by Nancy Humphrey, News and Communications
In early March, Vanderbilt University Medical Center established a telephone hotline for its patients and employees concerned that they could be ill with COVID-19. The hotline has since received more than 20,000 calls.
The calls come in to VUMC’s Access Center where shifts of VUMC schedulers, working from home from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central Time, seven days a week, ascertain if the caller is a current Vanderbilt patient or an employee. If yes, they obtain the caller’s contact information and send a message to a group of clinicians working the hotline.
“We reached out to all of our schedulers and said, ‘we need some help,’ and our team stepped up,” said Chanell Branch, MBA, vice president of Patient Access Services, who oversees the access hotline. The schedulers are managed by a team including Teresa Gillespie, operations manager for Patient Access Services.
Branch and her team created a list of FAQs based on early calls to the hotline, and updated the information daily early on to pass along to the schedulers answering the calls.
The schedulers are also equipped with a list of assessment sites, addresses and business hours.
“It was quite a task to pull this well-oiled machine together in such a short period of time,” Branch said. “We were able to get a number not being utilized and hook that to the hotline, and get our schedulers trained as quickly as possible — all in the midst of sending them home to work.” About 200 nurses, nurse practitioners, physician residents and fellows are now involved in the clinician portion of the hotline, which is also active seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Central Time. Between 10-20 staff the hotline at any given time.
Many are answering calls in addition to their regular jobs at VUMC.
The hotline started with three nurse practitioners, and additional staff were trained and brought on as the calls began to increase.
The clinician hotline supervisors are Alexandra Speros, MSN, CNM, FNP-BC, APRN, a certified nurse midwife and family practitioner providing women’s care at West End Women’s Health Center and Vanderbilt Nurse-Midwives at Melrose, and Alyssa Miller, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, APRN, a nurse practitioner who provides primary care to the MNPS Employee & Family Health Care Centers. They are overseen by April Kapu, DNP, RN, ACNP-BC, associate nursing officer for VUMC Advanced Practice and director of the Office of Advanced Practice, and Kyla Terhune, MD, MBA, associate professor of Surgery and Vice President for Educational Affairs for VUMC and Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine..
“It’s been great to see the teamwork between many people who have never met, working to get information out to all of our patients quickly and easily to keep them as safe as possible,” Speros said.
“Alyssa and I have never met but we talk several times a day. Our group has worked so well to troubleshoot and answer questions, making sure we are giving out coordinated and succinct information to all of our patients and employees.”
The hotline team’s goal is to get back to patients in less than 30 minutes to an hour. But at its peak there were often hundreds of patients waiting for a call back.
“We didn’t know at first how many calls to anticipate, but we got appropriate staffing quickly and knocked those out as quickly as possible,” Speros said. “It took a little bit of figuring out how to manage the calls at first because we had such a huge influx of calls very quickly. Early on if there was a press release or a press conference, people would see that and get worried and we’d get an influx of calls. We get the gamut of questions, from ‘do I have it,’ to ‘I do have it, what do I do now?’”
Questions range from those wanting to know if they should be tested to those who have tested positive and want to know when they can go back to work. Those manning the hotline recommend where patients should can go for assessment, if testing is advised.
If a patient tests positive, another team is assigned to follow up by telemedicine visits every other day to make sure they aren’t worsening.
Miller said working the hotline has been an experience she won’t forget.
“There have been many challenging questions from patients who are scared and confused and we’ve had a great team. I can’t say enough good things about them. “It’s kept me busy while staying at home social distancing.”
Speros said the work from the clinician team has been impressive.
“It’s been wild, the amount of calls and concerns and uncertainty from the community, and from our end, often having to change protocols on an hourly basis,” she said.
“We communicate with April and Kyla in the command center, so we’re getting the most up-to-date information out to the patients who call. I’ve been really proud of Vanderbilt and how we’ve been proactive in dealing with this outbreak.”
Branch said monitoring the Access Center hotline has been exhausting, but that she couldn’t be more pleased with how it’s worked out. Initially, calls were answered until 10 p.m.
“I was amazed at our team and how they were willing to do whatever needed to be done for our patients,” Branch said.
“We had no issues with getting people to volunteer, even on weekends, when our schedulers don’t normally work. Asking them to sacrifice their weekends to cover this hotline, especially in the beginning when the volumes were astronomical, it’s been remarkable how everybody came together.”
The access hotline can be reached at (888) 312-0847.