The moment West Virginia schools were declared closed on the afternoon of Friday, March 13th, our entire community found itself in uncharted waters. Nobody, political leaders and healthcare professionals included, held a map for what was to come.
Although there was much uncertainty, there was one thing that we knew for sure: as a community health center, we are charged with doing everything in our power to take care of our community. We needed to use every scrap of information we had, every tool at our disposal, to protect our patients, our staff, and their families.
In the midst of rapidly-changing recommendations from the CDC, we assembled a committee with members from both our clinical and operations teams. The committee met by phone daily to review the available guidance and determine the best course forward.
Shifting to telehealth was the first of many changes—and the most momentous one. We had never offered telehealth before, so making the shift required educating everyone on staff: doctors, physician assistants, and nurses alike. Our front office team made calls to reschedule patients for virtual appointments and walked many of them through the process of downloading Zoom to their phones or computers.
Initially, all routine visits were conducted by phone or video. Only sick patients were seen on-site. As the months passed and the state began to reopen, we decided it was time to tack in a slightly different direction. While helping slow the spread of the virus remained a top priority, it was also essential to attend to patients’ regular and preventative health needs.
Toward the end of June, we started holding appointments with sick patients virtually or in the parking lot and taking well visits in the building.
Rather than sitting in the waiting room, though, patients received little pagers—like the ones you see at restaurants—and, after checking in, would return to their cars until their provider was ready for them. Once they were finished, a nurse would escort them out. These measures ensured that patients were not running into each other in the waiting room or halls.
To help parents feel confident bringing their children in for well-child visits, we went a step further. We designated two sites—our Cross Lanes and Mary C. Snow locations—for well-child visits only. We moved our pediatricians to these sites and relocated their usual providers elsewhere. This way, kids would not fall behind on their vaccinations.
All of these changes necessitated significant coordination and collaboration among the FamilyCare staff, as well as an ability to adapt and turn on a dime.
Our staff has always been like a family, but working through this has shown, beyond a doubt, how we can truly count on each other. We hope our community feels the same.”
—Mary Jenkins, MD
“Our staff has always been like a family,” said FamilyCare’s chief medical officer, Mary Jenkins, MD. “But working through this has shown, beyond a doubt, how we can truly count on each other. We hope our community feels the same.”
Although we are not yet out of the storm, we hope that we will soon be able to return our attention fully to patients’ regular, ongoing health needs. FamilyCare staff members recently received the COVID-19 vaccination in Phase 1 of the Governor’s vaccination plan, and we look forward to being able to offer vaccinations to our patients when the time comes.
Until then, we will continue to take whatever precautions we must in order to provide quality, whole-person care to every member of the community, as we have for over 30 years.