There’s been no protocol for how states should reopen for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the same holds true for cities and counties within those states.
For people who’ve been confined for more than six weeks, there’s been both eagerness and reticence. Beaches fill in Florida and bars fill in Wisconsin while restaurant owners report tepid responses in Nashville, Tennessee, after the removal of a shelter-in-place order. Meanwhile, in New York City, police have been accused of selective enforcement of social distancing rules in public parks.
So how easy is it for a company with 13 offices doing business in 40 states to determine when its employees can return to the workplace?
“We don’t want to be the first ones jumping back into the pool with two feet,” says Melissa Leigh of Acentra Health. “We’re willing to see what others do first and what facts we need to rely on.”
Headquartered in Pennsylvania, Acentra Health partners with federal and state government-sponsored health plans, providing quality reviews, assessments and care management services and solutions primarily for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
As general counsel and chief compliance officer, Leigh works in the company’s Nashville office, in a state where opinions and policies on reopening readily diverge.
While Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced the first phase of reopening businesses on April 24, his plan provided for counties with their own health departments to make their own plans. In Music City, the first phase began May 11. South of the city, in the county where Leigh lives, some businesses reopened April 27.
Leigh notes there’s no real indication when the company’s office outside Portland, Oregon, could reopen. The first phase in that state goes into effect May 15 and only covers rural areas initially.
A team effort
As Acentra Health has worked through the pandemic, Leigh says senior staff have met three times a week with vice presidents. They’ve also consulted with a registered nurse who has emergency room experience, and a colleague with emergency management planning experience.
Early on, the team prioritized guidance from the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Leigh says.
As to when Acentra Health can reopen, she says it will depend on factors like how the business can meet social distancing requirements, how health screening will be done, and if Acentra Health can get a reliable supply for sanitizing products.
As with other businesses, these factors could be complicated by a lack of childcare services or concerns about commuting by public transportation, both affecting the workforce, she says.
In the meantime, Acentra Health has staff working remotely, and some were remote before the pandemic. That has meant there were already continuity plans, as well as protections for patient confidentiality and data in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Leigh says.
However, the full shift to remote work meant meetings and assessments for care placements that had been done in–person were now done virtually, and those are not something that can be handled while working at a dining room table.
Been there before
“This reminds me of other things I had to dance around on a regional scale almost 20 years ago,” she says, recalling when she was the deputy director and general counsel at the regional planning agency in Connecticut.
Post-9/11, Leigh was part of the emergency response planning team for the agency working on “the big ‘what-if’ scenarios,” she says, including arranging the use of ice rinks as morgues, if needed.
Moving forward, she says Acentra Health could support states where Medicaid enrollment will increase because of unemployment, and possibly help labor departments manage their increasing workloads, she says.
A possibility that fascinates her is how contract tracing for COVID-19 exposure will be carried out.
“It’s critical to reopening,” Leigh says. “Tech companies have launched apps which track movement and person-to-person contact, some collect biometric data. They’re widely used in Asia where privacy concerns are low, but I wonder how the balance will be struck here.”