Advice from the front lines: How cancer centers can cope with COVID-19


Helping the helpers

During the pandemic, SCCA has dealt with a variety of challenging human resource issues, including:

  • Extending sick time beyond what was previously “stored” in staff members’ earned time off.
  • Childcare during an extended hiatus in school and daycare schedules.
  • Programs to maintain and/or restore employee wellness (including staff-centered support services, spiritual care, mindfulness exercises, and town halls).

Dr. Crews also discussed recruitment of community resources to provide meals for staff from local restaurants with restricted hours and transportation resources for staff and patients, as visitors are restricted (currently one per patient).

Managing care

Dr. Crews noted that the University of Washington had a foundational structure for a telehealth program prior to the pandemic. Their telehealth committee enabled SCCA to scale up the service quickly with their academic partners, including training modules for and certification of providers, outfitting off-site personnel with dedicated lines and hardware, and provision of personal Zoom accounts.

SCCA also devised algorithms for determining when face-to-face visits, remote management, or deferred visits are appropriate in various scenarios. The algorithms were developed by disease-specialized teams.

As a general rule, routine chemotherapy and radiation are administered on schedule. On-treatment and follow-up office visits are conducted via telehealth if possible. In some cases, initiation of chemotherapy and radiation has been delayed, and screening services have been suspended.

In response to questions about palliative care during the pandemic, Dr. Crews said SCCA has encouraged their patients to complete, review, or update their advance directives. The SCCA has not had the need to resuscitate a coronavirus-infected outpatient but has instituted policies for utilizing full PPE on any patient requiring resuscitation.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Crews stressed that the response to COVID-19 in Washington state has required an intense collaboration among colleagues, the community, and government leaders, as the actions required extended far beyond medical decision makers alone.

Dr. Lyss was a community-based medical oncologist and clinical researcher for more than 35 years before his recent retirement. His clinical and research interests were focused on breast and lung cancers as well as expanding clinical trial access to medically underserved populations. He is based in St. Louis. He has no conflicts of interest.


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