Since it was established in early March to provide guidance to clinicians, patients and the public about COVID-19, the Partners COVID-19 Call Center has become more than a hotline – it’s a lifeline.
Hundreds of calls per day from patients and loved ones who are sick, isolated or afraid are answered by Partners HealthCare nurses skilled in gathering information and able to build trusting relationships, even over the phone. The nurses, answering calls while socially distanced at Partners Assembly Row headquarters, talk with callers to better understand their symptoms and risks and help connect them to the right resources, such as testing or a virtual visit with a physician.
“These patients call the hotline to talk to a nurse,” said Lisa Dutton, MSN, RN-BC, NE-BC, Professional Development Manager for Ambulatory Services at Partners. “They have been socially isolated for weeks with varying degrees of stay-at-home orders and are faced with mainstream media news about the coronavirus day in and day out. They call us for validation, support, reassurance and guidance. It is clear to us at the Call Center why nurses are among the most trustworthy professionals in this country.”
The calls involve more than triaging symptoms. For example, some callers do not have internet access, so they can’t participate in a virtual visit with a physician. Other callers are homeless and need to be tested so they can check into a shelter. Teamwork among the Call Center staff – representing Partners full breadth of care across departments and hospitals – has been essential as they respond to the evolving needs of callers.
“I had a patient who needed a test one day, but she had no means of transportation,” said Michele McCullough, BSN, RN-BC, a nurse in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Plastic Surgery Clinic, part of the Call Center since it opened. In her clinic role, she frequently speaks with patients over the phone who can’t immediately be seen in person. “She ran through various options of taking public transportation or a cab, which we couldn’t allow her to do in case she was exposing others. We ended up sending an ambulance to go to her home and test her there.”
“Ambulatory nurses are used to asking the right questions to get the information we need about what a patient is experiencing,” McCullough added. “It’s no different with COVID.”
An extended version of this story originally appeared in Brigham and Women's Hospital's Heart & Science.
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