Welcoming Non-Clinical UH Caregivers to Our Hospitals to Help Combat COVID-19

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The latest information on Helping Hands Phase IV

UH Clinical Update | January 2022

By Cliff Megerian, MD, Chief Executive Officer, University Hospitals

As UH clinicians, you know better than anyone the incredible demands placed on our hospitals and care providers. The most recent surge of COVID-19 led to record numbers of severely ill patients in our crowded ICUs and Emergency Departments.

This patient volume and the intensity of illness being treated comes after nearly two years of treating COVID-19 patients, with numbers of them not surviving this deadly virus. That alone takes a tremendous toll on care providers, as does the physical endurance required for this kind of care.

That is why we are doing something that has never before done at UH: We are asking our non-clinical caregivers – people who work in administrative positions in hospitals, or in our UH offices, or remotely from home, for example -- to step forward and commit to two weeks of working 40 hours in our medical centers.

We are doing this now, partly because the presence and support of nearly 300 Ohio National Guard service members will be reduced as they are called to other parts of Ohio. We are immensely grateful for the support role they played within our hospitals, transporting patients, cleaning and turning rooms, helping patients with non-clinical support and assisting in management of overburdened ED waiting rooms. They worked in patient care areas, including ICUs and COVID inpatient units, as well as Patient Transport and Environmental Services. They assisted at UH Cleveland, Ahuja, Elyria, Geauga, Lake West, Parma, Portage, Samaritan and Tri-Point medical centers.

And of course, our caregivers at the bedside have contributed above and beyond by picking up additional shifts and hours, and training to work in different environments where the demands are greatest, as well as bearing the emotional toll of comforting patients and families who experience the loss of loved ones.

As I mentioned in an email last week to all UH caregivers, the surge created a situation graver than it ever had previously been during the pandemic. The significant actions taken so far are not enough.

Although an overwhelming number of us are vaccinated, many caregivers are contracting the virus and missing work, which puts more stress on our hospital capacity. The number of UH caregivers who are unable to serve has at times climbed to more than 1,000.

So, we have put out the call to all UH employees to help us as we level up our Helping Hands program to Phase IV. We would like 500 or more participants to step away from non-patient facing roles and instead serve in our hospitals for a two-week commitment that will carry us through and beyond this COVID-19 surge.

We ask that you and your staff welcome these additional caregivers, and convey the patience you normally would to someone who is new to their duties. All of us are grateful for their commitment.

The reason we are asking non-clinicians for a two-week commitment (rather than 4 or 8-hour shifts in earlier iterations of Helping Hands) is for efficient training. We want volunteer cohorts of 10 people who will train and serve at the same locations. All participants will also be trained for safety and will be fitted for N-95 masks.

Doing it this way, clinical staff won’t have to interrupt their clinical work to individually train each volunteer, and volunteers will quickly become familiar with the tasks and unit where they are placed. We expect these deployments to begin as soon as Jan. 24, as the immediate needs across our health system are critical.

Helping Hands Phase IV participants will be asked to perform a wide range of non-clinical services (Note, link only available via UH Network connection) in patient care areas. Their assignments may include being observers of patients, working in environmental services or patient transport, stocking supplies, passing meals, and responding to call lights.

Anyone who would like to participate in Helping Hands IV should let their immediate supervisor know that they are willing to participate and serve. Supervisors can then submit the volunteer’s information to Tom Conner, Director of Nursing Operations, using the survey link provided here. Include the name of the employee, employee number, phone number, and their preferred hospital.

It is a privilege to work with so many of you who have truly performed heroically during these challenging times. Thank you for caring for our patients and our community, and giving generously in your service – and I thank, in advance, all the UH caregivers who will come forward to assist our clinicians and our patients.

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