As the healthcare industry learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, space can become a premium as cases spike. This is where ASCs show even more value.

If hospitals need more space, they might use their ASCs in which they own majority shares to solve the problem. A freestanding center run by physicians might make their facility available for emergency needs in the event area hospitals are overflowing with patients.

“You have to be ready to be a community asset if needed,” says Don Schreiner, MBA, chief executive officer of OrthoIllinois. “If a hospital needed us or called upon us, we were prepared to jump in.”

Secure Supplies

Whatever roles ASCs play as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, leaders should prioritize securing supplies in the event of another worldwide supply chain disruption. For instance, Schreiner says OrthoIllinois developed connections with vendors that supplied every item they needed in 2020, despite the pandemic-induced gaps, Schreiner says. The group also secured COVID-19 testing materials so they could ensure staff and patients were safe from the virus.

Surgery centers should be prepared for as many eventualities as they can imagine. For instance, if their area is in a COVID-19 hotspot, the state may force administrators to close these centers for weeks or even months.

“In Rockford, the state did not shut us down because we were so low with COVID cases,” Schreiner reports. “We are dependent on how the government and states respond to COVID outbreaks and how they respond to managing it.”

Surgery centers should make sure they follow all public health guidelines, set up processes to test staff, and maintain social distancing. Leaders need to know how to process people through the clinic and surgery center during an outbreak. “There is a lot of manpower that goes into planning that and making it safe,” Schreiner says. “You can’t just say, ‘Open it up, and come on in.’ You have to manage it, and follow all the guidelines.”

Staffing Hurdles

In 2021, surgery centers also will continue to face staffing challenges. Finding good employees always is a challenge, but the COVID-19 pandemic makes this more difficult since employees could be exposed to COVID-19 at any time and need two weeks of quarantine.

Schreiner says cross-training always has been an Ortho hallmark, but the COVID-19 emergency has taken it to the next level.

“It’s gone up another notch so people can do multiple jobs if they have to,” he explains. “We have had to hire extra staff, and we have extra teams of PRN staff to stand in when needed.”