to work in this location. You’re going to stand outside in a tent, and you’re going to help support this much-needed testing effort, even though it might feel very scary to be out there.’”

Hours remained steady

Despite the change in their duties, the team members’ hours remained steady.

“Our number one goal was to protect their hours and in any way creatively possible to support them and their families,” Thompson said. “Balancing our needs and the needs of our employees with their family was crucial.”

Some families needed to stay home when schools closed to homeschool their children. The patient management team made it work.

“It became so much more important to understand that social structure that our employees have at home,” she said.

Seeing team members in ‘a different light’

The pandemic has been eye-opening for patient access management, Thompson said.

“There’s so much more beyond our technical skills that we need to give to our employees,” she said. “We want to strive to have our employees get to know one another and their patients.”

In addition to learning more about her employees’ needs, Thompson said she’s developed an even greater appreciation for the members of her team.

“We see our people in such a different light,” she said. “These people came to a place where people with this disease came, and they did it every single day.

“The appreciation for each person is so much deeper than what we had ever felt before.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Health Care Heroes, People & Culture

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