Part 3 of 3: People

What to Consider When Reopening Your Practice After the Current COVID-19 Crisis

By Eric Shulz, MBA

It’s cliché to say that COVID-19 has had a major impact on our society. COVID-19 and its related impacts have affected nearly every aspect of our lives including how we access healthcare. Stay at home orders and bans on procedures have reduced patient volumes to a fraction of pre-COVID-19 levels. As a result, medical and dental practices made difficult choices. Some transitioned to new modalities such as telehealth and curbside care. Others reduced operations. Still, others temporarily closed altogether.  

 

Nearly every medical and dental practice in the US had to lay off or furlough some employees to reflect these new realities. Statistics from the Oregon Employment Department indicate that layoffs have walloped healthcare. As of April 11th, approximately 15% of new unemployment insurance claims in Oregon were from those employed in the healthcare industry. New unemployment claims in healthcare are second only to accommodations and food service (which are combined).

Medical clinics, hospitals, and other services reduced their staff quickly, but the hope is that staffing levels may climb more rapidly in healthcare than in other sectors. We know the healthcare economy will emerge from its current slowdown, and patients will return. Their needs still exist or may have worsened during this time. Our patients are waiting for stay at home orders to be lifted and bans on non-emergent procedures to phase out. 

 

The question that now confronts us is how to reopen the healthcare economy in a continuing COVID-19 framework. It will not be as easy as turning the lights back on and resuming operations. Your staffing needs will have changed temporarily or even permanently. Some employees will have moved on to other employers or not be able to return to work when you need them. Finally, there are a host new rules and regulations to follow as employees come back to work. 

 

This article covers some of the employee related areas practices will want to consider as they restart the engine. Remember, contact an employment attorney whenever you have labor and employment law questions. 

STAGED REHIRING

As patient volumes begin to return to medical and dental practices, your practice will need to rehire staff. It is highly unlikely that volumes will immediately return to pre-crisis levels. Rather than a light switch, most economists are projecting a dimmer switch effect as patients slowly reenter life in the new normal. Staged rehiring is therefore recommended. 

 To begin a staged rehiring process, take the following steps: 

 

  • Review Job Descriptions: If you will be bringing staff back as volumes allow, your team will be smaller than it was before the COVID-19 crisis. Go to your job descriptions to decide what roles are needed and when. Job descriptions are also the place to go when merging functions with reduced staff. 
  • Review All Employees’ Performance Records: You will be asking your employees to work hard and take on responsibilities that are new to them during this time. When considering who to fill essential roles in your reopening practice, start with your best employees. 
  • Be Intentional: Build a rehiring plan based on the needs of your practice and the performance of your employees. Then stick to this plan and adapt it as necessary. Now is not a time to make a rehire based on a whim. 
  • Stick to the Facts: Rehire roles that are necessary with the best people. Avoid making emotional decisions or rehiring based on favoritism.
 

ENSURING EMPLOYEE SAFETY

As we reopen our medical and dental practices, we must keep our employees safe. While we have been successful at flattening the curve, COVID-19 is still present in our communities. Social distancing in our workplaces will remain for some time. 

When reopening your practice, keep the following employee safety issues in mind: 

 

  • Social Distancing Requirements: As our states allow businesses to reopen and the public to leave their homes again, they will require appropriate social distancing plans and practices to keep COVID-19 at bay. Know the social distance rules related to your business and obey them. 
  • Social Distancing Plan: Develop or review your existing COVID-19 social distancing plan to ensure it is adequate and meets the needs of the growing volume of your patients as the healthcare economy reopens. Contact DataDx if you need help building or reviewing your plan. 
  • Employee Education: Educate all your employees on your COVID-19 social distancing plan. As employees return to your practice, everyone must know what they can do to keep our communities safe and COVID-19 under control. Your employees are the frontline for protecting your patients and each other. 
  • Health Insurance: If you discontinued your employees’ benefits when they were laid off, ensure they can return to work with health insurance coverage to protect them and you. Make sure your health insurance provider knows that the employee is returning to work after a COVID-19 related layoff, as rehires may be able to reenter your insurance plan more quickly than a new hire. In some cases, the insurer may pro-rate the premium of that employee if they only worked part of a month. 
  • New Leave Benefits: Review the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), state and federal medical and family leave acts, and your employee handbook to ensure these policies are in alignment. Then educate your employees on these policies. Contact DataDx if you need to learn more about your FFRCA responsibilities. 
  • Sick Policies: Develop policies that encourage your employees to stay home if they or a family member are feeling sick. Now is not a good time for your employees to feel any pressure to work if they are feeling ill. It only takes one employee with COVID-19 to sicken others and affect your practice’s operations. Your employees and your practice are relying on you to keep sick employees at home. 
 

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS 

Licenses and Certifications – When rehiring your certified or licensed employees, ensure they have current licenses and certifications to return to work. Monetary or other issues may have prevented them from keeping their certifications and licenses current while they were not working. Review your employee handbook to understand if there are ways you can support your employees who need help with this issue to be rehired. 

  • Unemployment Insurance: Unemployment and other benefits are the employee’s responsibility. However, do what you can as an employer to support your laid off or furloughed employees who receive benefits by answering inquiries from unemployment offices completely and quickly. 
  • State Labor Programs: Consider programs, like Work Share Oregon, that support your employees who may be returning to fewer hours. Programs like this use unemployment benefits to support employees whose hours have been cut from previous levels and may make you and your employees more able to get back to work. Contact your state labor department to learn about programs that may be available to you. 

 

In the end, your employees are the engine that keeps your practice moving. They are important. Treat all involved in your practice legally, ethically, and transparently. 

 

Know that these decisions may be just as hard as the decisions to lay off or furlough. Acting with intention will make the process easier and will be critical to successfully bringing employees back to your practice. Planning now will help your practice meet the need that is expected as society reopens. If you have any questions, contact Eric Schulz at eschulz@datadx.com. 

 

DataDx is here to help you during and after the COVID-19 crisis with services such as business intelligence, operational support, payor contracting, and recruiting. Contact us for more information.

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