The past couple of weeks have been very overwhelming for most Americans. A new coronavirus COVID-19 went from being a far-off mystery disease to becoming a significant domestic challenge, changing every aspect of daily life. Most home care agencies are scrambling to create (or enhance) infection control programs and other risk-mitigation protocols. But effective communication is equally critical.
Clients, families, caregivers, office staff, referral sources and other community members need to know their trusted home care resource is still operational, available and responding to the crisis in a safe and appropriate manner. Moreover, potential new clients—including those who are pending discharge from hospitals or nursing facilities—might wonder if home care is still a viable option.
Here are ways caregiver agencies can leverage communication to reduce anxiety, instill trust and secure new referrals during these unsettling times.
Older home care clients are likely confused by the fast onset of coronavirus and the related news coverage. Even younger people have trouble staying current with all of the updates and announcements. The key for reassuring current clients is to send simple notices that are informative but not overwhelming.
Typical home care recipients fit the “high risk” profile, given their advanced ages. So, messages should primarily focus on the agency’s infection control protocols pursuant to CDC guidelines. Specific topics that must be addressed include:
- Hand washing procedures
- Caregiver use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Monitoring of staff for fever and other symptoms
- Surveying of staff for risks like recent travel or exposure to infected individuals
Once messages are created, home care agencies must find reliable ways to deliver them. Most home care software solutions provide features for sending out mass emails and text messages. But given the advanced age of many clients, agencies are also wise to place phone calls. The first message should be the most comprehensive, with subsequent check-in notes that reaffirm the infection control protocols.
A home care agency’s messaging to families will be similar to that of clients, but there are some distinctions. Families understandably fear their loved ones will contract coronavirus and will benefit from an initial message that outlines an agency’s infection control protocols. But subsequent updates may alert family members to coronavirus news within the local community.
For example, an agency may learn a nearby assisted living facility (ALF) has suffered an outbreak. A helpful email update regarding the situation will accomplish two things. First, it shows the agency is on top of it, which is reassuring and demonstrates competency. Second, it reaffirms the benefits of home care versus competing (and riskier) assisted living.
Next to clients and their families, caregivers are most deserving of strong communication from home care agency leaders. These valued team members are on the front lines and are quite literally risking their own health to ensure the well-being of vulnerable clients!
Naturally, caregivers are very concerned about contracting coronavirus. Even if they aren’t part of the high-risk demographic, nobody wants to get sick with a new and mysterious illness. Also, many workers have family members who do fit the high-risk profile.
Caregivers face another major concern, however. Many are worried that their livelihoods are on the verge of extinction. Everyone knows coronavirus is having a major impact on the economy, and experts are predicting major job losses.
Once an agency has communicated infection control procedures and other related training to staff and caregivers, it should then work to reassure workers that their jobs are secure. Unless clients are already terminating service en masse and layoffs are imminent, agencies should remain positive. Many industry experts predict the coronavirus crisis will actually encourage the use of at-home caregiver services versus assisted living alternatives.
Given that most caregivers have mobile phones, text messaging is probably the best communication medium. Team members deserve daily updates throughout the work week, even if they simply reaffirm prior messages. Home care companies should also alert caregivers to the availability of agency-supplied resources like medical masks and hand sanitizer.
Many agencies have now asked office staff to work from home. While most staffing and operational duties can be completed via email, phone and cloud-based software, company leaders must ensure daily functions aren’t compromised. Now might even be a good time for owners to consider investing in a communication and file-sharing platform like Slack.
Home care agency managers should schedule daily phone or web-based meetings to maintain strong communication throughout the coronavirus crisis. Regular interaction helps to keep everyone on the same page. It also allows workers to voice questions or concerns before small problems turn into catastrophes.
The coronavirus outbreak has had a profound affect on home care sales and marketing efforts. Simply put, hospitals, nursing facilities and doctors’ offices aren’t allowing access for visitors (including agency representatives). These policies are understandable but have negative unintended consequences.
Hospitals and medical providers still have patients in need of caregiver resources. So, it’s a bit of a catch-22. Home care agencies must find ways to communicate with valued referral sources both as a matter of business and also as a service to the community.
Many home care leaders will find that their top representatives already boast expansive lists of referral source phone numbers and email addresses. In fact, some forward-thinking salespeople have actually been communicating with case managers, social workers and doctors via text and email for years. So, now’s the time to really put that valuable information to work!
Home care representatives should send weekly “check-in” text messages to all welcoming referral sources. While a simple greeting is nice, it’s probably best to include a brief, reassuring message. Once again, the most obvious topic is agency infection control protocols and risk-mitigation strategy. But referral sources may be looking for other features too.
Marketers can highlight company distinctions by referencing features that address other coronavirus concerns. Perhaps a home care representative is available to meet families for assessments at a public park near the hospital. Or maybe an agency is providing virtual assessments through video chat or other platforms. Some companies can even highlight their DocuSign technology that allows for start of care with no in-person interaction whatsoever!
As home care agencies manage the coronavirus and prepare for life afterward, it’s important not to forget the general community. Caregiver companies are usually well-respected institutions, and no leader wants to lose that privileged standing.
Referral sources fall into the “community” category, but other people and organizations also form the larger body. Home care leaders should leverage their CRM tools to send newsletters and email updates to all available community members. Once again, the first interaction should provide a thorough explanation of infection-control protocols pursuant to CDC guidelines. It should also affirm that agency operations have not been adversely affected, caregiver services are still available and representatives are answering the phones.
Thereafter, it probably makes sense for home care leaders to send weekly or bi-weekly email updates. These may address general coronavirus news or community-specific events. As previously stated, agencies can even remind referral sources and other community members that home care is less risky than other senior living alternatives.
Experts and government officials have told Americans to expect a long, sustained battle against coronavirus (COVID-19). Nobody can predict the future at this point, but there’s reason to believe most home care agencies will successfully navigate the turbulent waters. And some industry leaders are even forecasting a greater demand for home-based care once everything settles down. Whatever the future holds, agencies must stay diligent in communicating with clients, families, caregivers, office staff, referral sources and other community partners!
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