Memorial Day Weekend, the end of the kid’s school year, or the first day of June all mark the beginning of summer for most of us. Sure, scientists will tell you that summer begins with Summer Solstice, around June 21st, the day the Sun is the farthest north; but we all start our summer season based on man-made demarcations and arbitrary dates and times. For many of us, summer means swimming pools, picnics, a long break from school, and of course, summer vacations.
Summer vacations! Families pile into station wagons and drive to far flung national parks. There are beaches to lounge on, camping to experience, and historical spots to explore. Whether you are backpacking through Europe, RV’ing through the national parks in the west, hitting your favorite theme park or beach, or enjoying the relative new concept of “stay-cations”, you are NOT going to work. Your work might pile up, or it might be covered by peers, but you need to recharge and enjoy some time away regardless of your position in the company and regardless of how much you enjoy your work.
Companies grapple with staffing issues related to vacations all the time; perhaps a bit more in the summer months. Working with an employee absent for any reason can be challenging and in the DME industry (and healthcare in general), it can be particularly difficult. Companies that provide medical equipment can’t stop their operations and they have to be available. It’s important to maintain a high level of customer service at all times.
Here’s a list of helpful tips regarding maintaining that high level of quality customer service through vacations and other staffing challenges from various industry managers and business owners:
- Make sure you have adequate staff to “cover”. Sometimes working a person or two short can work, but in our industry, we are already spread pretty thin. Staff for a worst-case scenario. If co-workers can cover a person’s job tasks, that’s great. If they can’t, bring in temporary help to alleviate your business grinding to a halt when a key employee takes a few days off.
- Make sure all skill sets are covered. Is staff competent and experienced to set up all types of equipment and handle any on call emergencies? If not, you need more (or different) staff. Again, if you don’t have enough regular staff, bring in temporary help.
- Clinicians get calls, too. If you have one respiratory therapist, nurse, ATP or orthotist, you’ll need coverage for the work they do. That includes tasks they are doing throughout the day and also on call functions they perform. Make sure you have well trained and oriented clinical staff available to handle not only working hour issues that arise, but also after hours emergencies.
- State licenses matter! One owner I spoke to remembered a time a patient/customer who was on an invasive ventilator receiving clinical care developed a problem with their ventilator alarming. The clinician was dispatched and figured out the person actually had a problem with their tracheal tube, which needed changed quickly. The patient ended up hospitalized and the clinician rode with the patient to the hospital. All of this was within the scope of service for this particular company, and the situation ended well for everyone. The problem was, they realized while debriefing about the situation, that the clinician was a licensed RT in her state but not the adjacent state where the patient lived. The full time RT had licenses in both states, but the part time staff member covering her on call was not. Make sure any clinicians on call have licenses for any state you do business in.
- Your staffing issues aren’t your customer’s problem. Another owner talked about a friend of his who also happened to be a patient/customer. The friend happened to mention to the owner that he heard they were “working short” because of vacation coverage. The friend wasn’t complaining—in fact, he was commiserating and very sympathetic. But the owner realized from that conversation that staff was oversharing information which might be perceived to be making excuses. Even innocent comments making excuses can be construed to be poor customer service by your patient/customer base.
- Good “Plan of Care” documentation makes consistent care easier for everyone. Staff should be encouraged to document in progress notes, and on whatever forms your company considers care plans about any unique patient care issues. Notes about how well equipment instruction is received, how you find the home environment, whether the patient/customer tolerates care and whether they are compliant with physician’s orders are all important messages that should be clearly documented. Staff should familiarize themselves with the patient/customer before heading out to provide care.
- Directions, address changes, and alternate phone numbers matter, too. Joe delivers oxygen tanks every week to a certain patient/customer. He’s known this person for several years and has a good routine. He typically calls her daughter’s cell phone when he’s 15 minutes away and the daughter --who lives next door-- comes over and meets him to let him in. That’s helpful information for the guy that is covering for Joe! Without it, maybe the delivery doesn’t get done.
- Employees: be considerate of the company. Smaller companies often have policies about how many employees can take vacations at a certain time. Seniority usually rules when it comes to picking slots for time off especially during the popular summer months. If you’re an employee, be considerate of your boss, your fellow workers, and most importantly, your patient/customers. Prepare your co-workers for any scheduled tasks they’ll need to cover. Give them a thorough briefing on how your work tasks flow and do the best you can preparing them for any problems they might encounter.
- Employers: be considerate of your staff. It works both ways and owners and managers should be considerate of their staff and respect their time off. Encourage staff to brief leadership and their co-workers BEFORE they leave, so that you don’t have to call them while they are away. Use temporary employees if you need to so that the work isn’t piling up. When a person takes a week (or more) off on vacation, a pile of work will inevitably be waiting for them when they come back. Do everything you can to make sure as much of that work is done by others so their return to work isn’t stressful and so they can come back and hit the ground running.
Henry David Thoreau said “Traveling is good when it reveals to us the value of home and enables us to enjoy home even more.” It is important for us as individuals to realize the value of taking our vacations and its equally important for us as companies to allocate time and resources to ensuring all staff can take some well-deserved time off.
So, take that vacation this summer and recharge your internal batteries. Please have a safe and happy summer!