Wyndmoor hospice director details pandemic obstacles she’s overcome

by Elspeth Lodge
Posted 2/18/21

When institutions, corporations and individuals are competing for the same resources during a pandemic, it’s not a sympathetic atmosphere for health care providers who aren’t associated with hospitals.

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Wyndmoor hospice director details pandemic obstacles she’s overcome

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When institutions, corporations and individuals are competing for the same resources during a pandemic, it’s not a sympathetic atmosphere for health care providers who aren’t associated with hospitals.

This has been the case for Gail Inderwies, President and Executive Director of KeystoneCare Homecare and Hospice in Wyndmoor. During the initial stages of the Covid-19 onslaught, Inderwies had difficulty obtaining the resources she needed to take care of her staff such as personal protective equipment, PCR testing and vaccines. She proved to be a creative, pro-active problem solver, however, navigating the turbulent health care waters in an environment that she describes as a “bad rendition of The Hunger Games.” 

When Coronavirus reached the U.S. in early 2020, Inderwies prepared for the worst. She ordered equipment, but she wasn’t ready for the volume of gear she would need: “It was hard not being able to acquire items in quantity,” she said. “I actually started having people in the community make us masks with paper towels and rubber bands. Many patients, especially those in the inner city, couldn’t get hold of thermometers; people started donating them to KeystoneCare workers to bring to patients in their homes.”

Seeing her fellow health care workers struggle to find supplies at the start of the pandemic, Inderwies gave away some of her badly needed equipment to people standing in her hallways crying, especially staff from nursing homes, because their institutions had been ravaged by the virus.

“Home care and hospices, as well as direct care workers across the state, if not affiliated with hospitals, were left on a dingy to their own devices,” she said. “It was the relationships with each other and our institutions and long-term connections that helped us all survive under extreme circumstances.”

One of the advantages of being an experienced nurse was that Inderwies knew how to be crafty and forage for the supplies she needed to get by, even though it meant paying a 500% mark-up on personal protective equipment: “I needed supplies,” she said, “and I wasn’t going to get them from traditional Medline or McKesson. All of them were saying, ‘You have not bought enough from us, so you’re on restriction.’”

Inderwies found someone in China to supply her.

“I was lucky,” she said. “I’d buy different quantities at different times to try to keep my shipment from being blocked by the FDA. Basically, we were all in competition with the FDA.” 

Now Inderwies feels confident that she has enough supplies to last her institution through the year, though she does stock up occasionally in smaller quantities through U.S. suppliers.

Testing posed even more complicated resource problems. Inderwies needed a way to test her staff three or four times a week for the coronavirus, and she knew that conventional testing centers would not have the availability to take care of her staff. She found a lab testing facility out of state and set up her own testing tent outside Keystone House as a service to her staff, the community and friends of KeystoneCare.

Currently Inderwies is navigating another obstacle. She needs to get her staff fully vaccinated in a climate where health care workers who aren’t associated with hospitals are finding it difficult to locate and receive the vaccine.

Hospitals, pharmacies and federally qualified health centers should be allocating 10% of their vaccine inventory to non-hospital affiliated health care workers, according to the PA Department of Health’s website. But this hasn’t been the experience of Inderwies, who has had trouble obtaining vaccines for her staff.

“It’s like a free for all, and there’s no public health system,” she said, “and it’s hard convincing people that the vaccine is safe.” The problem is that “the virus is actually getting smarter. If we don’t move things along, this virus could outsmart us.” Then all of the vaccines we are getting will be worthless. 

Despite everything, Inderwies says her institution has been doing OK. She believes that out of tragedy sometimes good things emerge. She hopes this will mean the next time the country experiences a pandemic, we will be better prepared.

“Hopefully we’ll learn from this," she said. “We have applied to be a vaccine site and hope we will be able to provide this much-needed community service to those senior citizens who are sick and disabled and are not able to get out.”

For more information, visit keystonecare.com

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