Hearing a need among community members for clear information about best practices to mitigate risks of COVID-19, University Hospitals in early May launched a toolkit to help businesses navigate returning to work.
First the system heard from leaders of essential services, then more and more businesses and community members asked for help understanding safety practices: masking, distancing, cleaning protocols and more. As the requests grew, UH wanted to get information to a broader audience than just those who had reached out.
"I think we quickly realized that this needed to be content that stood up so it was available to everyone in the community, not just the people we were able to work with one-on-one," said Dr. Joan Zoltanski, UH's chief experience officer who has been leading the system's Healthy Restart efforts.
In the past three months, the UH Healthy Restart Playbooks — free online, up-to-date resources for employers and schools — have been downloaded thousands of times.
Cleveland Clinic was hearing similar requests for information from the community and launched its own support system for businesses shortly after UH. The Clinic's AtWork program offers COVID-19 response resources, including webinars, industry-specific guides and a hotline for advice.
"The top three things that people are asking of us that we're working for and working with is interpretation, clarification and translation," said Dr. James Merlino, the Clinic's chief clinical transformation officer.
Though the health systems may have offered advice here and there, consulting at this scale is new for them. The science behind mitigating risk of spreading disease, of course, is not. Hospitals were masking and cleaning for infectious disease and viruses long before COVID-19. Pivoting the expertise that they implement in their own facilities to community education made sense, Zoltanski said.
In the absence of a vaccine or antiviral medication, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health is working with five tenants of non-pharmaceutical interventions, said Kevin Brennan, communications officer for the board. These are handwashing, social distancing, mask wearing, cleaning and disinfecting of commonly touched surfaces and health screenings.
Because health systems and the board of health can reach different audiences, hospitals amplifying the messaging about such practices is helpful, he said. While the health systems have been able to provide some level of proactive, individualized guidance to businesses, the board's business response is complaint-driven education.
"I think we can't be everywhere we want to be; we can't be everything to everyone," Brennan said. "So we're glad that an authority such as a hospital would be willing to step up and fill that void. We feel like there's reliability in the fact that they have expertise given the composition of their staff members and their history, so I think we're pleased to see that."
Summa Health has proactively reached out to local businesses to offer resources, such as webinars and Q&A sessions. MetroHealth has worked on protocols with the Cleveland Public Library, Destination Cleveland and area schools, but the system isn't making direct consulting with businesses a big part of its response. Rather, its work as an essential hospital has been more in health equity and access during this pandemic, like ensuring essential workers get tested and know how to protect themselves, said Dr. Brook Watts, MetroHealth's vice president and chief quality officer.
The Clinic is working with nearly 150 entities around the world to help them think about and implement best practices. Some of these have taken the form of a more public relationship. For instance, Clorox Co. and the Clinic announced in mid-July a partnership they would collaborate to develop a free online guide for employers to help them train personnel, select effective products and develop robust cleaning and disinfection processes.
Some of the Clinic's partnerships support individual businesses, while others help push information to the public more broadly, such as working with Jones Day to help with webinars for clients or collaborating with the Adventure Travel Trade Association — a network of travel agencies around the world — to develop free guidelines for travelers.
UH, whose outreach focuses on Northeast Ohio, has also worked with convener organizations, like chambers of commerce or groups of mayors, to give them more information, answer specific questions and help them best communicate that.
Although the Clinic doesn't yet have an answer, it's starting to look at what the free services and these new relationships might mean in the future. But for now, the focus is on the reality communities and businesses are facing that for at least the near future: living with COVID-19.
UH's playbooks and all data published online are available for free. When businesses are looking for a deep dive or would like an expert to review their back-to-work plans with an infectious disease doctor or specialist, UH has charged a bit to cover costs. The system doesn't see it as a money-making operation but a mission-driven effort to slow the spread, Zoltanski said.
"Our infectious disease, our clinicians were very motivated to get behind this," she said. "As you can fully well imagine, they couldn't possibly be busier than they are right now, but when I said to them, 'Hey, we want to help businesses,' they showed up on Saturday mornings to work through content in the little time off they had because we said we want to help the community, and that was really the why of this for us."
The Clinic's "powerful brand" around the world is part of why organizations have reached out, Merlino said.
Leveraging that brand could help to combat some of the misinformation, and in some ways mistrust, among members of the public. Merlino said the Clinic is working alongside UH and MetroHealth on how to educate and reinforce the message.
"We're starting to have these conversations. We need to be able to do more, to really conquer that," he said.
Though some parts of pandemic response are political, Zoltanski said UH sticks to the medicine, the science and the trusted partnership it has developed with the community. Beyond sharing the best medically sound advice, it's important to also be transparent, honest and admit what remains unknown, she said.
Merlino recognizes that there may always be people who don't accept or follow the basic guidelines agreed upon by the scientific and medical communities, but it's important to continue reinforcing their importance.
"Sharing information with public is important medicine in COVID-19 fight" originally appeared in Crain's Cleveland Business.