By: Martin Gallogly, Communications Associate
Over the past five months, like many organizations in Rhode Island, PACE-RI has had to adjust the way we work and operate. That change was necessary to address the changing facts, recommendations, and daily difficulties of a pandemic. But as weeks turned to months, the crisis steadily morphed into the new reality of life. All the while, PACE did what we do best: get people the care and services they need. So how did we get here, and where does Rhode Island’s health care system go from here?
A Crisis to Tackle
Seven months ago, the idea of a global pandemic was almost not on my radar. Of course by March, that changed here in Rhode Island and other nearby states. Businesses closed, people were asked to stay home, and PACE’s participants now had to get their daily care in a new way. Having started at PACE just a month prior, I remember passing Joan Kwiatkowski, our CEO, in the office kitchen. She asked how I was handling the crisis, and I mentioned that it was tough as someone new to healthcare. She said, “You’ll get there. We live for these moments when we can really shine. This is what we train for.” Over the coming days and weeks, our organization adapted quickly to ensure that everyone was taken care of and could continue working where they would be safe. Almost overnight, all care and services were provided in participants’ homes rather than our centers. That meant moving center-based CNAs to do home care, and getting PPE for our doctors, nurses, and social workers going from home to home. It was our opportunity to show our resilience, to use the skills that Joan was so proud of. As she said, this is what we train for.
PACE’s New Reality
As the pandemic has continued, PACE-RI staff and participants adjusted to the new reality of COVID. Wearing masks at all times, social distancing, keeping all non-essential staff out of the day center, and relentless hand washing were just some of the new precautions that would have seemed unnecessary six months ago. These became part of daily life at PACE, where there is no higher priority than keeping people safe. Still, it meant taking considerations when trying to operate as an organization. Meetings needed to be limited to just a handful of people in the room, and many staff members have spent the past few months working from home. But despite it all, PACE kept growing. In fact, we had record enrollment and a three-fold increase in web traffic in April, May, and June as elders and their caregivers sought alternatives to a nursing home. The efficient system of care was still going strong, keeping participants healthy and COVID-free, even in the middle of a pandemic.
It’s clear to everyone that COVID has changed how we plan, act, and treat one another. It forced the team at PACE to adjust the way we operate and how we keep participants safe. But that change didn’t stop with PACE. Rhode Island is now looking to move more seniors toward home and community-based care settings and away from congregant housing, something that has been talked about but accelerated during COVID-19. Telehealth and house calls are also seeing more emphasis as ways to care for underserved communities. These methods are familiar to PACE and are getting a new look from government organizations large and small. For the staff at PACE, that’s heartening to hear. After all, this is what we train for.