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Cross-training of employees crucial to VUMC virus efforts

Apr. 17, 2020, 12:49 PM


by Paul Govern

In late March, in preparation for a patient surge and employee absenteeism due to COVID-19, the emergency command center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center asked for a system-wide labor pool to be set up to allow quick and agile redeployment of people and expertise across the institution.

Operation of a centralized labor pool is set out in VUMC’s emergency response plan. While VUMC hasn’t yet needed to activate this centralized resource to any significant degree for COVID-19, preparations for mass redeployment of employees has proceeded apace.

VUMC Valet attendant Oscar Escobar performs a temperature screening on employee Esther Hightower-Scott. (photo by Donn Jones)

The expected number of employees to be redeployed has shifted as more data have become available and predictions regarding the amplitude of a COVID-19 surge have been revised.

By April 10, under the centralized labor pool some 700 VUMC employees had completed cross-training and shadow shifts in preparation for redeployment.

“The community of people on this campus, as they’ve stepped up to help, has been really amazing. Throughout this process people have taken every opportunity to serve. We feel privileged to be able to help them,” said Executive Chief Nursing Officer Marilyn Dubree, MSN, RN, who is with the command center for the centralized labor pool.

For COVID-19 response, much of the focus is on Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital. Clinical and non-clinical employees from Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital and The Vanderbilt Clinic have been training for temporary redeployment to VUAH.

“Managers in the adult hospital have carefully thought through how many additional people they might need to assist with a predicted surge, and our other entities have considered their core staffing needs and helped us identify individuals available for cross-training and redeployment, should they be needed,” said April Kapu, DNP, RN, ACNP-BC, associate nursing officer for VUMC Advanced Practice and director of the Office of Advanced Practice, also with the command center for the centralized labor pool.

In addition to providing training modules, the team has found it’s important to pre-introduce staff directly to adult hospital areas where they might serve, conduct shadow shifts and foster a sense of community.

“If you’re a pediatric nurse, for example, and you’re being asked to float to the adult hospital, that’s a completely different patient population,” Kapu said. “Once they’ve gotten over there and met and shadowed the adult nurses, they feel much more comfortable.”

Under the VUMC emergency response plan, major entities within VUMC activate labor pools of their own with some frequency, in response to things like weather events and computer outages.

“Currently, the central entities within VUMC for the most part are managing their own clinical and non-clinical labor, and they’re doing that very well,” Kapu said.

  • Staff from across VUAH have assisted the clinical lab in processing high volumes of COVID-19 tests.
  • VUAH valet parking staff have been redeployed to screen employees for fever as they arrive for work.
  • A number of clinicians and nurses happen to be exempt from patient contact due to conditions that, should they come down with COVID-19, put them at higher risk for severe complications. Many of these employees are instead working by telephone, with Population Health, to follow up with patients isolated at home with COVID-19; with the COVID-19 hotline for patients and employees; and with Occupational Health COVID-19 medical surveillance.
  • Children’s Hospital has redeployed clinical staff to work at Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital.

The command center for the centralized labor pool is supported by various information systems, including a scheduling and staffing system (VandyWorks) and a system that tracks clinical staff licensure and certification.

More information for employees and patients is available at

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