Making a difference: How the information desks are handling new responsibilities

Ashley Smith, photo
Ashley Smith, clerk III lead for the information desk in the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital, talks about changes to her role during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In they walked, a young couple accompanying their newborn to an outpatient appointment for a serious condition, when—as a result of current visitor restrictions put in place for the health and safety of all in our facilities—they were told that only one of them was approved to escort their child.

“It was immediately very distressing for them,” says Ashley Smith, clerk III lead for the information desk in the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. “I got them seated comfortably, provided tips on how to get through the approval process quickly, and checked in with them periodically.”

After meeting the exception criteria for their specific clinic, both parents received approval to accompany their child and were quick to show their gratitude toward Smith and the clinical circulator.

“They were so relieved and could not stop thanking us,” says Smith.

Increased workload

Smith’s encounter with the couple was only one of thousands that she’s had with increased traffic to the information desks as a result of hospital changes brought on by COVID-19.

My role is similar to what it was before COVID-19, but much more focused and intense. I help hundreds of people a day and our entire team likely helps around a thousand people on any given day.

— Ashley Smith, Clerk III

Before COVID-19’s arrival, the information desks were responsible for answering patient information calls, processing valet transactions, selling visitor parking pass booklets, and verifying outpatient appointments and inpatient locations in order to direct patients and visitors through the hospital. Now, the information desks have added a plethora of new responsibilities.

“Not only are we troubleshooting situations for patients and visitors and giving directions, but the majority of our desks are also integrated into the screening itself so we are filling the role of an additional Epic screener checking every patient and visitor that walks through the door,” says Smith.

The desk staff also troubleshoot problems for screeners, explain restrictions, help patients contact clinics for approved visitors, and arrange delivery of patient belongings.

Why they do it

Despite the rush of new responsibilities, Smith emphasizes that motivation is never hard to find.

“I just try to remember that I need to stay positive for the patients we see,” says Smith. “If I can make their experience even the tiniest bit better, I will. If I can calm their anxiety, make them smile, share in the joy or the pain, or give them confidence, I’m going to do it. I just think about the valuable work that we do here and that keeps me going.”

One thing Smith always remembers is that every UI Health Care employee contributes to the excellent care we strive to provide to the patients we see.

“As a clerk I may not be ‘changing the world,’ but I am making a difference,” she says. “I can see it on their faces. That’s what motivates me.”