Written By: Amanda Geelhoed Papach, Marketing Director at SpendMend

A few weeks ago, SpendMend created a COVID-19 Idea Exchange for Healthcare Finance, Internal Audit, Supply Chain, and Accounts Payable Departments. This Idea Exchange survey requested input about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their work environment and processes. We received many thoughtful responses from healthcare professionals from over 31 major U.S. hospitals. The data gathered was eye-opening, meaningful, and thought provoking.

The pandemic has affected every facet of the healthcare industry, but the answers to one key open-ended question needed to be shared. The question “What are the critical challenges you faced throughout the COVID-19 outbreak?” I have broken the answers down into categories, and hope these responses show that we are in this together and other hospitals are experiencing the same concerns you are.

  1. Staffing Issues
    1. Limited Staff “We had limited staff so the first thing we did is re-prioritize tasks within the department.  Essential tasks were prioritized highest.  We then set parameters around non-essential tasks and assigned targeted dates.  While we still have a backlog on some of the non-essential tasks - we are functioning at normal level on our essential tasks.”
    2. Furloughed Staff - “Until this past week this was not an issue for us but with the additional financial impact, we are being asked to furlough 20% of our team on a temporary basis.  We have decided rather than to completely shut down for a week or fully furlough an associate we would rotate one staff member each day which provides the same overall financial result yet provides us coverage for our internal customers and vendors.”
  2. Working Remotely
    1. Working from Home - “It took a while for us to get settled in with remote access but once we did, we are functioning at probably 75% of normal.  We froze all our automation projects and our system conversion timeline has been extended due to limited resources all around the hospital.”
    2. Staff Communication - “I would have said our staff communication was average before COVID.  I think we have improved our overall staff communication using video conferencing.   Our meetings are shorter with better participation.  Each participant adds to the agenda and we go around the Zoom room and address all the points.  We document the notes while we are on the call and it's been a great way to stay connected.”
    3. Motivating Staff “Working remote really makes this a challenge.  We made an effort to make it personal and gave everyone a chance to comment on what they liked and what they didn't.  We took the positive responses and incorporated some of those recommendations into our overall process and the ones we were challenged with we discussed various ways to fix the issue.  The team was very open to discuss change and I think motivated them to openly communicate.”
    4. Remote Access “This has been extremely challenging.  First, we could not get remote access for all the users.  Then we had connectivity issues.  After about 2 weeks of difficulty we were finally able to fully connect to our systems.”  
  3. Exception Processing “Our non-match invoices created the biggest challenge for us.  Our workflow routes the match exceptions to procurement after AP has performed initial review.  With procurement focused on PPE we started to backlog exceptions.  Procurement and AP worked together to develop new exception limits and prioritized the larger exceptions which procurement agreed to turn within 3 days. Those transactions under the new match exception limit were paid and a variance account established.  We notified our vendors that due to COVID -19 we would be processing transactions and tracking exceptions.  When we get back to full staff, we will reconcile those vendor’s variance starting with the largest supplier balance.” 
  4. Invoice Approval “Our invoice approval is automated for the most part, but we are finding delays in obtaining approval.  Because of this we have noticed the vendor call activity increasing and duplicate invoices being presented from suppliers.”
  5. Interacting With Suppliers - “At first we found it difficult to reach our normal vendor contacts but over time this improved.  We just tried to prioritize critical tasks and limited our outreach.”
  6. Third Party Invoice - “This was a real challenge.  We outsource certain functions that are performed offshore which was totally shut down.  We had to scramble to get resources in place to cover the gap in our process. One thing is for sure, we are looking at each of our processes to ensure there is a fall back option.”
  7. Pause Projects - “COVID paused all projects we have going on.”

We don’t know how COVID-19 will change healthcare, but we do know that as a healthcare community we must work together to support each other. As critical challenges continue to change and grow - know that you are not alone in your experiences #weareinthistogether.