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Hospital leadership lessons from the ongoing pandemic

John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | February 08, 2021
Business Affairs
From the January/February 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

“We’ve also introduced an interim guideline where some of the floors upstairs outside of the ICU are going back to team nursing,” she said. “It’s a strategy where you use a team to care for your patients, such as one of an LVN, RN and a nursing assistant or care partner.”

Improving staff resources
When healthcare providers are overworked, it’s important to invest in their physical and emotional well-being. Instituting mental health services have been shown to help reduce burnout among frontline workers, as well as peer support groups, mental health support lines and social support.

Another effective way to relieve pandemic-related anxiety is through the implementation of COVID-19 testing for families, says McCabe, whose organization has done just this. “If my son has a symptom, I don’t have to worry. I can go get him tested, and I can get tested. You don’t have to sit and wait and wonder how you’re going to get a test. That relieves a lot of stress and burden.”

The rise of virtual care has been another disruptive force during the pandemic. The advantages are obvious: saves on PPE, reduces staff workload in hospitals, increases accessibility for patients, reduces risk of transmission, and keeps hospital bed capacity open for patients who need them. But McCabe says increased reliance on virtual care has introduced new stressors to the medical field.

“There’s Zoom fatigue. Healthcare providers are more sedentary as they sit in front of screens or are on the phone all day,” she said. “They also feel more isolated because of the lack of team cohesion and the support you might get from your team environment. You don’t have that with virtual care.”

For providers spending a lot of time video conferencing on the computer, she recommends integrating habits and behaviors to prevent fatigue from setting in. “Build in rest times in your schedule. Consider turning your camera off sometimes if it’s a meeting and not a patient encounter. Or do a meeting by phone so you can walk around and have more movement in your day.”

What leadership looks like
The largest concern among healthcare workers has been the uncertainty around how best to address a virus that we know little about. Alleviating these concerns requires hospital leaders to exhibit certain traits, one being empathy, says Atkinson.

“Leaders need to be empathetic to teammates, to lean in and fully understand, from their point of view, what they’re struggling with,” he said. “They need to be agile. Many leaders struggle with what’s called the white space, which is making decisions in areas where there is no rule book or clear definition. Our success has been, in part, our ability to adjust and support leader effectiveness in that space.”

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