March 11, 2020
COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is officially a global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. As it spreads across the globe and infects the United States, sick people are flooding MOBs, clinics, and hospitals. Connect Healthcare spoke with Kathy Tolomeo, director of compliance strategies for JLL Healthcare Solutions, to better understand how healthcare real estate owners and managers are handling the COVID-19 threat. Read on to learn what JLL’s clients are doing to keep their facilities as safe as possible.
CONNECT HEALTHCARE: What are JLL’s healthcare clients most worried about regarding the coronavirus and their facilities?
TOLOMEO: First and foremost, it’s protecting everyone that enters their facilities and within their community. While a healthcare organization’s goal is to always provide the safest environment for their patients, staff, physicians, vendors and visitors, there are so many factors that need to be controlled, including people and the environment. If one of these key requirements to reduce transmission strays or fails, it could increase the probability of the infectious disease spreading within the healthcare facility and community. Therefore, healthcare facilities are constantly vigilant when it comes to reducing the risk of the infectious diseases spreading through its facility, whether there is an outbreak or not.
CONNECT HEALTHCARE: What is the biggest challenge facing health systems, when it comes to dealing with a surge of infectious patients?
TOLOMEO: Controlling the incident, while minimizing the risk of unnecessary exposure is one of the biggest challenges in a surge of infectious patients. Healthcare facilities are designed and maintained based on the needs of the community (referred to as a Certificate of Need), occupancy type, and various codes, regulations, and evidence-based guidelines. Therefore, the design of these different types of healthcare facilities (e.g. hospital versus a physician’s office) may not be optimal for a surge of potentially infected patients.
The healthcare organization’s emergency planning and exercises can evaluate their preparedness for these types of incidents, and allow them to assess and improve their readiness. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a variety of resources and tools available on COVID-19, including those specific for healthcare. One of the tools is the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Hospital Preparedness Assessment Tool, which is focused for hospitals, but can be utilized for planning and preparing for other types of medical facilities.
CONNECT HEALTHCARE: What is JLL’s number one recommendation to its healthcare clients right now?
TOLOMEO: Teamwork. We need to communicate and work together to protect everyone involved. As a team responsible for the physical environment, our role is to support the mission of the healthcare organizations we serve. We are making sure our clients know that we are with them every step of the way when it comes to navigating this outbreak.
CONNECT HEALTHCARE: Do most health facilities already have emergency preparedness plans in place for infectious disease outbreaks?
TOLOMEO: Yes. Healthcare facilities have plans for infectious disease outbreaks as required by various regulatory agencies. COVID-19 follows recent outbreaks such as SARS or Swine Flu and therefore key elements in emergency operations plans are very applicable to manage this type of situation (e.g. a surge capacity plan, lockdown procedures, decontamination, etc.). We can utilize key elements of these plans and put them into place for handling, controlling and isolating PUIs (persons under investigation) and those testing positive for COVID-19, while minimizing the risk to others within our healthcare facilities.
CONNECT HEALTHCARE: What contingency plans should owners and facilities managers have in place to keep their properties running as smoothly as possible when faced with employee absences?
TOLOMEO: As in any emergency, the facility should have a “delegation of authority and succession plan” for key leaders, including those within the operations team, as staff shortages could significantly impact our clients and how we manage their facilities during an infectious disease pandemic. Additionally, key staff should be identified that if quarantined or hospitalized would negatively impact the service that the facility provides and determine a succession plan, whether through cross-training of other staff or a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with an outside vendor or contactor.
For questions, comments or concerns, please contact Jennifer Duell Popovec