Welcome to the first installment of “Friday Features!” To start us off, we chose to speak to Beth Henson, CEO, Clinical Director and Policy Chief of Azure Healthcare Services LLC, about how they have maintained zero COVID-19 cases in all six of their supported living communities.
In December, through the World Health Organization Instagram feed, the Azure team noticed news of the coronavirus progression and its spread in Wuhan, China. They began discussing potential responses to COVID-19 before it had even entered the U.S. “We added it to a management team agenda in December, just a discussion of ‘what if’?” Beth explained. Once the first cases had been identified on the west coast of the United States, Azure had all hands on deck. Azure leaders held daily meetings with management via Microsoft Teams in addition to weekly check-ins via Zoom with direct care staff.
As Azure begins their re-opening plan, they continue to keep the interests of both current and furloughed staff as a primary concern. “We want to hear how they’re feeling, we want to tell them what we’re planning, we want to get their feedback.” Azure was able to guarantee the safety and happiness of their clients by ensuring that all staff members were healthy and supported. Henson highlighted this point, stating, “The people will be ok if the staff are ok.”
Word of mouth quickly spread of Azure’s success in combating the virus. They were asked by friends of Mayor Muriel Bowser and a member of the DC Council to create a concise document outlining the six ways Azure remained 100% COVID free so that other organizations could replicate their success. (See the link the Azure strategy here) “Folks want our expertise and that’s great to see for an organization that’s run by a veteran and two black women in 2020,” Beth stated. Some of the most innovative guidelines included a 100% lock-down of all facilities, ongoing video-conference training of staff on proper protective measures, and a community partnership with a local testing facility to ensure all staff members are COVID free before entering homes. Henson emphasized that the development and implementation of strategies such as these cannot stop once the pandemic has left the media spotlight, declaring, “I don’t think we’re ever going back to the way it was.” She explained that the knowledge we’ve gained surrounding infection control will change the way all employees do their jobs, from Direct Care Staff to Nurses to CEOs.
Henson’s previous experience with high-stress health crises while working as a US Public Health Service Commander helped inform her forefront thinking in the face of the COVID epidemic. It’s this type of proactive decision-making that allowed Azure to remain COVID free. When asked what Henson was most proud of when it came to Azure’s model response, instead of commenting on the numbers and recognition, she highlighted the human impact on the Azure community. “We did our level best to ensure the health, welfare, safety, and choice of the people that we support while protecting vigilantly the staff.”
Azure’s communication strategy, demonstrated ability to coordinate with staff at all levels, focus on maintaining whole service health and skill in utilizing community partnerships are huge accomplishments and a great example for other small provider organizations. As Henson states, “Nobody saw us coming.”