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Compass Health COO on leading a century-old healthcare org i…

Stacey Alles, chief operating officer for Compass Health. (Compass Health Photo)

The COVID-19 crisis isn’t the first global pandemic experienced by Compass Health, a nonprofit caring for mental health and substance abuse patients. It’s hard to say how Parkland Lutheran Children’s Home, as it was known at its start, weathered the Spanish flu a century ago. But in its current form, the organization has undergone a tech transformation accelerated by the novel coronavirus.

In four weeks, the healthcare provider serving low-income patients in Northwest Washington was able to ramp up a secure telemedicine portal and cloud-based platform and train 500 providers to use it.

Compass Health went from providing 550 telehealth services in January to nearly 6,000 in May.

Chief Operating Officer Stacey Alles helped lead the rapid adoption.

“As a behavioral health organization, our primary focus is about people and hasn’t historically been about technology,” said Alles, who joined 25 years ago as a clinician. “This represented a way for us to use technology to enhance that connection with people. The staff were very enthusiastic about getting it on board.”

Pre-pandemic, Compass Health had started telehealth pilot projects and that experience was essential to the quick transition. The earlier effort included connecting with patients through mobile units that hold a tablet and allow a clinician to turn the device and its camera 300 degrees and pan up and down. The interactive setup gives clinicians a view to the home environment to better assess a patient’s well-being. The devices have also been deployed to emergency departments and Compass Health offices for remote care during COVID.

Alles and her husband Joe at Shoshone Falls in Idaho. (Photo courtesy of Alles)

The suite of telehealth tools, dubbed Compass Health Bridge, helps remove patients’ barriers to treatment, including transportation and childcare challenges. They expand the output of psychiatrists, who are in short supply.

The quick pivot to telehealth also drew from the nonprofit’s experience shifting to electronic records a few years back. That change took four months and gave Alles and her the team a confidence boost and numerous lessons learned.

Now Alles is looking to the next tech opportunity. This fall Compass Health is partnering with the University of Washington and the Washington State Health Care Authority to test a mobile app’s ability to reinforce good coping strategies for people with psychotic disorders.

“This is just the next evolution in care,” Alles said. “And I really do think that there are advances that the behavioral health industry can make by paying attention to technology.”

We caught up with Alles for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Everett, Wash.

Computer types: Dell Latitude 5290 2-in-1

Mobile devices: Samsung Galaxy S7

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: My biggest focus these last few months has been getting our Compass Health Bridge telehealth system up and running. We were fortunate that late last year, we’d started piloting use of a mobile telehealth device to extend the reach of our psychiatric providers. And then COVID-19 hit, and we had to scale up much more rapidly than we’d expected.

Using our Bridge system, not only our doctors but also therapists, case managers, nurses and peer counselors can provide telehealth services to clients on their own devices, all with a cloud-based platform that most of our treatment team had never seen before March. Our partner in this project is Integrated Telehealth Solutions, and they’ve been terrific.

More generally, all my meeting notes, projects and to-do lists are organized in OneNote. As an organization, our use of Microsoft Teams has significantly increased with the pandemic; now I almost never pick up the phone if I can call someone via Teams.

Outside of work, Pinterest is my go-to place to explore whatever hobby, project or travel plans I’m currently interested in.

Alles’ work from home space features a reclaimed library kiosk. (Photo courtesy of Alles)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? In a surplus store years ago I found this great old kiosk that used to belong to the King County Library system. It’s perfect as a standing desk, extra deep with lots of room for two monitors, docking station and everything else I need at my fingertips. I’ve got good natural light so I can often get away with not turning on lights — except my string of fairy lights, because I appreciate their cheerful whimsy.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? I try to be fully in the moment with whatever I’m doing. At work, I don’t check personal email or texts. But once I log off my work computer, I’m off for real. I don’t check work voicemail or email after I’m done for the day, and if I have to squeeze in some work over the weekend, I do it in a block and then close everything up and let it go until Monday.

On vacations I leave my work cell phone behind. If there’s an emergency at work, there are plenty of other smart, talented people who can handle it.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? I stay off social networks for the most part, perhaps because I like to be more intentional about my social time and keep it separate from my alone time. Something about online social networks blurs that boundary. I am on LinkedIn, which has been helpful for watching trends in the healthcare industry. And I’m on Ravelry, a social networking site for knitters and crocheters.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Zero, but you caught me on a good day. I try to triage my inbox every day, loosely applying David Allen’s approach to “Getting Things Done.” Email does sometimes pile up in my to-do folder, but each one has been read and prioritized.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 18

Stacey Alles (right) with her sister Melissa and mother Judy at a performance of “Hamilton” in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Alles)

How do you run meetings? I like a structured agenda in terms of what the scope of the meeting is, the purpose, the intention, but within that structure, all participants should be able to bring their items for discussion.

I’ve developed the habit of taking the minutes of the meeting live on screen while I’m facilitating so that people can weigh in on whether the salient points and especially key decisions and action items have been captured. At the next meeting, we review the previous actions items and any that aren’t done are rolled forward into the current meeting minutes, so we can hold ourselves accountable.

Everyday work uniform? Business casual — slacks, colorful top, sweater or jacket, and only comfy shoes make the cut.

How do you make time for family? The best thing we do is schedule time to go RVing with our parents and extended family. Even a 3-to-4 day weekend here or there gives us quality time to relax and catch up.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I’m a homebody and live on rural property surrounded by trees where I can’t see the neighbors. So for me, just being at home, sitting out on the patio swing with some knitting while watching the wildlife is usually enough to get me out of my head.

What are you listening to? I listen to a fair number of podcasts, usually while I’m getting ready for work. And I have almost every Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett queued up in Audible, any one of which I will put on while I’m puttering around the house, the way other people play their favorite albums on repeat.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? I usually do a quick check of the top stories from the New York Times, Seattle Times and The Everett Herald.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I’m rereading Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage.” I recently started a sci-fi novel, “Dragon’s Egg” by
Robert L. Forward.

Alles and her pup Boomer at Mohawk Falls near Skykomish, Wash. (Photo courtesy of Alles)

Night owl or early riser? I read a study once about test subjects kept in a room without any way to tell the time or see if it was day or night. Without the cues, the test subjects shifted to a 28-hour day instead of 24. I feel like this is what my body is trying to do all the time. I could easily stay awake longer at night, but I still need 7 to 8 hours of sleep, so I have to force myself to go to bed on schedule. Maybe when I retire, I’ll try sleeping only when I feel like it and see what happens.

Where do you get your best ideas? Other people. By which I mean, getting a group of enthusiastic, well informed, creative people together to bounce ideas around can be invigorating and produce the best results.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Anyone who has learned to delegate more effectively than I have so far. I’m getting better, but it’s a work in progress.

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