This March marks a year since Covid-19 patients first entered U.S. hospitals. With vaccine rollout underway, many are looking forward to a year with fewer Covid-19 cases and a return to some aspects of our pre-Covid lives.
But even as we look ahead, the impact of this crisis will be felt long after vaccines roll out. Clinical workers put themselves at risk as they stood on the frontlines of care delivery during a global pandemic—and many continue to do so today. The physical stress and emotional burden staff took on is immense, and for many, this is just the start of processing the toll of the last year.
As leaders, one of the most important steps you can take for your team is to invest in the time and resources to support recovery.
Recently, 10 Advisory Board experts met to discuss how health care leaders can acknowledge the collective trauma of the last year and bolster the support required for recovery. Here's our guidance for how you can help your team start to heal during—and after—this crisis.
Laying the foundation: Start with safety
Before addressing recovery, every leader must commit to ensuring staff feel, and are, safe at work. Absent a safe work environment, recovery efforts will not only fall short, but may do more harm than good.
For the past year, staff put their health at risk to care for Covid-19 patients—at times without proper PPE. Now is the time to rebuild trust and ensure everyone feels safe at work.
As leaders, one of the best ways you can do that is transparently communicating about the steps you're keeping to keep your team safe. Then, solicit input from staff to understand whether they have safety concerns and how you can address those head-on.
Three steps to prioritize workforce recovery:
- Immediate: Make support services opt-out (if you haven't already). Many organizations have seen low utilization of emotional support initiatives, even across the last year. This is due to the “I'm fine” culture in health care, where clinicians often rely on individual coping mechanisms over organization-led support services. On top of that, many staff experienced information overload as new support options were rolled out in the heat of the pandemic. They may not have a comprehensive understanding of what options are at their disposal or felt they had the capacity to use them.As you roll out recovery initiatives or renew your commitment to existing supports, make them opt-out and couple that with a system-wide awareness campaign to drive utilization.
- Near term: Assess your support services for breadth, depth, and accessibility to meet your staff's individual and collective needs. Healing won't look the same for everybody. Identify what your staff need physically and emotionally for their recovery, and make sure your organization has a wide selection of accessible options to meet them where they are. Ask for staff input, and use that information to tailor and prioritize the recovery efforts that will be most impactful. Consider auditing the support you've put in place across the last year to decide what to continue, stop, or double-down on.
- Long term: Commit to workforce recovery as a top 2021 priority. Most organizations are, and should be, focused on getting back to a healthy bottom line, but don't let recovery fall in strategic importance. The C-suite must make strategic and financial tradeoffs to prioritize recovery. This will require intentionally reinvesting time and energy from other important initiatives, such as engagement or technology rollouts, into recovery.We've already seen an exodus of clinical staff during the pandemic. If your clinicians can't recover from the last year, you risk losing more staff, which will hurt the bottom line, patient safety, and engagement down the road.
Planning for an end state, not an end date
At this one-year marker, it's an important moment to commemorate the sacrifices clinicians have made over the last year and commit to investing in a comprehensive workforce recovery strategy. Although the crisis is far from over, there are steps you can take now to ensure everyone feels safe at work, help clinicians unpack their experiences, and proactively bolster support over the long haul.