When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic infiltrated the community, Boston Medical Center was prepared, making sure the hospital was ready to care for the expected surge of COVID-positive patients. BMC essentially became a COVID hospital, forcing outpatient clinics to close in an effort to limit the number of people on campus. But throughout that time, staff always kept their homebound patients top-of-mind, making adjustments to standard care plans to stay connected and address their ongoing needs.
The Center for Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) was no exception. The faculty recognized early on that its patients were at particularly high risk for severe COVID symptoms, since sickle cell disease places patients at a higher risk for infection. Amy Sabota, MD, MPH, pediatric hematologist-oncologist at BMC, explains, “We have every reason to believe that the novel coronavirus, which has been shown to cause respiratory failure especially in people with underlying illnesses, will be even more serious for people with sickle cell disease.” Since it was imperative for sickle cell patients to remain home as much as possible, providers began relying on telehealth or Zoom visits.
Sickle cell disease providers also looked to social work for guidance. Because the primary role of social work is to address a wide range of social and emotional needs for patients, they were well-positioned to develop a game plan to protect and assist patients. “I have built a really good relationship with our patients. So I know what needs to be done to lessen burdens. When we can help, it takes a need off their plate and allows them to use their personal resources for another need,” says Akosua Mensah, MSW, social worker in BMC’s Pediatric Hematology Clinic.
Many of BMC’s patients were disproportionately affected by the virus, exacerbating issues that were already a concern such as housing affordability and financial constraints. “I think this is going to have a long reaching impact. A lot of patients I talk to are two to three months behind on rent or mortgage payments,” Mensah stresses. More so, many parents of children with SCD had essential jobs, like health care workers, bus drivers and grocery store clerks, which could not be performed from home. This placed them in a difficult position where performing the necessary task of going to work increased their likelihood of coming into contact with virus—a situation that could have detrimental outcomes on their child’s well-being.
One of the larger issues Mensah and her colleagues began seeing stemmed from food insecurity. Patients and families had an overwhelming, legitimate fear of infection, making them feel incredibly vulnerable especially when there was a surge of COVID-19 cases. So it was no surprise that when families began running out of food, they were too scared to go to the grocery store, in fear of bringing the virus home with them. By talking with her patients and hearing their uneasiness, Mensah came up with a solution: She would deliver groceries from BMC’s Food Pantry to her most high-risk families. “I reached out to [my patients] and asked if they thought this would be helpful, and they said, ‘Yes, this would be really helpful.’ They were just very grateful,” Mensah explains. It did not matter to Mensah that delivering groceries fell outside of her job description—she knew this seemingly simple act would have a substantial impact by both eliminating stress and decreasing potential risk for families in need.
Mensah went the extra mile for her patients not out of obligation, but because she was committed to sustaining their health and well-being and truly wants to see them thrive. Sometimes, this means confronting a tough problem and applying BMC’s signature “outside of the box” thinking—a trend you see across all departments. During this time of uncertainty when patients relied on BMC more than ever, staff members stepped up to the plate, thinking critically and creatively to provide solutions to make sure patients were being supported. From specialty departments to supply chain, each and every staff member rose to the challenge to ensure the mission of exceptional care, without exception did not fall short.