How SmartLinx Supports Senior Care Facilities Fighting COVID-19

May 18, 2020 Lynne Jackson

COVID-19 has ravaged senior care facilities throughout the U.S. Although no demographic is immune to its devastating effects, seniors and those with underlying heart, lung, and immune compromised systems are especially vulnerable. Since the airborne virus spreads quickly and easily in densely populated areas, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities face even greater risk.

When the pandemic started to reach these environments, SmartLinx implemented a multi-prong response to help its senior living, long-term care and post-acute care clients protect their residents and employees.

Purpose-built for senior care

Designed especially for senior living and skilled nursing facilities, SmartLinx workforce management suite lets clients easily configure the software and time clocks to support changing scheduling, attendance tracking, and compliance needs.

With at-a-glance access to key performance indicators, clients are using the integrated workforce management suite to track everything from staffing status across multiple facilities to designated COVID-19 wards, and the corresponding labor costs --- all in real time. Operators are:

  • Quickly creating and adjusting employee schedules to reflect shifting needs and supporting COVID-19 isolation wards as needed. 
  • Tracking and managing employee attendance in real time.
  • Identifying employee scheduling gaps as soon as they happen.
  • Quickly closing open shifts using automated alerts, staffing recommendations, and employee notifications.
  • Empowering workers to manage their employee schedules with self-scheduling options and access to real-time scheduling updates, personal attendance and financial information.
  • Tracking their attendance and employee schedules against state and federal regulations.
  • Managing and improving KPIs, such as Five-Star Ratings.

Stopping the virus at the door

When the virus hit the U.S., skilled nursing and senior living operators strove to protect residents and employees by instituting new attendance management policies designed to stop the virus at their doorstep. For example, they barred visitors from entering their facilities. Many operators also required staff who recently traveled abroad or took a cruise to self-quarantine for two weeks.

They also used SmartLinx to prescreen employees and contractors. SmartLinx modified its time and attendance management system to enable facilities to automatically prescreen staff for virus symptoms. Before clocking in and accessing the facility, employees must answer key questions recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), on the SmartLinx Time Clock screen including: 

  1.  Have you washed your hands or used alcohol-based hand rub before entering?
  2. Do you have any of the following symptoms?
    1. Fever
    2. Sore throat
    3. Cough
    4. Shortness of breath
  3. In the last 14 days, have you had contact with someone with a recognized case of COVID-19?
  4. In the last 14 days, have you worked at a facility or location with a recognized case of COVID-19?

Promoting hygienic procedures

In addition, SmartLinx helped protect employees from cross contamination by preventing them from having to clock into work with bare hands. SmartLinx representatives instructed operators on how to disable biometric fingerprint access on their time clocks and replace it with a two-part unique identification code process for each secured location. Staff can now wear latex gloves when punching in and out of a unit or facility.

New Touchless Time Clocks protect residents and employees

SmartLinx decided to take resident and employee protection to the next level by eliminating contact with the time clock. The SmartLinx Touchless Time Clock enables employees to punch in and out of work without physically interacting with their mobile device. They simply complete the punch in or punch out process on their SmartLinx Go mobile app and present a QR code to the time clock.

SmartLinx Go generates a QR code that automatically transmits the employee identity and punch type to the integrated SmartLinx workforce management system when the employee holds it up to the clock's scanner. However, employees must present the code within five minutes to successfully punch in or out of work. 

The SmartLinx Touchless Time Clock also enables employees to  punch in and out six times faster than they could using traditional electronic time clocks. As a result, the Touchless Time Clock helps reduce the long lines of employees waiting to clock in or out at the beginning of each shift.  

Isolating the virus in a facility

Early in the pandemic, the highly contagious coronavirus infected many facilities, spreading quickly through asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals.

Operators had to act quickly to care for sick residents and stop further spread. Many used  SmartLinx employee scheduling and attendance management features to create and implement new staffing procedures. COVID-19 isolation units were often created to contain the spread. The federal government recognized the efficacy of isolation wards and, in August, CMS recommended states increase Medicaid reimbursements to skilled nursing facilities able to quarantine residents battling COVID-19 to isolation wards.  See CMS releases guidance for SNFS on increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates amid pandemic for more information.

Since SmartLinx is designed specifically for long-term care, post-acute care and senior living facilities, it can be configured to support new isolation units quickly and easily. Administrators used SmartLinx  workforce scheduling to dedicate specific nurses, caretakers, dietitians, therapists, medical professionals and housekeeping staff to the new COVID-19 units.

Many also use employee time and attendance features to ensure these dedicated employees work exclusively in the isolation wards and prevent other employees from inadvertently caring for infected patients or coming into contact with those who did. These measures are helping contain the virus while ensuring residents receive the care they need.

Using proactive staffing to provide resident care

As part of its workforce management suite, SmartLinx employee scheduling proactively defines the appropriate staffing level based on the number of residents, each resident’s medical needs (acuity), including COVID-19 care, and evolving regulatory demands.

In just a few moments, administrators create and modify workforce schedules to support changing resident values. Employee scheduling also enables them to determine staffing levels in advance.

Senior care operators are using SmartLinx integrated workforce scheduling and attendance management to:

  • Support the precise resident population and PPD census values
  • Automatically adjust workforce schedules based on resident acuity
  • Track and support the ratio of nurses, certified nursing assistants, and medical staff in compliance with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)

They can also quickly access the information what they need and modify employee schedules on the fly. Administrators use the color-coded dashboard to view schedules and live attendance for all their facilities at once. When a unit or facility is orange or red, they quickly drill down to analyze underlying details and receive recommended resolutions.

Filling open shifts fast

The pandemic and subsequent quarantine are dramatically impacting staff availability. Even before the pandemic hit, many senior care and senior living operators struggled to maintain proper staffing levels amid the ongoing nursing shortage and high employee turnover rates.

“During the first half of 2019, there was an average of more than 1.2 million unfilled job openings at the end of each month. In addition to being a record high, this means there were roughly 90% more unfilled job openings than hires each month during the first half of the year.” Source:  Argentum’s 2020 Forecast Report.

The current crisis is exasperating staffing demands. Operators lack the number of employees needed to adequately staff their facilities all day every day. In addition, their stable of reliable employees is shrinking as employees struggle to balance their work schedule with intensifying family demands.

Many call out because they cannot find adequate childcare since schools and day care facilities closed. Others cannot work scheduled shifts because they are experiencing virus-like symptoms. Operators are scrambling to compensate with new measures like pay increases and bonuses to help with childcare or flexible scheduling options.  

Tracking time and attendance to spot openings as they occur

In this chaotic time, schedules change constantly, making it hard for administrators to keep track of who is working where without an automated system. However, many workforce management systems share time and attendance data through periodic batch reports. Therefore, administrators often won’t  find out about scheduling gaps until hours after they happen, which jeopardizes quality of care.

Since SmartLinx integrates live scheduling and attendance tracking data, administrators can spot open shifts as soon as they happen and can quickly resolve them. The color-coded dashboard displays live staffing information for all their units simultaneously and identifies which ones are understaffed. Administrators can immediately drill down to determine exactly where the gaps are. 

Resolving employee scheduling gaps automatically

Workforce management software automatically recommends how administrators can fill employee scheduling gaps by presenting a list of available employees, qualified to fill each spot. The list filters employees by their facility’s internal policies and hours worked. Therefore, administrators can ensure only employees designated to COVID-19 units are considered for corresponding openings. They can also quickly check their hours worked to prevent employee burnout and control overtime.

Offering open shifts is also quick and easy. Administrators simply selects employee names and the workforce management system automatically notifies each employee of the specific opening in their preferred communication method, such as text message, mobile app alert, or email.

Employees can accept or reject the open shift offer immediately on their SmartLinx Go mobile app and then receive a confirmation from administrators in moments.

Empowering employees to swap shifts

As the pandemic placed mounting pressure on senior care staff, especially frontline caregivers, many operators are relying on their workforce management software to alleviate stress by helping employees balance work and life responsibilities.

Caregivers are using SmartLinx mobile workforce management system (SmartLinx Go) to access real-time schedules and updates 24/7 on their mobile device. Automatic notifications informed them of new schedules, shift opportunities, and responses to PTO other requests.

In addition, when childcare responsibilities prevent staff from working a scheduled shift, they use the mobile workforce management app to swap shifts with co-workers. SmartLinx Go gives them a list of qualified colleagues available to work their shift. The employees use the app to find available coworkers and ask them to swap shifts. When two workers agree on a swap, the app automatically sends the swap request to an administrator for final approval.

When problems happen and employees miss a punch or accidentally punch in at the wrong time or place, they can review their punch history and make corrections on SmartLinx Go. Corrections are  automatically routed to administrators for verification.

Employees also used the app to submit PTO requests and access personal information, like paystubs. Providing caregivers access to self-scheduling and work information on demand is giving them a sense of control in these uncertain times. Learn How to Use a Mobile App to Increase Productivity.

Making hiring easier

Even before the pandemic hit, assisted living and skilled nursing operators struggled to stay fully staffed with more than 33% of their workforce turning over every year, according to Argentum’s 2020 Forecast Report. The nursing shortage created even more unfilled positions in long-term and post-acute care facilities.

As you know, hiring qualified workers is an ongoing challenge. Many operators are turning to their SmartLinx suite for help streamlining this resource-intensive practice. The applicant tracking system allows HR staff to post opportunities on multiple job sites simultaneously.  It also automates the prescreening, interview scheduling and analysis processes.

The automated process makes applying for position simple and fast, so candidates walk away with a positive impression of the organization. Plus, they only provide their personal information once and the system takes it from there, automatically transmitting onboarding data to HR.

 

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