At American Oncology Network (AON), patients are our top priority. We want to provide them with the best care possible throughout what is often the most stressful and scariest time of their life – and it is our physicians, nurses and employees that make that possible. That is why we strive to keep our team happy and safe, which currently means confronting the enormous challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Treating cancer patients is an incredibly essential service, and care continuity is a priority even in the face of COVID-19. Being there for our patients requires us to also be there for our employees by elevating internal wellness strategies.
Putting Safety First
Just days after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, AON had assembled an emergency task force to map out a plan for keeping doctors, nurses and employees safe while still providing high-quality care to our patients, many of whom needed to continue receiving treatment.
The majority of our administrative employees transitioned to working remotely from home, armed with all the resources they needed to help create a secure, office-like environment. Our IT team accomplished this feat in about a week, and the outcome has proven positive: staff members who are telecommuting have maintained their normal levels of productivity with few exceptions.
The IT team also launched Telehealth services across all AON sites with over 5,200 telehealth visits completed since going live. This virtual care solution played a vital role in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and keeping our providers, employees and patients safe.
For employees such as nurse practitioners who are patient-facing and therefore unable to work from home, safety was crucial to our strategy. In addition to providing sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns and masks, we also conducted training on proper handling and use.
AON also adheres to the social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Among these are spacing out appointment times and infusion chairs and screening all patients via questions on how they’re feeling, whether they have any COVID-like symptoms, where they’ve recently traveled, and if they’ve been exposed to anyone infected with the virus. In addition, employees are screened and their temperatures checked at the beginning and end of every shift. In addition to our daily cleaning services, our clinics also go through a deep clean once a week.
Because of our efficiency and ability to supply doctors, nurses and employees with the resources they need to be both safe and productive, AON was able to respond quickly to the pandemic and continue caring for our patients without interruption.
Supporting Our Staff
The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and has been a challenging experience for everyone. We opted to modify our benefit offerings to include 10 days of paid emergency sick leave (ESL) to any full or part-time, and PRN employee who needs to be quarantined or who is caring for a loved one who has been infected with the virus. This provision is in addition to our regular leave policy and allows employees to receive their full pay either intermittently or continuously. We also offer an advance of up to 40 hours of paid time off (PTO) for anyone who runs out of ESL, and all employees have access to the Teladoc service through to the end of December regardless of their participation in the AON medical plan. In addition, employees enrolled in the medical plan will see 100% coverage of any COVID-19-related expenses that employees may incur, such as testing and co-pays.
We are aware the pandemic has created challenges that extend far beyond the workplace. With schools and most summer camps closed, AON is especially sensitive to employees with small children. We strive to be flexible and nimble with their schedules and are taking extra steps by compiling important information on childcare and other family-focused services. Emotional crisis support is also available to all employees regardless of whether they participate in AON’s benefits program.
To boost morale, our managers have come up with fun, creative activities such as virtual celebrations and trivia games for employees who are telecommuting. At our clinic in Baton Rouge, La., employees swapped recipes and created an e-cookbook that also features contributions from other practices in the AON network. We’ve also supplied lunch for employees who aren’t able to work from home.
Safe, Happy Employees
AON recently surveyed employees to gauge the effectiveness of our COVID-19 provisions. The results were extremely positive – 81% were satisfied with our pandemic response and 87% were confident AON has taken the right precautions to minimize the impact of COVID-19. Additionally, 85% of employees working remotely said they had the necessary resources to maintain productivity.
At AON, our team members are heroes who have stepped up in times of crisis. It is up to us to make sure they are safe, comfortable and appreciated so they can continue carrying out the essential job of providing optimal care to our patients.