Patient Concierge Program Provides Human Connections During COVID-19

When COVID-19 began spreading through the country, many hospitals suspended elective surgeries and restricted visitors. UM Shore Regional Health was no different, prioritizing the health and safety of our patients and our team members while preparing for a potential surge in COVID-positive patients.
While these suspensions and restrictions were necessary to protect our communities and our team members, adapting to the new circumstances did affect our patients, their families and our staff. Trish Rosenberry, director, Clinical and Ambulatory Services, saw this firsthand while visiting patients on the clinical units. Rosenberry knew something needed to be done to meet the needs for our patients during this pandemic.
At the same time, Jo Anne Thomson, director, Patient Experience, was also addressing patient and family needs from a different vantage point — by setting up virtual family visits. Thomson recognized that meeting virtually would ease concerns and provide much-needed connections between patients and their loved ones. Rosenberry and Thomson joined forces to create a new staff initiative, the Patient Concierge program.
“With visitor restrictions, now more than ever, our patients need acts of kindness and compassion. The impact to patients, because of the limitations, is an increased risk of anxiety, loneliness and fear,” Rosenberry said.
“Our Patient Concierges have been meeting our patients’ non-medical needs through compassionate, caring visits in the midst of crisis. The visits from our staff, the seemingly small acts of kindness — offering empathy and providing a listening ear to patients who are anxious or lonely — have had a tremendous positive impact for all,” Thomson added.
The Patient Concierge program is staffed by team members from departments whose staffing needs are reduced due to COVID-19. They are required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Rosenberry and Thomson provide training about the purpose of the program, the Patient Concierge role and appropriate safety measures.
Patient Concierges round in units at Shore Medical Center at Easton, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. during weekdays. Included are the Emergency Department, medical surgical unit, neurology and telemetry. These specially deployed team members act as liaisons for patients who are not on isolation. They connect with a warm introduction and take time to talk, to listen and demonstrate caring.
Following her training as a Patient Concierge, staff nurse Janet Holkestad commented, “This is everything I wanted to do as a nurse but didn’t have the time to do.”
The visits also provide staff an opportunity to get to know patients through the use of “Get to Know Me” boards. These boards provide space for personal or family pictures (which can be emailed and added) and answers to great conversation starters, such as “What books do you like to read?” “What makes you happy?” “Do you have pets?” The boards remain with the patient, to be referenced by all clinical staff while providing care. The boards highlight the individuality and uniqueness of each patient.
The Patient Concierge also offers to facilitate family/friend communication. They offer safe, face-to-face visits with patients and help them connect via video-conferencing software to family members, friends and spiritual advisors, including chaplains. They also help to coordinate patient/family communication related to other needs.
“We needed to find ways to stay connected to our patients in this new world of COVID-19, and balance their fears with kindness and compassion,” Thomson said. “This is what’s special about UM Shore Regional Health. We want to make a difference. This is our community. These are our families and friends.”
Matthew Roberts, an exercise physiologist at UM SRH with the Cardiac Rehabilitation program, said his time working as a Patient Concierge has been a valuable experience for his patients, but also for himself.
“My main objective is to ensure that patients are able to connect with loved ones via telephone or other technology due to the restricted visitor policy,” he said. “It is so important for them to have access to their loved ones. Patients truly have a different sparkle in their eyes when they are able to speak with their children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers.”
Roberts also found that just spending time with patients, some of whom do not have family, is particularly meaningful to him.
“It is a blessing to meet and get to know many interesting people from all walks of life,” Roberts said “I have talked with many patients about so many things, like gardening, travel, music, careers and stories about their loved ones. And sometimes, I just listen to someone who is having a bad day or who has difficult circumstances in their lives, or are worried about an upcoming surgery. Sometimes it helps to just have someone to talk to.”
Samantha Fitzhugh, a staff nurse in the post-anesthesia care unit, also took on the role of Patient Concierge. Fitzhugh has seen the benefit for patients, but particularly for families who are desperate to see their loved ones.
“These are difficult times and difficult situations for patients and families,” Fitzhugh said. “The family is a crucial support system for patients, but is also crucial in helping in the decision-making process for patient care. As a Patient Concierge, I have been able to assist severely ill patients in connecting with loved ones, but I have also been able to assist our health care team members in communicating with family. In these high stress situations, it is important for them, as well, to have that extra support.”
To date, Rosenberry and Thomson have trained 30 team members to become a Patient Concierge. They feel the role is more effectively carried out by clinical team members.
As staff go back to their original unit of work and UM Shore Regional Health begins the process of re-opening visitor hours, Rosenberry acknowledged that this role may change, but the great work and intent must remain. The goal is to include the aspects of the role in rounding by staff as well as Patient Experience.