Dallas, Texas--When Dr. Mary Norman came to Highland Springs in 2007, she was drawn to the Erickson Living developed and managed senior living community in North Dallas by the comprehensive team approach to health care.
"Highland Springs gave me the opportunity to be part of a community, to interact with my patients where they live," says Dr. Norman. "Here we have a whole team of subspecialists, social workers, therapists, nurses, home health aides and team members trained in emergency response all working together to provide the best possible care. It's an amazing way to practice medicine."
Highland Springs' comprehensive care model ensures that residents have access to expert medical care right on campus. The on-site medical center is staffed by full-time physicians and a nurse practitioner, who practice exclusively at Highland Springs. The medical team is led by Norman, a ten-time recipient of D Magazine's "Top Doc" award.
"Because we practice exclusively at Highland Springs, we have the luxury of spending an hour with new patients and a half hour for follow up appointments," says Dr. Norman. "That's huge. At a traditional medical practice, the expectation is that you're seeing people every ten or fifteen minutes."
Highland Springs' medical center also offers same-day appointments, so community members don't have to wait long to see a health care professional.
"About 25% of our appointments are on a same-day basis," says Dr. Norman. "We're committed to doing everything we can to help our community members achieve their health and wellness goals."
Health and wellness were uppermost in everyone's minds as the COVID-19 virus spread across the globe, upending normal routines and procedures.
In response, Highland Springs' medical center quickly adapted a new model of delivering care, keeping the well-being of its community members at the forefront of all decisions.
"This is an incredibly important time in our history together here at Highland Springs," says Dr. Norman. "We're finding creative solutions and learning new ways to adapt as we try to stop the spread of the virus."
In response to the president's emergency declaration, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services broadened access to telehealth services so beneficiaries could receive a wider range of services from their doctors without seeing them in person.
"We were able to quickly get the process of implementing telehealth visits underway," says Susan Turek, medical practice manager at Highland Springs. "It's important for residents to keep their appointments, both routine and acute, so we can make sure they're safe and sound."
Using an iPhone, iPad, Android phone, or computer, residents were able connect to a telehealth visit with one of Highland Springs' physicians or nurse practitioner.
"Our medical office assistant called each patient the day before their appointment to make sure they had full connectivity," says Ms. Turek. "Then on the day of the appointment, the assistant called again to begin the visit, just as they would when a patient comes into the office for a face-to-face appointment."
Using virtual technology, the assistant talked through the medical history, asked about medications and any problems, and noted as many vitals as possible if the community member had a scale, thermometer, and/or blood pressure cuff in their apartment.
Then the assistant gave a window of time when the physician or nurse practitioner would call. Following the visit with the healthcare provider, the assistant called back to schedule a follow-up appointment, as needed.
"The process required more phone calls than usual, but we were able to see almost the same number of patients we would normally see in the medical center," says Ms. Turek.
The new procedures also brought about unexpected benefits.
"Our partnerships with our subspecialists have grown stronger during this time," says Dr. Norman. "We're communicating more than ever and finding new ways to work together, all with the same goal of keeping our residents as safe and healthy as possible."
Community members at Highland Springs showed their appreciation for staff members with "ovations," scheduled moments when they'd come out on their patios or porches to clap and cheer.
"That was such a welcomed experience," says Dr. Norman. "To hear the claps and to witness the spirit of camaraderie was heartwarming. We all want to partner together to keep each other safe and to make the wisest decisions possible."
Confidence in comprehensive, coordinated care
For Jim Atkins, who moved to Highland Springs in 2012, the medical team's flexibility, consistent communication, and professionalism in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak came as no surprise.
"I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Norman at several medical conferences before I moved to the community," says Jim. "She's one of the reasons I chose Highland Springs, and she's been my primary care physician ever since I moved in. You won't find a better doctor anywhere else."
Jim says the daily updates by Executive Director Matt Neville and Norman, which aired on the community's in-house television channel and available on the My Erickson app, were especially helpful in disseminating information while the shelter-in-place mandate was in effect.
"We could all turn on the news in our apartments and see what was happening across the city and the state, but what mattered most to us was what was happening here in the community," says Jim. "We were informed about every new process and procedure as they were unfolding."
About Highland Springs: Highland Springs, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 89-acre campus in North Dallas, Texas. The not-for-profit community of more than 1,100 residents and 520 employees is governed by its own board of directors, affiliated with National Senior Campuses, who provide independent financial and operational oversight of Highland Springs. Additional information can be found at http://highlandspringscommunity.com.
Written by Sara Martin