Apr 07 2021

Q&A: IT Manager Shares How Small Minnesota Care Facility Adapted Amid the Pandemic

Josh Benson of North Valley Health Center in rural Minnesota shared in a CDW Tech Talk the challenges and solutions that emerged at the start of the pandemic.

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic spurred changes in healthcare settings across the U.S., leaders in the space are reviewing lessons they’ve learned and how they’ve adapted for the better.

Josh Benson, IT manager for North Valley Health Center in rural Minnesota, explained in a CDW Tech Talk in February how the small primary care facility had to readjust to respond to the needs of its patients amid the pandemic.

For example, Benson said that when the facility needed to implement drive-through coronavirus testing, it had to alter an ambulance garage to offer that service. It reached out to CDW for help, going with Ergotron for mobile carts. When there was an issue with costly shipping, CDW stepped in to get the equipment to the site free of charge.

Benson spoke with BizTech Senior Editor Keara Dowd about immediate challenges during the pandemic, the response from stakeholders and how the past year has changed internal conversations with his team.

BIZTECH: Let’s go back to almost a year ago. What was the atmosphere like at North Valley when the pandemic first began, and what were some of the immediate challenges that you were facing?

BENSON: We had a lot of things going on. We’re in a very rural part of Minnesota, so we were really trying to identify the different ways that this was going to change how we took care of patients. We quickly found out that the way we were doing things wasn’t necessarily going to support what our patients needed. For example, we had to figure out how we were going to do something like drive-through COVID-19 testing, and we did not have a way to do that. We did have an ambulance drive-through garage, which we tried to retrofit for testing. So we were trying to figure out how we were going to move our patient care into an environment like that.

DISCOVER: How mobile computers can enhance COVID-19 testing.

BIZTECH: How has using some of those tools and solutions affected North Valley’s long-term IT strategy?

BENSON: What we learned early on was that communication was incredibly important across multiple disciplines. We’re a small facility, so we’ve always had the luxury of fast communication channels between departments and layers of the organization. What we found was that it’s going to be incredibly important going forward, which shouldn’t be a shocking statement, but when you’re trying to get things done fast and maybe outside of a normal workflow, it becomes much more important to communicate and maintain that. Even though it is an IT-driven project, it very rarely is just an IT project alone. And having that communication and that flexibility, we are much more aware that the project that we do today may be repurposed or adapted to fit a larger need in the future.

BIZTECH: What have you been hearing from fellow employees at North Valley? Are they really embracing these new tools?

BENSON: I think they are. And I think that’s a product of the fact that they were involved in figuring out the solutions. There was never a time when I walked into a meeting or jumped on a call with someone and said, “This is what we’re doing, you know, buckle up. This is it.” Almost every kind of workflow change we had to make, our nurses, our medical staff, lab technicians — everybody was involved in figuring out how we were going to address the problems and challenges that they were facing. That's really where we started with everything. What are the challenges that they are going to be seeing? And then once we understand that, it can help to figure out some ideas.

BIZTECH: For any IT managers who are looking to implement similar flexibility into their environments, where would you suggest they start?

BENSON: The same place we started with all of this: having conversations with the stakeholders in your organization to understand what they need to be successful. Once you understand that, then you can have more difficult conversations about the compromises that may need to be made, either from an organizational standpoint or from a management or employee standpoint; where, if we want that remote flexibility, then we need to be prepared for some of the risks that come along with it. These are some less fun things that we’re going to have to deal with to address that risk. And as long as everybody understands what those risks are and what those challenges look like, it’s a lot easier to do that. When you just make a decision and put yourself down the road too far, it’s hard to walk some of that stuff back. When you don’t set expectations correctly with either management or staff, that's when you get pushback, whether it was successful or not.

RELATED: Find out how to meet the challenges facing rural hospitals.

BIZTECH: Everything that your team has been through to really help North Valley, how has that changed your internal conversations? Are you discussing things in a more holistic approach, or is there anything that you’ve learned from this situation?

BENSON: The last year has been hectic, to say the least. We’ve had some big asks from leadership here at the hospital, working with other entities like CDW and other vendors. We’ve definitely had to stretch — we’re a small site. It’s me and three other people. So things have been very hectic. But I feel like we have learned over the past year, really, what our strengths are, and where we needed the most help, and how to ask for that help and get it. We’ve been very lucky that our administration is incredibly supportive, and they have definitely gone above and beyond to make sure that we had what we needed so that we could help the other departments in the facility do what they do to take care of patients. We definitely learned a lot out of it, from a process standpoint, about what we want to do going forward.

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