Since COVID-19 hit North Texas, every hospital has made sweeping adjustments. But there’s something that never changed amid new mask and social distancing guidelines and visitation policies: the goal to protect everyone who walks in the door.
That starts with the first person you see when entering a Methodist Health System hospital, which is the staff in charge of screening for COVID-19 symptoms and admitting patients. It’s the volunteer services department that oversees the screeners at each Methodist hospital.
“They serve almost as a kind of gatekeeper and provide the first impression of the hospital,” says Candace Sledge, director of volunteer services for Methodist Charlton Medical Center. “They welcome and greet everyone and help them find where to go.”
STEPPING UP TO THE CHALLENGE
Admitting staff and hospital screeners offer the first line of defense against potential exposure to COVID-19 by identifying symptoms and informing patients and their families of important infection prevention guidelines and changes to hospital rules.
“Before the pandemic, patients casually came and went,” says Leslie Pierce, MHA, senior vice president for revenue cycle at Methodist Health System. Now, patients are pre-registered online for appointments and arrive at designated times. Waiting rooms have also been modified to ensure visitors can sit safely apart.
“The admissions staff are the reception for patients, helping them fill out forms, making sure they’re in the right place, or directing them to where they need to be,” Leslie says. “We not only keep them updated about new guidelines to protect them from COVID-19 but also reassure them if they feel anxious about anything.”
Although it’s a newer role born from the pandemic, hospital screeners share a similar responsibility, says Jennifer Tillery, director of volunteer services for Methodist Dallas Medical Center. As many as 14 employees have been hired at each Methodist Health System hospital to help safeguard patients and staff.
“If we didn’t have screeners, we wouldn’t be able to assess the risk of COVID-19 among the people who are coming into the hospital or control the spread of this virus,” says Amy Taylor, director of volunteer services for Methodist Richardson Medical Center.
On top of checking possible COVID-19 symptoms and taking temperatures of all staff, patients, and visitors, screeners also play a critical role in putting patients at ease, taking the place of volunteers who used to offer help at the information desk pre-pandemic.
“This is the easiest and the hardest job you’ll ever do,” Jennifer says.
BEING THERE FOR PATIENTS
The height of the pandemic was an especially tumultuous time because visitors were prohibited. And it largely fell to the admissions and screening staff to explain the new restrictions to distressed family members.
“Being in that situation calls for a lot of empathy and kindness,” Jennifer says. “We know how frustrating it can be for families unable to see their loved ones. Luckily, we’ve been able to re-evaluate and relax that policy a bit.”
But these staff members remain on the front line, taking on extra responsibilities to support both their co-workers and patients — fetching wheelchairs for people who need them, delivering belongings to busy units, and helping lost patients find their way.
“The people on our team have positive attitudes and a genuine desire to help others,” says Jody Tolar, director of volunteer services for Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.
And it truly makes a difference. Families have sent notes of appreciation to screeners like Gilliana Tawaran and Cinthia Felix at Methodist Mansfield to thank them for their kindness.
“I appreciate you more than you will ever know,” one person wrote.