I’ve been the business manager for Weinstein Imaging Associates for 40-plus years. During that time, I’ve seen major changes in technology, healthcare policies/practices, insurances (introduction of HMOs!), not to mention fashion, music and hairstyles. You would think the saying “I’ve just about seen it all” would apply. Sadly, the early months of 2020 and the rapid spread of COVID-19 contradicted that statement.
Everyone in every part of the world had their reality turned upside-down in 2020. And our thriving, independent Radiology practice was no exception. COVID-19 was the pandemic of our lifetime, which would eventually infect more than 20 million and kill 486,000+ Americans (according to the CDC at time of print), and crush our economic way of life.
Strict “shelter-in-place” orders would help limit the population’s exposure to this highly contagious disease. As a result, many businesses would have to close their doors. We made the tough decision to close in mid-March, and managing the business became somewhat of a roller coaster ride, shaping the routine of our doctors and myself for many months. We now faced mounting accounts payable vs. dwindling accounts receivable, scores of patient appointments that needed to be canceled/rescheduled, along with taking the necessary steps to eventually reopen (but when?). All of this often had me working seven days a week.
For the rest of our loyal staff, they were now on unemployment, adjusting to their new normal: not working. For many, this was a new concept. I have employees who are in their 50s/60s who never in their lifetime had filed for unemployment. Many of them kept in touch via group texts and emails, talking about reorganizing their closets, starting new hobbies, cooking new recipes and the latest shows to binge watch on Netflix.
My physicians and I did not have that same experience. We spent time closely following what hospitals and other imaging centers were doing regarding imaging, both locally and nationally. We kept up with Gov. Wolf’s announcements and state protocols. I familiarized myself with new acronyms, such as FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Relief Act) and PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), to name a few. It was time for this “old dog” to learn some “new tricks.” I participated in many webinars, and pored over multitudes of articles to stay on top of “all things COVID.”
New apps and workflows were on the horizon from our software vendors, which would be ready to implement upon reopening our practice. The “Wait in Car” app was our favorite. This is a wonderful tool that keeps patients in their car until we are ready to see them, therefore reducing the traffic in our office. This app could be a keeper, even post pandemic.
Given the reported PPE shortages, I went in search of supplies I knew our office would need to reopen. I visited each of our office locations to rearrange just about everything. With the help of my husband (tape measure, tools and wire ties in tow), we plotted six-foot distances between work stations and began the process of moving computers. We spread out furniture in all the waiting areas to distance our patients and installed new signs regarding facemasks. We were finally ready to open our doors again, scary as that thought might be!
With reopening day just around the corner, there was some trepidation with how it would all work out. But we all felt prepared to safely begin seeing patients again, with new “staggered” schedules, new apps and boatloads of new protocols. We initially worked evenings every day, plus Saturday hours, in an effort to catch up on the two months we were closed. We adjusted; we did it! The new workflows we put in place are now an accepted part of our lives and have become routine. We “go with the flow” to get through each challenging day. We’ve learned to deal with many questions from our patients (along with the occasional misunderstanding) regarding the COVID protocols we’ve put in place. Welcome to these challenging COVID times.
On a positive note, we have received many compliments from our patients, who appreciate less contact with others in our waiting room, applaud us for our COVID precautions and express feeling “safe from the virus.” Our new COVID efficiencies seem to be working.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, I think it’s a good time to reflect. We have sadly lost more than 486,000+ lives to COVID-19. Many of us have been directly affected with personal losses of our own. We watched businesses close for good. We somehow found strength in adapting to new ways of living our lives, whether we liked it or not.
This pandemic is far from over. Wearing a mask is still so important, to protect ourselves and protect others. We must keep practicing social distancing, and continue to not shake hands or share hugs with people. If we treat others with respect and kindness, and help our patients, friends/family and strangers, it will provide us with uplifting feel-good moments. Those are our rewards.
We will get to the other side of this, and come out stronger doing it. We’ve broadened ourselves and are better because of it. Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time something like this will happen. Next time, though, we all will be better prepared, and believe it or not, we’ll be better individuals for having lived through this pandemic nightmare.