Here we are several months into the pandemic. It appears perhaps the worst is behind us and the world is slowly starting to re-open. For many, the novelty of sheltering in place has worn off and folks are ready to get back to work. In the durable medical equipment industry, work has continued as our companies have been considered “essential services” and for the most part, stayed open and done business during and despite Covid-19.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve stayed in close contact with friends, consulting customers and other colleagues in the industry. Several of them shared some of their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic with me. It was interesting to see how the time passed for them and especially interesting to see patterns and similarities emerge in how companies coped and operated during this crisis. Here are just a few of the most common comments and observations:
“WE CONTINUED DELIVERING ESSENTIAL SERVICES”
Companies tightened up delivery processes, but for the most part, continued to deliver DMEPOS. Several owners talked about setting priorities and shipping supplies by UPS or USPS when possible. “I didn’t want to risk the health and safety of my staff, but I was committed to making sure we got our patients what they needed,” said one owner. Several tried innovative “contact-less” deliveries and customer service, including the owner of a major oxygen supplier in the Midwest, who would leave oxygen tanks on a porch or in a breezeway. His driver came back after a day of deliveries inspired by the appreciation the customers showed. He had customers give him thumbs up through the window, had a gentleman hold up a piece of paper with a written note that said “Thanks so much for helping my wife! Please stay healthy, and know you are our hero,” even had an elderly woman on oxygen blow a kiss to him through the window!
“WE GOT BETTER AT PRACTICING INFECTION CONTROL”
Most companies reinforced education on infection control, universal precautions, and the specific safety measures recommended to help prevent getting or spreading Covid-19. “I was so proud of my staff” said one DME owner I spoke to. “Not only did they wear their masks, maintain socially distancing, and wash their hands, they also helped spread the word to our customers!” DME staff are healthcare professionals and have a bully pulpit to help spread the word. Explaining the importance of the safety measures is crucial and hearing it from a person in some healthcare capacity seems more credible than hearing it from a TV news anchor.
Many companies took the opportunity to provide staff with new and continuing education about infection control. It was a great time to remind staff how important infection control measures are to them and also to the patient/customers.
“WE HAD EXTRA TIME AND WE USED IT WISELY”
While most DME services and deliveries are essential services and continued during the crisis, there were certainly some that were considered non-essential. Several companies talked about utilizing the down time to do major housekeeping or work on projects that were back-burnered during busier times. “I’m most proud of the fact that I didn’t have to lay off any employees,” said one DME owner. “My showroom and retail ground to an absolute halt, but I used the time to clean and re-organize our warehouse.” Another owner took the opportunity to thin out retained records. His company’s policy stated they needed to hang on to records for ten years, but the company had about seventeen years’ worth in storage areas. For a few days, staff shuttled paperwork back to the main location and eventually to a shredder. Finally, a couple owners took the time to update computer training with staff, upgrade software, and even paint the warehouse and office areas.
“WE USED DOWNTIME TO HELP OUR COMMUNITY”
Crises like the Covid-19 pandemic bring out the best in people. DME providers were certainly not the only ones to rise to the occasion and help their local communities, but they were well represented! Several owners noted that staff had volunteered at local food pantries. At least one owner had a respiratory therapist staff member who took vacation time and went to New York City to work on the front lines in a Covid-19 hospital ward. And one owner proudly relayed the story of his staff organizing a birthday “parade” to drive by the home of a young ventilator patient whose parents had mentioned to staff that they were upset that they couldn’t have a birthday party for the girl.
Benjamin Franklin said “Never squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” There is only so much television binge watching that a person can take. I’m guessing as we reflect back on this crisis-- when it’s over, stories will emerge of how people used their downtime to become better at something, learn some new skill, or accomplish some task that they’d put off. I’m also confident that we’ll hear many instances where society, neighbors, and co-workers came together to help one another get through this crisis.
Be careful out there, stay healthy and safe, and be sure to look out for one another!