Dr. Karen Mailer, MD, CMD Medical Director - Providence Transitional Care Center(PTCC) & Providence Extended Care (PEC) In the wake of the initial COVID-19 outbreak, the pain of the national staffing crisis further threatened the wellbeing of patients and residents at PTCC and PEC. Reconciling caregiver exposure and symptoms with testing and vaccination status made staffing an ongoing decision-making struggle that demanded case-by-case consideration.
Dr. Karen Mailer’s ingenuity and above-and-beyond the call of duty commitment helped offset these issues, and by better protecting caregivers, PTCC and PEC were able to better protect their patients and residents.
Having previously established telehealth services to minimize exposure and spread of COVID-19 during outbreaks, Dr. Mailer sought to improve the quality and efficiency of the patient, caregiver, and provider experience. Her advocacy resulted in eight TeleDoc units for the eight long-term care cottages. These high-tech dedicated telehealth units significantly improved the quality of the virtual patient care experience while decreasing the burden of facilitation from the bedside care team.
To identify COVID-19 cases early and minimize the spread, an intense testing cadence of the facilities’ combined 300 residents and more than 315 caregivers was required. Often more than 1,000 specimens were tested weekly. Initially, testing was provided by the State of Alaska, but it eventually moved to in-house processing at the Providence Alaska Medical Center lab. Families of caregivers and/or visitors sometimes found it challenging to access testing at the state drive-through test sites.
Dr. Mailer overcame this challenge by working with the state to enable PTCC and PEC to continue operating their own drive-up test site. This on-campus, 24/7 test site served household members of caregivers and resident visitors who experienced symptoms, had been exposed to the virus, or needed to travel.
When vaccines became available, Dr. Mailer advocated for PEC and PTCC to become a vaccine provider in Alaska to ensure the earliest possible access to the COVID-19 vaccine for caregivers and residents. Dr. Mailer went above and beyond supporting the early vaccination efforts by administering vaccines herself and rallying other providers to assist, which was mission critical during the 2020 holidays.
Additionally, to widen the protective cocoon around caregivers and residents at a time before vaccines were easily accessible, Dr. Mailer provided vaccine access to the household members of caregivers through a series of weekend vaccination clinics staffed by her provider team. More than 100 individuals living in 67 caregiver households were fully vaccinated thanks to these special efforts.
Throughout the course of the year, 147 caregivers eventually tested positive for the virus. Dr. Mailer personally followed up with each and every one of them, providing test results along with individual counsel and guidance. Her assistance and support reached beyond medical advice to address whatever obstacles an individual may have been facing. From navigating the complexities of short-term disability and workers compensation to addressing vaccine questions and concerns and assisting family testing, Dr. Mailer was there to help.
Dr. Mailer's special care and compassion for caregivers literally saved lives. The initial outbreak claimed two souls during its six-week duration, but not one life was lost in the year that followed despite 34 additional resident COVID infections. In the words of one of her colleagues, “[Dr. Mailer’s] secret sauce is that she listens, no matter how busy she is, then works collaboratively to find the best possible solution with the least negative impact.”
Congratulations, Dr. Mailer!