​​Nate Schema​​​​​​When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, providers needed all hands on deck, all the time. When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued new requirements on visitor restrictions, The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society—the largest not-for-profit provider of senior housing and services in the United States—was ready with a customized solution that has helped streamline visitor screenings and saved staff time. 

Nate Schema, vice president of operations at Good Samaritan Society, oversees 300 locations across 22 states. “When the pandemic broke out, we realized quickly that we would have to hardwire a system for visitation,” he says. “So we custom-built a platform to integrate with our system.”

​​Reasons For Change

A key reason for the change was Schema and his team wanted to have automated information to share with CMS and with surveyors. 

“We didn’t want to be reliant on bundles and reams of paper and have to go through that when checking information at all our sites,” he says. “We are able to flag any symptoms that people might be having and then integrate that into how we communicate our results to CMS. We wanted to broadly hardwire all we were doing.” 

For example, if a surveyor were to come in and ask for a record of those who have checked into the facility, Schema and his team wanted to have information ready to share on demand. “We would have all kinds of automated background that we could run reports on and demonstrate all that we were doing to keep our residents safe,” he says.

How The Program Developed

To start, Schema and his team purchased a number of iPads, and then the company’s developers wrote a new program. “We incorporated all of the screening questions that we were required to ask of visitors and employees upon coming into our locations, and then we deployed that to all 300 sites,” he says. “So whether you were going to one of our senior living communities or to one of our skilled nursing facilities, we have that iPad technology in place when people come in our doors.”

The new screening process was launched in April 2020, at all 300 locations. “We wanted to make sure we had visibility of this process of all our locations,” says Schema. ​

​​How It Works 

Walking into the front entrance at a Good Samaritan facility, a visitor or employee will arrive to a kiosk that includes an iPad. The visitor selects their options on the touch screen and will have their temperature taken, most often by an automated temperature screening hung on the wall next to the iPad. If any symptoms are detected, the visitor is asked to leave. Repeat visitors have information on file. “We prepopulated our employee data, and the visitor information accumulates over time,” Schema says. 

If anything is flagged or if people are having symptoms, an email notification is automatically sent to that facility’s site leader. That individual then communicates the issue to family members and staff as appropriate. “While we built some communication templates out, we encourage all of our leaders to put their personal touch and style on the message, because no one knows their family members like they do,” says Schema.​

​​Adoption Among Staff

Every week Schema and his team take two actions to help keep everyone aligned. The first is a weekly 500-person teleconference with all of Good Samaritan’s department leaders, location leaders, and executive team. The second is every Thursday the team sends out a leader link message that includes updates of the screening program and what the team has observed in terms of adoption. “Right now we have conducted over 3.5 million check-ins between family members and employees,” says Schema. “Those are screenings we’ve done through this automated process. So we know it’s working, and it continues to be a vital resource for our people so they can focus on what they do best, and that’s taking care of the residents.”

​Regular Updates

Updates occur periodically with questions that are asked on the kiosk. Early on during the pandemic, everything had to be actively screened. “So, regardless of the technology being right there, we [employees] actively had to ask people questions and take their temperature,” Schema says.

“Now where states allow, we are able to move toward a passive process. A family member or visitor comes in, they type in their own info, and in many locations their temperature is taken by the automated system.”

The technology, which has brought multiple benefits to Good Samaritan Society, is here to stay, says Schema. “This technology has allowed us to communicate with not only our employees at a different level but also with our family members,” he says. 

As a result, Schema and his staff are proud to be more visible and more transparent in real time. “What we learned early on in the pandemic is that we wanted to make sure that all of​ our family members are reassured on a daily and a weekly basis that they knew what was happening in our buildings,” he says. “Whether we have one positive case or one person with symptoms, we wanted to be able to share that.”

​​Future Plans 

A recent update includes a visitor check-in reservation process. While it has not received the same kind of adoption as the screening process, Schema sees potential. “I really envision that as we continue to move forward, we will see more people schedule times to come visit,” he says. “We can’t have 50 family members in our buildings like we once could. We need to know who’s coming to our building at all times because of the nature of this virus.”

Capacity tracking, which would be unique site to site, is something that the team will continue to monitor as a future enhancement.

The best advice from Schema to fellow providers is to leverage technology and not be afraid to dive in. “Whether you are a stand-alone operation or a member of a multifacility chain, we need to continue to leverage technology in new and creative ways if we are going to truly be able to meet the demand that’s out there,” he says.

“There’s no question that we are working through some unprecedented shortfalls with staff. So saving even a couple of minutes—whether it’s screening in or scheduling visitation—those all add up. I would encourage all providers to jump in feet first on this one.”