Lessons from COVID-19 will endure beyond crisis

May 11th, 2020

By Summer Tebalt

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses and organizations of all types to change the way they operate, often in profound and potentially lasting ways. AccessHealth Spartanburg is no different.

While we have continued to provide care navigation and complex case management to low-income, uninsured adults in Spartanburg County, we have done so without seeing clients face-to-face. Our focus remains on doing the best job possible for our clients while supporting Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and the community. At the same time, what we have learned is factoring not only into how we interact with our partners right now but how we are planning for the future.

Utilizing technology to improve enrollment

The most important lesson has been realizing the benefits of utilizing technology to enroll new clients. Until the COVID-19 outbreak, AccessHealth Spartanburg handled enrollments in person. This crisis forced us to quickly create a process for virtual or e-enrollment. While we eventually will go back to in-person enrollment in most cases, we also will continue to learn and improve the efficiency of e-enrollment, beecause while the benefits of in-person enrollment cannot be dismissed, there are certain situations in which e-enrollments make more sense.

For example, many AccessHealth Spartanburg clients lack transportation. In those situations, AHS coordinates their visit to the office on the county’s dial-a-ride bus service. But for some people who live in more remote areas of our county, that could mean an all-day ordeal with hours spent waiting after their appointment for a return trip home. While transportation will still be offered to our clients, we won’t require face-to-face enrollment for those and other special situations. 

Better communication creates better results

Second, this experience has forced us to become better communicators and collaborators. In Spartanburg, we pride ourselves on our collaborative ethos — indeed, if you look at any of the significant community initiatives and programs over the past decade, all of them have required effective, strong partnerships to move forward. From the Way To Wellville to the Road to Better Health, from the Northside Initiative to Spartanburg Academic Movement, we believe in collaboration and know how to build coalitions that get big things done.

At the same time, there is always room for improvement. This crisis has forced a wider opening of the channels of communication between AccessHealth Spartanburg and our community partners. More than ever, it is absolutely essential that we know what they’re doing and they know what we’re doing. So we have been reaching out every week to all of our community partners, rather than waiting for the next scheduled meeting. We learned that in a time like this, processes and policies can change week-to-week or even day-to-day, and we all need to know about those changes because when you are working on the same or related community challenges, how one handles their piece impacts how the full puzzle is put together.

We have seen vividly that some emergent issues neither can nor have to wait for a meeting. We can hop on a call or a Zoom meeting and handle it much more quickly. In addition to becoming more proactive with our communication, we are also more efficient — I for one have discovered that having more regular, shorter virtual meetings actually saves significant time that used to be spent running around to longer in-person meetings at different locations.

Reserves are essential

Finally, this has affirmed how AccessHealth Spartanburg has been a good steward of its funding. Fortunately, AHS has reserves that allow us to continue our work without depending on yearly funding to continue basic operations. In a situation like this where some of our annual funders are having to redirect grants to other priorities, our reserves have never been more important.

It is a maxim of personal finance that you need to have savings equivalent to six months of your expenses to tap in case of an emergency or disruption in income. Why should nonprofits be different? I am hopeful this experience also informs the future approach of grant-making organizations, who are often hesitant to fund regular operating expenses in lieu of the next shiny object or unproven project. Sustaining work that is proven to make a difference over the long haul is key — now coming up on the 10th anniversary of our founding, AccessHealth Spartanburg is proof positive of this.

If you would like to hear more about how AccessHealth Spartanburg is operating and serving our clients through this time, I would love to hear from you. You can contact me at stebalt@srhs.com.

Summer Tebalt is the Director of AccessHealth Spartanburg. Email her at stebalt@srhs.com.

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