• United States

Determined to go virtual

Mar 04, 20033 mins
Data Center

* Despite technical and support woes, SSM Heath Care forges ahead with call center conversion

“The pioneers get all the arrows,” says Bob Jaeger, director of SSM Healthcare’s health and wellness line. A pharmacist by profession,  for several years, Jaeger has managed a 22-agent call center, staffed mainly of nurses who do after hours triage for pediatricians, or take calls from HMO members. When Jaeger agreed to let three night nurses work from home two years, ago, little did he know what he was getting himself into.

Setting up the nurses with home office desktop PCs, 17-inch monitors, Siemens phones and communications lines has been relatively easy. It’s replicating and supporting the call center environment that’s proved difficult. and read this week’s Net.Worker story: “SSM Health Care deploys virtual call center.”  

The nurses access the network’s call center processing application via Citrix Metaframe, connecting via a VPN and either DSL or cable. When voice calls come in to the office PBX, they’re routed via the Siemens Telework Server to the home office over an analog line. To support callers, nurses need to take calls and access the network databases simultaneously. But oftentimes, the data connection, or sometimes the voice connection, will drop inexplicably. For more on SSMHC’s remote rollout, go to:

“It’s my job to manage the nurses, but because our IT department supports us only on the server and  onsite level, I’m the one who sets up all the workstations and phones in their homes,” Jaeger says. “In the beginning, I tried to outsource the technical support, but that was a disaster. One company went belly up, I tried others…” 

His advice to other managers considering such an undertaking? “I can’t tell people everything is just peachy keen and all blue skies, because it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I get calls around the clock. Night before last I was up all night trying to troubleshoot a nurse’s problem. I’m at a remote location, she’s at a remote location, our support is with a vendor that’s offsite. I’ve had to learn all the technical aspects of this equipment just to get by day to day. “

If telework wasn’t working out so well, Jaeger surely would have scrapped the project. But his nurses are happy, and productivity has increased markedly. There’s no turning back. “Employee satisfaction is very important to us. It makes a difference in the long run. We have a strong commitment to that,” Jaeger says.

Today, 11 nurses work half their shifts from home, and Jaeger will soon add 6 more. Despite the technical challenges, he vows to convert the office into a completely virtual environment within three years.  Meanwhile, Jaeger and his nurse supervisor are discussing whether she should make regular visits to nurses’ homes, and they’re planning regular morning meetings at centrally located venues such as Starbucks to get feedback and address common concerns.

“We’re making this up as we go along,” Jaeger adds.