What is CORA doing to keep our patients and employees safe?
Dannette Niespodzianski, CORA’s Manager of Safety and Compliance is glad you asked! She has been working around the clock with members of our dedicated Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response Team and Disaster Committee monitoring developments, updating policies and procedures and communicating these changes to CORA clinics on the ground. Luckily for us, Dannette was kind enough to set aside a few minutes of her time to discuss CORA’s response and the important role she plays to keep our patients and employees safe.
Q: Dannette, how long have you worked for CORA and where are you located?
A: This June 2020 will mark 21 years with CORA. When I first started at CORA, I was located in Pembroke Pines, FL and worked from our East Pembroke Pines clinic. After 10 years I relocated to Deltona, FL and worked from our Orange City, FL location before moving back to Pittsburgh in 2010 (my hometown!) to work from home. I have been here ever since serving our CORA communities!
Q: Tell us a little about your role as the Manager of Safety and Compliance.
A: As the Manager of Safety and Compliance, I am a member of our amazing Clinical Services team. I oversee our Emergency Preparedness and Infection Control committee, which includes a safety coordinator from each one of our clinics. I am responsible for creating and revising training material and policies related to Safety procedures, Infection Control, Hazard Communication, Emergency Preparedness, and Medicare Compliance. It is then my responsibility to monitor and track compliance in all clinic locations at all times.
I am also responsible for helping prepare clinics to participate in Medicare surveys by creating resources and materials for them to use for survey prep, and make myself available as a resource during the actual surveys. A surveyor can walk into one of our clinics at any time, so it’s critical that we are always proactive in our approach to follow the proper protocols and guidelines — and I am always there to help via email and phone when surveyors do show up! If I don’t know the answer myself, then I can usually track down who does.
Q: Can you define CORA’s ongoing commitment and approach to the safety of our patients, employees and those we serve?
A: CORA is 100% committed to the safety of all employees and patients. As a healthcare provider we are expected to meet all emergency and infection control requirements enforced by CMS, OSHA, the CDC, and all other federal, state, or local regulatory agencies. There are several of us on the “compliance team” who are always reviewing and keeping an eye out for any updates, so we can quickly ensure all clinics remain compliant with any new regulations or standards.
Q: Over the years, you have undoubtedly dealt with a myriad of high risk situations for the organization. How does the COVID-19 rank in terms of being the most challenging to handle?
A: Very honestly, I would have to say this is the MOST challenging situation I have ever been a part of while working for CORA because it is rapidly evolving and the information changes daily, and sometimes multiple times per day. And it is my responsibility, which I take very seriously, to write policies and revise procedures that we have never had before. Increasing my knowledge level has allowed me to provide the necessary details to our teams so they can then rise to the occasion and become “experts” on coronavirus, which I am totally not! But as more information has come to light, I have done my best to constantly learn, grow and educate myself on COVID-19 to follow the guidelines established by the CDC and WHO. This way I am able to ensure that our policies align with the guidelines set forth by world-renown experts in the control and containment of infectious diseases such as the novel coronavirus.
Q: What happens “behind-the-scenes” as you develop and update new policies and procedures in CORA’s response to COVID-19? How is that communicated and then enforced in more than 200 clinics?
A: We have a dedicated “Coronavirus Response Team” that is in constant communication with each other regarding new developments and changes. The team includes myself and several members of leadership. We have [email protected] which is an email that can be used by employees and patients to ask questions and to gain clarification on how to respond in specific situations. The email goes to all of us on the team so the most appropriate person can respond.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I am sending out updates to all employees that cover any revisions to policies and any new forms or resource materials that have been implemented or made available by health experts. All of the policies, forms, and resources are posted to a special Coronavirus page on BRIDGE, our internal learning management system, for easy access by all employees.
Q: The COVID-19 situation is uncharted territory and with that comes frequent changes, updates, and modifications. How have you been able to stay on top of those changes so that CORA is operating under the most current information available?
A: Well, that is pretty much all I am doing Monday through Friday from about 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM. Then at night and on weekends, I am still keeping tabs on texts and emails to be sure there is nothing I have missed. I, along with other members of CORA’s Coronavirus Response Team and Disaster Committee, are continuously reviewing the CDC website, and other websites for the local and state health departments where CORA operates clinics. As new changes and updates are released, we also make them in real-time; relay these revisions to the team for review and approval; and once finalized, they are sent out to the field on one of the Monday, Wednesday, or Friday email updates. Then, Lisa Childress, our BRIDGE expert, makes sure everything is also updated on BRIDGE in accordance with the revised policies and procedures. After the first month of establishing these processes, we are getting pretty efficient and fast at making these updates and disseminating this information — both internally and externally — as the situation develops.
Q: Per CISA guidelines, physical and occupational therapists were named as being part of the essential healthcare workforce. What information and provisions are being shared with clinicians to personally protect them?
A: For any states that have implemented a “shelter in place” or “stay at home order”, where only essential employees are allowed to work, we have posted letters for the employees that can be downloaded and printed to be carried with them as proof of being an essential employee. As different states enact the same order, we will provide letters for those employees as well.
Clinicians have been provided with the CDC guidelines for hand washing and other enhanced precautions as outlined by the CDC and WHO. For clinicians who are now treating in the home, we have provided specific safety and infection control guidelines for them to ensure their safety and ability to stay infection-free while treating patients in the home.
Q: What is one thing you’d tell patients who are concerned – and rightfully so — about entering a CORA clinic due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders taking effect?
A: We have implemented “Social Distancing for the Clinic” which includes the following: If a patient arrives early for their appointment, we are asking that they wait in their car until their therapist is ready for them; we are asking that patients do not bring anyone with them to therapy; we have asked the clinics to remove chairs from the waiting room, so the chairs can be spaced a minimum of 6 feet apart for any patients who do not have the option to the wait in the car; we are screening all patients upon entry to the clinic regarding travel and whether or not they are exhibiting any symptoms, and they are asked to leave the clinic and self-quarantine if they answer “yes” to any question. I can tell you that all employees are following the same guidelines when it comes to taking temperatures and monitoring symptoms, and everyone is expected to practice enhanced precautions in regards to hand hygiene and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.
If a patient still does not feel comfortable coming into the clinic, we are offering telehealth visits, and for Medicare patients there is the option for “therapy in the home.” We are doing our best to accommodate everyone’s needs during this critical time.
Q: What has made you most proud in response to the evolving situation surrounding COVID-19?
A: I am most proud of how everyone in our company has been able to come together and give 10000% to do what we must to continue to serve our communities. For example, our Clinical Services Team has spent days creating policies, resources, and educational material to teach our clinicians how to provide therapy using a telehealth platform and how to provide therapy in the home, all while remaining safe, infection-free, and compliant with HIPAA privacy and security rules. There are so many things that need to be considered when implementing a new policy or system, and in regular circumstances it may not come to fruition for weeks or months. Kessem Winger, PT, Executive VP and Chief Compliance Officer, my direct supervisor, advised us that we have created and pulled together close to 50 policies, resource materials, job aides, and FAQs in these past few weeks, all of which are specifically related to coronavirus, telehealth, and therapy in the home. We have all been very busy, trying to do what we can to empower our clinicians to continue to provide the quality care our patients have grown accustomed to receiving day in and day out.
Q: Do you have any parting words of wisdom or advice for those reading this article?
A: I am giving my word, as the Manager of Safety and Compliance, that CORA will continue to stay informed and will provide our employees the tools and resources they need to provide quality care while remaining safe and infection-free during this unprecedented time. I truly believe that if we continue to follow the guidelines of the CDC and continue to practice social distancing and enhanced precautions, we will overcome all of this before we know it: together. We are a team, and we are here to support each other and our patients during this difficult time.