This is a series about how taking better care of their employees, hospitals can take better care of their patients.
In the last installment we talked about the challenges facing the healthcare industry during the pandemic. Having just returned from a conference sponsored by Planetree, an organization focused on promoting “patient-centered care” I learned that you can’t really achieve this objective without focusing on taking better care of the care-giver also. For me, this approach encompasses a topic that all our readers can relate to: The way to take better care of your customers, is to take better care of your employees.
But how do you accomplish this task when all hell breaks loose during a pandemic? Especially in healthcare where the consequences of taking ANY focus off patients could be so high. A break-out session I attended on the first day of the conference, “Taking Action to Support Staff Well-Being in a Crisis and Everyday Life” provided some answers to this question. Presented by the Stamford Healthcare System, the session began pretty much like this: “On March 11, 2020 we got our first case of Covid in the Hospital.”
I remember those early days of the pandemic as well. Living in the suburbs of New York – one town north of Stamford - my wife and I attended our last pre-pandemic gathering at a New York City apartment in February of 2020. (In less than a month that very section of NYC would be overwhelmed with Covid cases.) We were aware enough of the coming pandemic to all be jokingly touching elbows instead of shaking hands.
However, we were not so well-informed as to realize that with 30 people stuffed into a small living room that if just one person had had Covid, that party would have been a super-spreader event. By mid-March when 10 people at a similar-sized party (we did not attend) in neighboring Westport, CT came down with Covid, we knew that we were now at the expanding epicenter of this dreaded world-wide pandemic.
By this time, it was all hands on-deck at Stamford Hospital. The facility would nearly double its capacity to almost 600 beds in just that first month. They created 4 additional intensive care units. They enlisted the help of 80 members of the US Army Reserve’s Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force, to work side by side with their own employees.
By the end of 2020 they had treated over 1000 desperately ill Covid-19 cases (886 survived) all while still providing the usual healthcare services including delivering over 1500 babies. (The hospital ran a marvelously efficient Vaccination system, for example which I experienced, personally.)
In addition to an all call for doctors and nurses at Stamford Hospital there was an all-call for emotional support as well: The EAP department, The Psychiatry Department, The Spiritual Care Team and even a local trauma response team were brought in to help these overwhelmed health care workers cope. The hospital supplied hotel accommodations for employees who were afraid to go home to their families; They opened up a childcare center for the children of employees working long hours; They supplied Grocery store pick-up, freshly prepared meals to go and a special Planetree oriented “caring for each other” website full of tips and techniques for managing stress.
In line with the Planetree goal of ultimately providing superior patient-centered care, a “cross-functional team” of different hospital departments focused on creating superior employee-centered care, also. This hastily assembled response team created a special room for relaxation and rejuvenation, provided access to complementary therapies like massage and yoga, a product called Zen in a box and a bereavement support team to help employees cope with the dramatic increase in the number of dying patients they had to care for. (Remember, immediate family members were not allowed into hospitals to support their dying loved ones in those first months of the pandemic. This was just one more job loaded on the backs of these over-burdened employees.)
For me, the takeaway from this story is that the pandemic forced ALL businesses to make dramatic changes, quickly without really taking time to try and gauge what the long-term consequences of those decisions might be. But these adjustments, directed toward creating safety and security for all employees, also showed us that taking good care of employees must be the top priority for any business to survive a catastrophic event, or even a short-term challenge for that matter.
In our next installment, we’ll look at the reluctance that many hospital employees had to even taking short breaks in their extended 10 and 12 hour pandemic shifts and what one hospital did to solve this problem. We’ll contrast this to the issues that all employers have of getting employees to participate in health and wellness programs and practice self-care.