Providing Help When the Community Needed It Most

The Community & Staff Support Project kept hospital staff employed during COVID-19 and served the community in unique ways.

In the spring of 2020, the financial and operational impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was taking its toll on the nation’s hospitals and health systems. Faced with losses estimated at over $200 billion nationwide, almost 300 healthcare organizations furloughed or laid off employees to stem revenue losses. At Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, there was a different story.

Good Stewardship of Human Capital

While a deep reduction in scheduled surgeries was also the case for SVMHS while COVID-19 raged, hospital leadership knew other community needs were escalating. They decided to take a different approach to human capital management and instead of layoffs, they opted for redeployment.

“Everybody wanted to keep working, and our leaders wanted to keep our great staff employed during what we knew would not be a permanent reduction in surgical volume,” says SVMHS President/CEO Pete Delgado. “We could focus our talented teams elsewhere, where they could make a significant impact.”

The health system formed the Community & Staff Support Project (CSSP) to redeploy staff to support the community while maintaining salary and benefits. Any employee who saw a reduction in their regularly scheduled work hours was eligible to participate. Partnerships with community organizations were created, then staff-supported outreach programs were formed.

“Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System has always made community service a key pillar of our mission,” says Delgado. “The CSSP seemed to be the right way to meet evolving needs in our community and keep our staff employed.”

To listen to an SVMHS Ask The Experts podcast with Pete Delgado, President and CEO, and hear more on this topic, click here.

Tending to the Agricultural Community

One of Salinas Valley’s populations hardest hit by COVID-19 was the agricultural community. Salinas Valley is home to more than 50,000 farmworkers who live in communal housing and often continue to work while sick, fearing lost wages. This makes it easier for the virus to spread, and when farmworkers get sick, it’s difficult for them to quarantine.

SVMHS teams were formed to educate both agricultural leaders and the communities they represent about coronavirus, how it spreads and the importance of health precautions. In partnership with the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, bilingual registered nurses were dispatched to the fields and processing plants to provide PPE and COVID-19 education to these essential workers.

In addition, the nurses helped move these workers into quarantine housing and access food and necessities. They also made regular visits to answer questions, help manage symptoms and provide any needed medications. In just under five months, the SVMHS teams reached more than 11,000 workers at more than 15 companies in Salinas Valley.

“We are extremely proud of our nurses who participated in this community outreach program. I have no doubt that the prevalence of COVID-19 among this vulnerable population would have been much higher if it wasn’t for this proactive intervention,” Delgado says.

Helping Local Nonprofits

Another way that staff members could participate in the CSSP was by volunteering with community organizations. With community hunger and homelessness spiking due to COVID-19, CSSP team members volunteered at Dorothy’s Place and the Salvation Army, where they served meals, packed lunches and assisted with outreach.

The outreach was an impactful opportunity for Yesenia Saldana and Lucy Cardenas, tech assistants at the Nancy Ausonio Mammography Center. When the shelter-in-place order was made, both women’s schedules were drastically cut because screenings were put on hold. They both joined the CSSP.

“Knowing I could keep my same income and serve the community really made a difference,” says Saldana, who volunteered at Dorothy’s Place, which serves the homeless, poor and marginalized in Chinatown.

Cardenas served at the Salvation Army, which saw a significant increase in the need for its regularly provided meals. “Even now, when I am back to working full time, I still go back to help at the Salvation Army,” she says.

To watch an interview with Yesenia Saldana and Lucy Cardenas on their experiences, click here.

Connecting with Vulnerable Populations

Concerned about the effect that shelter-in-place orders would have on seniors and other vulnerable communities, CSSP staff were gathered to make phone calls to check their welfare. If someone needed help, even with something as simple as providing groceries, nursing staff from the patient experience team made home visits to deliver food and connect those in need with reliable meal services and other types of support.

“I was just making a typical call, asking a patient how she was doing, if she had her medications and if there was enough food on hand,” says Olga Morales, a redeployed Community Health Advocate with the SVMHS Mobile Health Clinic. “She hesitated and then said, ‘No, I don’t have much food.’”

Morales shared her conversation with Ihovana Aquirre, RN, at SVMHS. Together, they packed some paper bags with food and Aquirre visited the senior at her home.

“When I opened the fridge, there was not one thing in it,” Aquirre says. “During the next couple of days, I was able to pick up and deliver eggs, bread, peanut butter and other staples. It felt good knowing this sweet, 89-year-old woman had the nutrition she needed and that we facilitated a long-term, reliable meal delivery solution.”

To read a more in-depth article on this topic, click here.

Keeping Community First

The CSSP redeployment program has been nothing short of amazing, Delgado says. Four months after the program began, more than 185 SVMHS employees worked 10,500 volunteer hours, affecting the lives of both at-risk communities and frontline workers.

“We appreciate having the opportunity to serve our community in this way, as we all responded to meet evolving needs during the pandemic,” Delgado says. “COVID-19 changed many things about our lives, our community and our healthcare system. I couldn’t be more proud of our staff who rose to that challenge to live out our organization’s mission to serve our community.”

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