People line up early at manufacturing plants to have their temperature taken by registered nurses who were laid off from hospitals in the chaos of the COVID-19 crisis.
It’s a scene playing out at dozens of locations in West Michigan as manufacturing plants fire back up and the first regions of the state reopen after weeks of idling and isolation.
Grand Rapids-based Healthbaar LLC, which was officially launched on May 6, is one of many companies that are supporting manufacturers as they open with strict restrictions to prevent further spread of the deadly coronavirus and protect workers.
“I think everybody and their brother is trying to put out guidance on how to reopen safely and then that guidance goes to an HR person or somebody in that company’s leadership,” said Nate Baar, president of Heathbaar. “There is a lot of it that is kind of out of their realm of knowledge because you’re mixing business and health care in a really different way.”
A fever is one of the first symptoms of the virus, which is why many employers are using a health pre-screening that includes regular temperature checks. Screening the workforce will also provide companies with the opportunity to track sickness trends among their workers. This process may better help them determine whether operations need to be stopped for a period of time or if specialized cleaning needs to take place.
“It’s a way to identify some trends concerning things going on potentially in the workplace and they may prompt some additional interventions for cleaning,” Baar said. “Maybe you close the office down for a day and let things settle. It’ll be different recommendations depending on things we were seeing and what tracking we’re having.”
Employers can also choose to send tracked data to the Kent County Back to Work Health Check, a collaboration of the Kent County Health Department and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. The data collected does not include personal employee information, according to Baar.
Some manufacturers have relied on their own human resources departments or other internal employees to perform the required health screenings, while others have hired temporary workers, but Baar said there are many more benefits to hiring someone who is trained in privacy and general medicine to be the gatekeeper.
“We do our visual assessments continuously and there are things that we clue in on,” Baar said. “If it’s just an individual’s general appearance, it might be their color or tone or if they’re flushed. It might be sweating or diaphoretic or certain breathing patterns. It’s all of those visual assessment skills that you gain from seeing sick people and treating sick individuals and taking countless vital signs.”
One of the many unanticipated outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant workforce reduction in hospitals, Baar said. He is a registered nurse himself with a background in acute care and emergency departments. His company currently employs 35 clinicians who are trained in medicine, graduated from nursing programs and have at least a year of experience in acute care settings. Healthbaar offers a chance for laid-off clinicians to work as contractors, and on their own time, Baar said. Under-employed and regularly employed clinicians also can pick up extra work with the company.
“I love the model of Uber and those services that connect with the final end-user in their own setting and their own terms,” Baar said. “Health care needs to be very simplistic but convenient. My future vision is seeing what services we could take that are typically provided within the four walls of an organization, or that are within the scope of a nurse or nurse practitioner, and mobilize those and do it in a way that’s accessible to everybody.”
Health screenings are just one of many new or expanded services that manufacturers are looking to outsource because of COVID-19, according to John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
“Manufacturing is making the greatest use of third-party vendors to provide personal protection equipment, disinfecting and sanitization services and signage,” Walsh said. “There has been an increasing need for legal, accounting and HR services to assist with the Payroll Protection Plan, unemployment insurance matters and risk-mitigation.”
Homedics Inc., based in Oakland County, is providing needed but still scarce protective gear to manufacturers. Signal Restoration Services, a Plymouth-based commercial and residential property damage restoration services company, has been disinfecting workspaces between shifts at multiple locations. Safely6ft.com, another new company, is making signage about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Employers and employees are working together to ensure a safe and productive workspace,” Walsh said, adding that “the greatest number of questions” he has received over the past two weeks have been about “the pre-screening process, how to educate employees about new safety and HR rules and access to PPE vendors.”
However, cleaning facilities and screening employees also bring additional costs to the region’s manufacturers, many of whom will face decreased efficiencies because of social distancing regulations, as well as lower demand brought on by the economic fallout from the virus.
“The concern regarding associated cost arises primarily from the fact that our manufacturers, both large and small, have suffered an enormous economic setback as a result of the stay-home order and softening worldwide demand,” Walsh said.
Baar is hoping that his “a la carte” health care service model will be convenient and scalable to the budgets of manufacturers of all sizes.
“We’re anticipating the next few weeks to be very busy,” Baar said. “We want to be as customer-friendly as possible, so we are trying to maximize the flexibility of everything. You order what you want, you get what you ask for and we’re not going to oversell or undersell. We’re going to try to meet you exactly where you are.”