For employers, Direct answers to important questions

Working on it: Employers must meet complex requirements to bring back employees, but they do have help.
By TERRY LYNAM //

Working in the medical field, you become accustomed to certain things in your social life.

It’s a running joke that doctors are often asked to diagnose their friends and family or “take a look at something” during casual get-togethers. Now we’re hearing a new question: What will our world look like after the pandemic?

It may feel like we’re finally on that other side. We have reached Phase Four on Long Island after successfully slowing the spread of COVID-19, and it’s easy to feel a sense of normalcy regaining traction. Restaurants are reopened, families are enjoying our beaches and employees are return to office settings – or at least discussing what a reopening plan may look like.

We have made great strides, but it’s important not to lose sight of the last few months and ensure everyone follows proper measures. By moving forward safely, we will regain our strength – as we have many times before.

Part of moving forward and rebuilding means Long Islanders are going back to work. And why shouldn’t they? Social distancing, regularly washing hands, wearing masks and self-quarantining have helped lead New York State to a low and stable COVID-19 infection rate of about 1 percent.

But how do you implement a new normal to protect the safety of employees moving forward?

Terry Lynam: Direct hit.

Northwell Health colleagues have spent months working around the clock, treating more than 50,000 COVID-19 patients. Many of us quarantined from our families and took regular health screenings, a model adopted by professional sports organizations – the National Basketball Association has created a bubble where players, coaches and team employees will quarantine in one place for the remainder of this season.

Of course, your business won’t require a quarantine bubble. But employers must thoroughly explore what it will take to keep staff, customers and the public safe.

This may require myriad approaches, such as implementing new HVAC systems in shopping malls that meet state guidelines, rearranging office furniture to enable social distancing and providing personal protective equipment for employees, along with regular COVID-19 testing.

While there has been considerable focus on infrastructure and disinfectants, it’s also important to emphasize medical wellness – including antibody (serology) testing – and safety assessments of the work environment.

According to employee screening guidance from an economic impact report conducted by the Nassau County and Suffolk County industrial development agencies, “businesses must enact a continuous health screening process for individuals to enter the workplace” and “[businesses must] implement [a] mandatory health screening assessment (e.g. questionnaire, temperature check, etc.) before employees begin work each day.”

That goes for “essential visitors,” too – a tall order for employers already feeling strained by the pandemic. Unfortunately, most businesses and public entities lack the healthcare expertise to incorporate the ongoing monitoring and management necessary to maintain a safe environment.

To level the playing field, employers can outsource these vital services to medical professionals, ensuring correct protocols are followed and preventing in-house staff from assuming an overwhelming role they’re not necessarily qualified to fill.

For example, the recently launched Northwell Direct has created customized healthcare stations for clinicians to provide on-site services. The program conducts daily employee temperature checks and other health assessments that reinforce peace of mind over safety in the workplace; the customizable suite also offers services ranging from diagnostic (molecular) testing to antibody (serology) testing to return-to-work assessments, all designed to keep employees healthy and keep medical costs down.

Regardless of how businesses screen workers, the screenings are part of a robust, medically driven plan to keep employees, customers and communities safe from COVID-19.

The past four months have shown that the coronavirus is dangerous and spreads easily. As the infection rate drops, returning to work is no longer an “if,” but a “when” – and now is the time to figure out “how.”

Terry Lynam is a senior vice president and chief public relations officer at Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare provider and private employer.