How to Address Employee Safety Concerns About Reopening

Around the country, COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, and veterinary practices are once again opening their doors to clients. Reopening your practice should be a celebration — it represents the hope of returning to pre-pandemic life. But for many, it's a source of anxiety. Though many clients are ready to stroll through your doors again, staff might be uncomfortable with the increased face-to-face contact. Reopening will require addressing any employee safety concerns to ensure everyone feels safe and welcome.

Open a Communication Channel

When creating reopening plans, gain feedback from your employees to ensure everyone is on board. While staff meetings are the most direct way to get feedback, there may be employees who don't feel comfortable sharing their concerns in front of others. Also, it can be challenging to find time to talk with your employees when the phone is ringing nonstop. In addition to staff meetings:

  • Hang up a "concern list" or place a suggestion box in the break room or other visible areas for employees to share their concerns.
  • Create an anonymous online survey for employees. Try one of the many free online survey services like Survey Monkey or JotForm.

Creating multiple ways for employees to share their questions increases the likelihood that you'll receive honest feedback.

Address Common Employee Concerns

Your employees' feedback will likely reveal a pattern of common concerns. While there are no universal solutions, as each practice is different, here are a few ways to troubleshoot five common safety concerns.

1. How Will We Maintain Six Feet of Separation in the Exam Room?

Many practices have small exam rooms. You could keep the exam room's doors open and have clients wait behind the threshold. Consider taking pets to your treatment areas to perform the exam and give treatments, and then communicate while standing outside the exam room to maintain six feet of separation. You could also use plexiglass to create a barrier for clients to stand behind while they watch the exam.

2. How Will We Check In Clients to Avoid Crowded Lobbies?

The easiest solution to a crowded lobby is having clients wait in their cars. However, communicating that a room is ready for them is challenging when your phones are ringing off the hook. Clients can also become frustrated if they can't get hold of you to let you know they've arrived. Texting is an easy solution to this problem. Or, consider purchasing a pager system like those restaurants use to notify clients when their exam room is ready. You could also use an app that allows you to have a virtual waiting room, so you can notify clients through their smartphones. Consider using curbside pickup for prescription and diet refills.

3. How Will We Check Out Clients to Avoid Crowded Lobbies?

Once the appointment is finished, you don't want clients standing in the lobby waiting to pay. To avoid this situation, you have a couple options to explore. Some credit card processing companies allow you to email a client's invoice to them, so they can pay on their phone. Or, you could use handheld credit card readers to check out clients in the exam room. If that isn't an option, have staff take their cards and run the charges while they wait in the exam room. If you have an app for your practice, check to see if it can send an invoice.

4. Will Clients Be Required to Wear a Face Covering?

While veterinary teams understand why wearing a face covering is important, clients may not. Creating a "no mask, no service" policy is likely the safest way to protect your staff from exposure. Before you allow anyone to walk through your door without a mask, consider installing a locking system that allows you to "buzz" in clients wearing masks, and ask clients who aren't to put one on before entering the building. Provide masks to clients who don't have one, and charge for the convenience. If a client won't wear a mask, continue to offer them curbside service. Remember to always check with your state regulations for advice on the importance of wearing a mask

5. What Is the Protocol for Handling Non-Compliant Clients?

All practices have encountered clients who are frustrated that they cannot enter the building and feel that safety restrictions aren't necessary. While they have a right to feel that way, they don't have the right to put your team at risk. Create a policy where a refusal to follow the safety requirements will result in no service, and follow through. Discover the freedom of letting go of clients who are disrespectful of your staff and policies. If they refuse to respect your staff's health and safety, they should be given their records and instructed to find a new practice.

Help Your Staff Feel Safe

The most important thing to remember is that if employees aren't safe, you may be setting yourself up for failure. If employees get sick, practices cannot stay open. And creating a safe environment for your staff protects everyone who walks into your building.

Veterinary employees have worked hard to keep practices going, often becoming physically and mentally exhausted. If employees don't feel respected by having their concerns addressed, they may move on to a new practice. Find out what they need to feel safe, and do what you can to make it happen. Remember, your team is in this together. If you take care of each other, you'll make it through to the other side with a stronger, happier, and healthier team and practice.


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Julie Miles
DVM

Julie Miles graduated from Ohio State in 2006. Dr. Miles spent two and a half years working in private practice. She then joined Lighthouse Veterinary Personnel Services in 2009, where she worked as a relief veterinarian and manager for five years. In 2014, she opened Compassionate Care Animal Hospital, which has grown into a two doctor practice. Her professional interests include client communications, preventative care, dentistry, and feline medicine. She and her husband, Dale, have two boys, Henry and Evan. In a previous life, she earned her Master's of Social Work and worked in crisis intervention and discharge planning. Some days that degree is more helpful than her DVM.

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