Sanford cross-training employees, reaching out to retirees

March 31, 2020

Sanford Health is using a time of relative calm before the anticipated COVID-19 storm to prepare more employees to potentially handle an influx of patients and backfill as co-workers become sick.

“We have a head start, so we’ve had a lot of opportunity to really become prepared,” said Bill Gassen, chief administrative officer who oversees human resources as part of his role.

With elective and nonessential procedures stopped, many employees who would have been filling those roles are instead able to cross-train in case they’re needed elsewhere, he said. A number of them have offered to help fill in those gaps.

“We have a number of employees who, outside of their current functions either in a past life or past job, have prior experience or the ability to cross-train over, so we’re cross-training and upscaling a number of our employees.”

Sanford also has reached out to employees who retired up to a year ago “to see if they want to come back to refresh those skills and certifications and then be ready to serve,” Gassen said. “We’ve had a great outpouring of individuals who have been willing and anxious to do that.”

He calls the measures more of a safety net, adding that for now “we’re comfortable with the staffing mix that we have” but recognizing some health care workers will become sick either because of exposure in the workplace or outside of it.

Sanford is comfortable with its current supply of personal protective equipment, he added.

“Right now, we feel like we have sufficient PPE,” he said. “Each and every day, our talented operators and folks in the supply chain team are constantly working to be able to procure enough.”

So far, there have been no COVID-19 cases confirmed among residents at Sanford’s more than 250 Good Samaritan locations across 24 states.

“We do know it’s not a matter of if but when,” Gassen said. “At some point in time, we know that’s coming, so we continue to take every step we can to be prepared.”

Late last week, Sanford announced some one-time extras for its hourly nonexempt employees, including payments of $300 for full-time workers and $150 for part-time staff. Sanford also will cover those employees’ health insurance premiums for April through June. They also do not have to use paid time off temporarily if they have hours reduced or are called off work.

“We want to provide them and their families with that peace, that comfort knowing that they would be cared for,” Gassen said.

In addition, Sanford leadership is making donations to a cash fund for employees in crisis, and all employees can donate their paid time off to co-workers or to a pool.

Employees at some locations in the Sanford Sports Complex, such as the Pentagon, have been reassigned to other roles as those facilities have gone dark. Some of them are helping in call centers in various areas of the health system, Gassen said.

Sanford also is assessing its facility needs and will make more decisions on how certain facilities could be repurposed to handle an influx of COVID-19 cases as modeling becomes more precise, he said.

“We feel like we’re getting closer and closer to a point where we’re able to agree on what we think those underlaying assumptions are, which helps us plan and helps us take action steps,” he said.

That could include designating some spaces for COVID-19 patients who no longer need intensive care but might still be shedding the virus, he said.

“We’re doing lots of modeling and facility plans,” he said, adding that the front-line caregivers are ready for what’s ahead.

“Without exception, they’re here to provide care, this is what they do, they stand ready to do that. They trust us we’re going to provide them with the protection they need,” he said. “I’m just amazed at the talent, at the resolve that they have. So many of them are standing at the door waiting.”

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Sanford cross-training employees, reaching out to retirees

Sanford Health is using a time of relative calm before the anticipated COVID-19 storm to prepare more employees to potentially handle an influx of patients and backfill as co-workers become sick.

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