Whether widespread school closures in Pennsylvania and New Jersey starting Monday will cause staffing disruptions at Philadelphia-area hospitals is a guessing game, health system officials said Sunday.
There was a good sign last week at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, in East Norriton, which “experienced no call outs on Friday when Montgomery County was essentially shut down,” Einstein spokesperson Damien Woods said.
But, just in case things go awry as time passes and covid-19 spreads, health systems are preparing for staffing disruptions by shifting schedules to accommodate nurses and other staffers who have no childcare options, redeploying employees who had been working at now-cancelled community events to relieve pressure in direct care, and allowing employees to work at home, if possible.
Working from home is not possible for direct-care staff, so Main Line Health is exploring a way to “help provide offsite childcare support for our staff, while also ensuring that we keep protections in place to mitigate the risk of exposure and spread that is possible with any large gathering of people,” said Bridget Therriault, a spokesperson for the nonprofit health system with four acute-care hospitals in Philadelphia’s western suburbs.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System announced the Penn Medicine Employee Assistance Fund, which will provide up to a total of $1 million in grants and interest-free loans to assist employees dealing with unexpected financial challenges, including childcare needs.
“We know the days ahead will be challenging for our co-workers and staff," Kevin B. Mahoney, the health system’s chief executive. “We want to do everything we can to help them care for their families and remain focused on our critical mission — caring for patients. The environment in which we live and work has been redrawn this week. No one should have to worry about how they’ll pay for child care or other unexpected expenses when they’re working in our hospitals on the front lines of this outbreak.”
At Tower Health, a nonprofit that owns seven hospitals, managers have been asked to devise alternate schedules for employees, such as allowing staff to come in for hours or shifts outside their normal work schedule, according to Tower spokesperson Richard Wells.
“Employees who can’t work remotely and who have no other options for childcare will be able to access their Earned Time Off and will be granted special immediate access to their extended leave banks,” Wells said.
Crozer-Keystone Health System, a large provider in Delaware County, and Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic said they were shifting employees from non-emergency positions to help out in the emergency department or from cancelled community events to other parts of the hospitals. Crozer also said it could also use staffing agencies, if needed.
Einstein, where some employees are collaborating to help each other with childcare, is providing a day of pay for employees who need to miss a day to deal with childcare needs, Woods said.
Doylestown Health alerted staff Friday to developing plans for expanded childcare programs, and “new ‘camp’ options for those who might need childcare alternatives as of Monday,” said Ron Watson, the health system’s director of communications. The supervised camp option will be free to staff.
In New Jersey, where covid-19 cases were identified before those in Pennsylvania, managers at Virtua and Cooper University Health Care have been urging employees to make alternative childcare arrangements.
“We encourage our colleagues to trust in family members, friends, neighbors, or other community resources for the care of children, but to avoid arrangements that place many people in shared spaces,” said John Matsinger, Virtua’s chief operating officer.
“These unprecedented circumstances provide an opportunity for people to support health care workers by helping ease their obligations at home,” he said.