HUDSON — The effects of COVID-19 on business operations are far-reaching and appear likely to stick around for the foreseeable future.

Distancing, masks and a pivot to working remotely are transforming workplaces across many industries. But what is a business to do when its core service is caring for some of the most at-risk community members?

We asked Bethany Smith, who leads the St. Croix Hospice clinical team in Hudson, about precautions and other changes being made for patients and families around St. Croix and Pierce counties.

Star-Observer: Though the focus of the pandemic has moved to rising infection rates among young people returning to school, what impact is COVID-19 still having on nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area?

Smith: Due to the risk of COVID-19 complications to the elderly and medically fragile, and given the recent resurgence in positive cases in Wisconsin, the nursing homes and assisted living facilities we partner with continue to have visitor restrictions in place. As an added reassurance to our nursing home and assisted living facility partners, St. Croix Hospice last month began weekly COVID-19 testing for all field staff. Weekly testing is one of the many safety measures we’ve added as part of our Safe+Care Promise, which outlines the steps we’re proactively taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Star-Observer: How is the hospice industry responding to the disease?

Smith: The hospice industry has, very much, stepped up to meet the challenges of COVID-19. Because hospice services are available to patients wherever they call home, our care model was already ideally suited to care for patients in private homes, assisted living facilities and nursing homes; to easily follow them from one care setting to another; and to support our primary care and hospital partners. Our industry has also been able to, where possible, offer telehealth admissions and visits.

Star-Observer: What are staff at St. Croix Hospice doing to keep themselves and others safe?

Smith: We’re taking every possible safety precaution to keep our patients and their families, facilities’ staff, and our own employees safe. The elements of the St. Croix Hospice Safe+Care Promise include weekly COVID-19 testing for all field staff, full personal protective equipment for all patient visits, daily staff temperature checks and symptom screenings, and ongoing infection prevention education. The St. Croix Hospice Hudson field staff have continued to test negative for COVID-19.

Star-Observer: Are there ways for friends and family of hospice patients to be there for their loved ones when they can't be with them in person?

Smith: We have many ways we can keep patients and loved ones connected, including the use of videoconferencing apps and phone calls during our visits. St. Croix Hospice staff have increased the frequency of our communication with patients’ families to keep them informed of their loved one’s health and well-being. We also offer tablet devices to partner facilities upon request if they do not have their own telehealth tools. Other ways family and friends can support loved ones include window visits, sharing recent photos or mailing handwritten cards.