As Philadelphia continues wrangling with the uncertainty that has washed over the nation with COVID-19, there is one thing that community members can rely on — the excellent, patient-centered care provided by Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. Even as policies and protocols have changed to maximize safety, Presby’s staff have remained dedicated to ensuring the best, most comfortable patient experience possible. This is especially true of the Patient Experience division.
“We have really great team members who have all truly shined during the pandemic,” said Suzanne Smith, MEd, CHES, director of Patient Experience. “They have brought energy and a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude to their work every day. I am so grateful for their compassion, engagement, and willingness to think outside of the box and go above and beyond in order to serve our patients and their families.”
Excellence Starts at the Entrance
A hospital visit can be overwhelming enough without adding pandemic precautions into the mix. That’s why PPMC’s “Red Coat” ambassadors have been working tirelessly to ensure that, amidst all of the changes, patients and visitors still feel welcome and safe as soon as they arrive on campus.
In addition to serving as a greeter, wayfinder, and friendly face, ambassador Shelice Davis has been scanning temperatures and explaining the current masking and visitation policies at Penn Medicine University City. People sometimes struggle to understand the importance of these rules, but by being sensitive to their needs and emphasizing alternate ways to stay connected, Davis can relieve their stress and confusion.
“I’m here to help people feel comfortable,” she said, recalling a time when she sat with a family member and entertained them with stories until they felt at ease. “I come in hoping to provide a smile. People can’t really see that right now under my mask, but I can still help them feel welcome in other ways and do everything possible to start their Penn Medicine Experience off right.”
While there are new challenges every day, Davis notes that the pandemic has reinforced for her the importance of patience and ensuring patients and visitors feel listened to. “I keep a bright, upbeat attitude and present myself as a go-to person who can answer questions,” she said. “Patients and families are our first priority no matter what. It’s my job to assure them of that as soon as they walk in.”
Navigating Change Without Compromising Care
The same week that PPMC began ramping up coronavirus preparation efforts, Evan Loundas started as Volunteer Services coordinator. His job had already changed by his first day; while volunteer visits were paused, he started managing temperature scanning efforts and overseeing the distribution of donated food.
But Loundas didn’t want patients to go without an extra level of support. Showing the same compassion and enthusiasm as an entire team of volunteers, Loundas supplied iPads so patients and families could connect virtually; shared books, puzzles, crosswords, and coloring supplies from the Comfort Cart to help patients pass the time; and even paid for a patient’s Lyft ride home. “I wanted to offer a human connection and help them feel comfortable, not isolated,” he said. “My main goal is to listen and to do whatever I can to relieve stress in an already challenging time.”
Over the coming weeks, Loundas is excited to gradually onboard volunteers, get them up to speed with new safety precautions, and eventually roll out initiatives like the Presby Pooch program. Volunteers will also be helpful in filling any gaps left by staff who were redeployed during the early days of the pandemic and have resumed their normal responsibilities as part of the hospital’s resurgence plan.
While it was a bit of a whirlwind settling into his new role, Loundas noted, “Looking ahead, I think I’ll be able to do my job better because I’ve been able to build strong relationships across the hospital. We’re all in this together.”
The Evolving Meaning of “Presence”
PPMC’s Pastoral Care team is committed to letting patients and family members in crisis lead the way and responding to their spiritual needs with personalized care, not a set agenda. While the pandemic has complicated this, the team has done their best to meet patients wherever they are, reaffirm their humanity, and assure them they are not alone.
When reflecting on the last several months, two experiences come to mind for chaplain and Pastoral Care manager John Ehman. The first was a call with a woman whose husband was dying from COVID-19. Because she also tested positive, her family could not support her in person through this upheaval, but Ehman listened, prayed with her, and set a plan to follow up. The second was a two-part interaction with another COVID patient. Ehman organized a video call between himself, the isolated patient, and her family, and when the patient made a full recovery, he safely visited her in person, much to her delight.
In these cases, and in many more, the Pastoral Care team surmounted hurdles by showing compassion even when donning PPE and standing six feet from the bedside, and effectively communicating their attentive, engaged presence virtually. “Even when the storm was swirling around us, we never lost sight of our goals,” Ehman said. “I’m proud that we’ve stayed grounded, kept things as normal as possible, and ensured people know we’re on their side.”
For Ehman, the recent challenges have also highlighted ways his team can better connect with patients and families going forward. “We’re learning a lot about how patients can feel connected without physically holding your hand,” he said. “Even if we were in ‘normal’ circumstances tomorrow, things like contacting family members proactively or tele-chaplaincy would still be valuable. Now, we have an opportunity to expand these supports.”