Regulations were necessary to limit the transmission of the novel coronavirus in hospitals, but they have also made it difficult for nonclinical support staff, such as environmental services (EVS) and food and nutrition services (FANS) staff, to perform their duties at the bedside. Compass One Healthcare, a nonclinical support services provider to more than 2,300 hospitals and a strategic Press Ganey partner, knows this well and has been challenged to maintain optimal patient experience in the FANS and EVS spheres this past year. 

With the onset of the pandemic, the national average for the HCAHPS Cleanliness of Hospital Environment question dropped from a score of 76 in March 2020 to 72 six months later. This is no small matter, as research from Press Ganey and Compass One suggests that patients’ perceptions of environmental factors are highly correlated with specific safety, quality, and experience outcomes. Similarly, patients’ perceptions of their experience on items related to food accuracy, delivery timeliness, and temperature also suffered, according to Dusty Deringer, vice president of patient experience at Compass One Healthcare. 

As the use of nonclinical support staff was reduced to decrease the risk of COVID-19 infection, nursing staff—who are disproportionately overburdened already—often picked up the slack, transporting and serving meals to patient rooms and supplementing cleanings that usually fell to EVS and FANS staff. 

Compass One and Press Ganey are partnering to improve these outcomes and reemphasize the crucial role that FANS and EVS staff play in the patient journey, even if that journey looks and feels different from what it did a year ago. Understanding the impact of EVS and FANS roles, Deringer noted, is a large part of the solution. 

“We believe our staff are members of the caregiving team, and ideally, we want to get them back into patient rooms where possible,” said Deringer. To this end, Compass One has established strict COVID protocols, conducted rigorous training for EVS and FANS staff regarding patient interactions, introduced process changes, and created staffing models that ensure a perception of collective ownership for patient care. The staffing models prevent multiple “associates” (as they are called in Compass One parlance) from floating into and out of the same unit while meeting patients’ overall needs for nutrition, safety, clinical care, and comfort. 

Compass One offers the training and materials it uses with its own associates to client hospitals that have tighter restrictions. In this way, the clinical employee assuming some of the duties of a Compass One associate understands and feels well-equipped to perform those duties. “We also want to continue to provide our level of expertise to clients even when our people are not in the room,” said Deringer. Compass One and Press Ganey have compiled talking points and relevant literature for nurses that speak to the importance of food, or what Compass One calls the Power of Food™, in the healing process. They have also developed an educational guide for nurses to use while serving and assisting patients with their nutritional needs. 

Undoubtedly, the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic demand a new level of flexibility from Compass One associates as well as changes in the dynamics of clinical teams to meet patients’ needs. Still, Deringer is confident that, moving forward, Compass One associates will remain agile and focused on enhancing the care experiences of patients, families, and clinical staff during this trying time. “Our associates are called to this industry,” he concluded. “They are committed to doing right by their patients.”