Too many Americans and Canadians have been, or will be at some points in their lives, impacted by heart disease and stroke either directly or indirectly through their loved ones.
And that includes us here at Contact Center Pipeline. I had a heart attack followed by urgent surgery in 2020, waking up in the ICU just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, recovered to where I could be discharged, and underwent what had to be virtual rehab via video.
With a new lease on life I have taken the steps, literally, to keep living for as long as I can, through exercise and changes to my diet, following a regimen of medications, and seeing my cardiologist every six months.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second cause in Canada. It afflicts over 18 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with approximately 2.4 million Canadians, reports the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Stroke is not far behind, its mortality ranking sixth in the U.S. and third in Canada.
Heart attacks (when the flow of blood to the heart muscle gets blocked), cardiac arrests (when the heart stops beating) and strokes can happen suddenly – anywhere, anytime, to anyone.
Knowing how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to keep the blood flowing and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restart a heart that’s stopped beating can make the difference between life and death.
Aiding the Aid
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (Heart & Stroke) operates a contact center, the Resuscitation Support Centre (RSC), that supports instructors across Canada who teach students to develop or advance their skills in first aid, CPR, and/or AED use.
The RSC is an integral part of Heart & Stroke’s Resuscitation Program, which is focused on funding world-class research, translating knowledge into professional guidelines, and providing top-quality training programs for healthcare professionals and lay rescuers.
Located virtually i.e., work-from-home (WFH), the RSC has six full-time and one part-time agents who support bilingual inquiries from Heart & Stroke’s nationwide network of close to 10,000 English- and French-speaking resuscitation instructors and close to half a million of their students each year. The RSC staff also manages inquiries from healthcare networks, hospitals, private clinics, and the general public.
Here are several examples of the support provided by the RSC staff:
- Assisting instructors in policies and procedures.
- Correcting errors in the way instructors have set up their courses.
- Helping students to register for courses.
- Providing technical support for the RSC’s web portal that is used by its instructors and students.
- Supporting instructors and students in managing their accounts on the portal.
“Our team has specialized knowledge across jurisdictions that includes knowledge of nationwide resources to support callers with their specific circumstances and locations,” said Michelle Loewen, Manager, Resuscitation Operations.
Versatility, Training, and Backing
The RSC staff members also wear other hats. In addition to managing all resuscitation-related queries, the team works on projects such as process mapping and policy review as well as participating in the evolution of specialized business areas, among them finance operations.
That the staff possess these versatile skills is a product of a strong HR culture within Heart & Stroke. Loewen started in the contact center as an agent, was made team lead, and became RSC manager before being promoted to her current position.
“The Resuscitation Program is committed to upgrading the knowledge and skills of all its employees,” said Loewen. “Supported by this commitment, the RSC has successfully promoted team members to progressive positions within the program.”
The strength of RSC is the result of strong leadership, collegial support within the team, and keen awareness of/integration with the Resuscitation Program’s critical activities, she pointed out.
Here are some examples where the team members are engaged:
- Members meet for a weekly RSC team meeting as well as the full Resuscitation Program’s bimonthly meetings. They are also copied on all email blasts in advance or concurrent with their dissemination to the instructor network, so there is very little or no lag time in the sharing of information.
- Members often take the lead on projects and quality improvement initiatives, which feeds into their development as well as the RSC’s operational efficiency.
- Members have direct access to the Resuscitation Program’s senior management team, which fast-tracks the resolution of inquiries and allows for free-flowing information to and from both parties.
“Because of our well-trained staff and our vertically integrated approach to information, the RSC team is able to resolve the majority of inquiries during the first point of contact,” said Loewen.
Loewen credits her team’s ability and versatility with supportive leadership across Heart & Stroke.
“Resuscitation is Heart & Stroke’s largest social enterprise program, furthering our mission to promote health, save lives, and enhance recovery,” said Loewen.
Volunteers are the figurative heart of non-profit organizations. And the Heart & Stroke’s Resuscitation Support Centre (RSC) is no exception.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers transcribed voicemails, handled administrative duties, and managed mail.
In fact, according to Michelle Loewen, Manager, Resuscitation Operations, volunteers have successfully transitioned to full-time staff at the RSC over the years. The center shifted away from volunteers largely because of the streamlining of administrative duties.
“Both the RSC and the Resuscitation Program value volunteers greatly,” said Loewen. “We plan to re-engage with volunteers when COVID-19 is more manageable and when we can engage volunteers in a meaningful way.”
Coping with COVID-19, Supply Chain Issues
The RSC team worked in different offices across the country prior to the start of COVID-19. But when the pandemic hit, the center’s team went virtual, which fortunately went smoothly.
A key challenge the RSC staff had to manage was the hesitancy of some instructors to teach full course loads in the early days of the pandemic and when the first few waves peaked. This uncertainty had a flow-through effect on the availability of in-person training courses.
Our RSC staff had to quickly learn the details of the new course offerings and the new form of course delivery to be able to provide guidance to both instructors and students...
In response the Resuscitation Program pivoted to meet Canada’s evolving needs, creating and offering interim online courses that supported the cognitive learning component of training when in-person training was not possible.
“Our RSC staff had to quickly learn the details of the new course offerings and the new form of course delivery to be able to provide guidance to both instructors and students,” said Loewen.
The Resuscitation Program was also hit by global supply chain issues caused by the pandemic, impacting its ability to procure resources to produce new course materials based on the latest scientific guidelines.
“Our RSC staff, who are kept abreast of all course roll-outs as well as possible obstacles, supported the network with current information to enable them to continue teaching courses while the supply chain issues were being resolved,” said Loewen.
In recent months, the Heart & Stroke’s Resuscitation Program has seen an increase in applications to become instructors, led by a growing interest among professionals and lay people in learning life-saving skills.
The program has also been accepting reciprocal applications from instructors associated with other agencies, leveraging their experience in teaching in Heart & Stroke’s courses.
“We have seen the resiliency of our instructor network through a challenging two years,” said Loewen. “A large number of instructors and organizations are committed to finding ways to continue training and educating students safely.”
The need for these trained individuals will grow as the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully begins to wane.
According to a recent Canada-wide survey of health professionals and researchers carried out by Heart & Stroke, the impact of the pandemic on heart and brain health has been substantial and is expected to continue.
People who were already living with heart disease or stroke may now have worse outcomes, while inequities have increased, research was stalled, and the healthcare system was seriously disrupted.
The goal now is to improve the operations and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the RSC team.
“Ensuring appropriate staffing levels and equipping members of the team with the tools they need will enable us to expand our knowledge base and skills to better support our many stakeholders: instructors, students, healthcare networks, hospitals, private clinics, and the general public,” said Loewen.
RSC At A Glance
Here is the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s Resuscitation Support Centre (RSC) by the numbers.
Number of Agents (estimated):
6 full-time and 1 part-time staff member (6.4 full-time equivalents or FTEs)
On-Premise/Work From Home (WFH):
Contact Volume (last year available)
56,000 inquiries (Feb. 2021 to Feb. 2022)
92% inbound/8% outbound
Internal referrals: 1%
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