Now that COVID-19 has completely upended life as we know it and social distancing is the norm, DSFederal’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Program will have to make the shift from in-person to virtual site visits. 

The total reorientation of these invaluable face-to-face visits is a necessary precaution during this time when air travel and in-person visits pose significant health risks. DSFederal’s HRSA project plays a crucial role in ensuring that federally funded safety net programs serve an extremely vulnerable population. The program sends Subject Matter Expert (SME) reviewers from all over the country to meet with grant recipients and ensure they are adhering to the requirements and high standards set by HRSA. Most site visits take place in state health department offices and usually involve a trip to the local implementing agencies (LIAs), such as community-based organizations, hospitals, clinics, and local health departments. But with the COVID-19 crisis, state health departments are stretched thin, struggling to handle overwhelming demands on staff and other resources. Local implementing agencies are also working feverishly to deliver services virtually while struggling to retain staff.  

“We had to do a lot of rescheduling for early summer visits,” Project Manager Echo Wang said. “We’re already preparing for virtual visits that will occur in July and August, but it’s challenging. Some recipients can’t support a virtual visit because they don’t have access to key documentation required by our review when they are working from home. Other recipients are not sure if all their key staff and partners will be available and able to join day-long virtual meetings for a few days if the crisis persists. It’s a scheduling challenge since planning and preparation happen three months in advance of visits, but no one knows what the situation will look like in 3-4 months.”

With the DSFederal team’s webinar and virtual delivery expertise, they are prepared to do all they can to make the visits successful. The virtual meetings will take place on Zoom and WebEx, but the real challenge is figuring out how to conduct successful all-day virtual meetings three or four days in duration. Another issue they face: determining the most appropriate reviewer for each visit. 

“Pairing the right reviewer for the visit format (live or virtual) requires very different considerations, thus we couldn’t plan a visit both ways,” Echo said. “When assigning reviewers for virtual visits, we want to be mindful of having them in the same time zone as the awardees and choosing those who are more tech-savvy and experienced in webinar facilitation.”

Virtual visits also require different training, tools, and processes. The HRSA project is known for mature and optimized processes. Now, a virtual protocol, training materials, and a set of adapted tools will have to be devised in a few weeks’ time. 

“The entire country is struggling in the COVID-19 era, and we’re no exception,” Echo said. “Everyone has their version of coping and here is ours. We’re trying to make things as easy as possible for everyone involved and to accommodate all imaginable scenarios, while maintaining the high quality of our work. We are confident that DSFederal will strive to continue serving our client well.”


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