While no industry was immune to COVID-19, Healthcare providers were at the forefront, faced with an influx of patients that needed immediate medical attention.
Among those at the frontlines was Northwell Health, the largest health organization in New York which contains 23 hospitals in its system. As of April 2021, Northwell has attended to over 190,000 COVID-19 patients. Along the way, they also handled more than 6,500 claims on employee COVID cases. While physicians and nurses in Northwell faced the biggest challenge to public health in years, its risk managers and Workforce Safety team were also under thick pressure. How does a company respond to such a huge crisis?
Proactively putting people first: empathy and compassion for employees
Northwell recognized empathy played a significant role for their employees. “One thing that you have to be attuned to is that there’s always going to be a psychological component of any uncertainty,” Northwell AVP for Workers’ Compensation Workforce Safety Cristine Balamaci said. By remaining cognizant of the fear and lack of control that people are feeling, truly listening to their concerns, and communicating with compassion, Northwell was able to make well-intended decisions, creating a more positive outcome both from a financial and psychological standpoint.
In the same way, Broadspire VP for Claims John Lastella encouraged his team to put themselves in the position of the impacted Northwell employees. “Northwell workers were risking their lives to treat us,” he said. “We could have very easily, in our area, wound up in one of their emergency rooms from COVID. So, when those people had a claim, our job was to take care of them.”
Throughout this challenging time, Northwell and Broadspire worked hand-in-hand. “During challenging times,” Balamaci said, “everybody must band together and you must lean on one another — that helps people persevere during tragedy.”
Moreover, the teams took an advocacy approach to the entire situation. They worked together to get claims moving quickly, coordinate treatment where necessary, and make sure the injured workers felt cared for. This helped put injured workers at ease and gave them an idea of what they could expect throughout the process. “People were scared. Especially early on. They were worried about their jobs, their health, and the impact on their families if the worst were to happen,” said Lastella. “You have to put yourself in their position to truly understand.”
Modifying, learning, and adjusting constantly to the environment
At the top of the list of operational changes was the move to a digital platform for case managers, who were very involved in the COVID-19 claims. When the practice of operating face-to-face to discuss treatment and return-to-work strategies was no longer an option, Northwell and Broadspire worked together and catapulted their teams into expediting telehealth capabilities. By doing so, even when a case manager could not be present every visit, they had the capability to connect telephonically. Moreover, this enabled claims management teams to continually keep individual care plans for workers on target and gather information into the claims systems in real-time.
As changes were being made, the Northwell and Broadspire teams exercised agility in responding to new developments in the situation as they moved along. “We had to be at the forefront of what is the next thing to expect that we need to focus our time on,” Broadspire Chief Operating Officer for Medical Management, Accident & Health Claims Erica Fichter explained.
Establishing real-time communication for timely updates
Northwell also worked with Broadspire to build a database that made processing COVID-related claims more efficient and allowed them to make better-informed decisions based on data analytics and trends. “Our ability to capture information from a centralized source and then share it allowed us to have daily operational calls to make sure that we were doing the right things,” Northwell Health Vice President, Workforce Safety Joseph Molloy said. “At the same time, we utilized every possible way to communicate internally, so that everyone always knew what was going on.”
Reaping the fruits of hard work and early action
Northwell’s employees appreciated the attention and respect given to their situations as both organizations worked hard to keep morale high during a tough time.
For employees who did have to miss time from work, taking an early intervention advocacy approach helped shorten the time away from work. When compared to other hospital systems in the industry, addressing these claims head-on had a significant impact.
Between the early intervention and approaching the whole person through a biopsychosocial model, this also reduced the medical treatment people needed during recovery.
“We had to be creative and find new ways to help the injured workers,” Fichter explained. “We had to make sure that we’re still providing the care that’s needed. And sometimes, that begins with coming to an injured worker human-to-human. Letting them know you’re there for them. It can help build trust in the employer, the process, and everyone involved. It’s not a situation we wanted anyone to go through and I’m sure we all hope it never happens again. But directly seeing the positive impact of empathy, advocacy, and early engagement was a bit of silver lining.”
Learning, growing, and moving forward
As the pandemic took most by surprise, it stressed the importance of preparedness. “We never know what’s going to come through those doors,” Balamaci said. “We should have backup resources, contingency plans, and frequent training. These will help keep business afloat whenever the next crisis comes, whatever it may be.”
Moreover, addressing a crisis is never a one-step solution. It requires a constant, fast-moving response to match the fast-paced environment. While the next crisis may be totally different from the pandemic, the approach remains the same. “Stay on top of every resource that you can. Reach out to other people who are similarly challenged,” Molloy advised. “Think outside the box, be creative, and look at the longer-term impact of the decisions that you’re making now.”
If you would like to learn more about how Broadspire can help you respond to a crisis, you may enjoy this on-demand webinar series that takes you through our experience with one of our clients amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, you can gain insights into what a strong response looks like.