Fortifying Your Culture of Care During COVID

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Cross Country Healthcare
September 20, 2021 01:54 AM (GMT-04:00)

During this ongoing crisis, healthcare organizations, providers, and support professionals have been the backbone of our communities. And as the COVID pandemic continues to weigh on us all, it is increasingly apparent that having a strong culture of care is more important than ever.

When we consider a culture of care within a healthcare organization, the patient first comes to mind. And while patients and their families are paramount, creating a culture of care also involves supporting the well-being of providers and support staff as well as the greater community.

Nothing makes the critical nature of building and maintaining a culture of care more apparent than a crisis – like an ongoing pandemic. During times of stress, a sense of well-being, a strong community, and a supportive culture can be the mortar that holds the structure together. Here, we’ll look at the benefits of establishing a culture of care along with how leaders can improve this culture in regard to the patient and family, the providers and staff, and the greater community.

The Benefits of Building a Culture of Care

Investing in building a culture of care pays off. According to Smith, Saunders, Stuckhardt, et al., continual learning within an organization is a key component for building a culture of care and can result in:

  • Decreased stress on frontline staff, enhanced job satisfaction, reduced burnout
  • Improved operations drawn from internal wisdom of staff expertise, patient feedback, and financial metrics
  • Enhanced ability to weather changes in the market and in the practice of medicine
  • Alignment of internal procedures and processes with leader’s vision and organization’s mission
  • A culture of respect that empowers staff to make improvements
  • Enthusiasm for continuous learning among staff
  • A model for the entire healthcare system

Building a Culture of Care for Patients and Families

To ensure patients and their families are included within an organization’s culture of care, leaders can prioritize these goals, adapted from the Core Concepts of Patient- and Family-Centered Care (Johnson and Abraham ).

  1. Ensure the dignity and respect of the patient and family. Honor their perspectives and choices. Consider each patient’s and family’s knowledge, beliefs, values, and culture when planning and providing care.
  2. Share information with the patient and family. Provide complete, timely, accurate, and unbiased information to help the patient and family participate in treatment and care decisions.
  3. Allow for various levels of participation. Encourage and support patients and families in deciding how involved they wish to be in treatment and care decisions.
  4. Include patients and families in processes. Collaborate with patients in families in the areas of program development, policy, research, facility design, professional education, and delivery of care.

Building a Culture of Care for Providers and Staff

Supporting healthcare providers and staff is more important than ever. Before the COVID pandemic, burnout was already on the rise; now, frontline providers and the legions of healthcare professionals who support them are under extreme duress, and that stress can trickle down to all reaches within an organization. Leaders can help by prioritizing the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of their team members. According to National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (Forstag and Cuff), to improve well-being of staff and to develop organizational resilience, healthcare organizations can:

  1. Build peer-to-peer networks and mentoring opportunities among providers. Establish social support networks to help prevent burnout, alleviate stress, and improve group cohesion.
  2. Implement mindfulness practices. Create safe spaces where staff can apply mind-body strategies for reducing stress and coping with thoughts and emotions. Offer mindfulness classes or technology-based training for those who cannot attend classes in person.
  3. Offer incentivized programs. Organize wellness and exercise programs or gym memberships to help improve quality of life, ease compassion fatigue, and reduce burnout.
  4. Provide a safe, supportive environment with leadership. Open the lines of communication. Implement a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, intimidation, or discrimination. Provide moral support for struggling team members.
  5. Take on initiatives to improve provider and staff satisfaction. For example, reduce administrative burden, streamline processes, address provider feedback, provide flexible scheduling, use locums and temporary staff to give permanent providers some respite.
  6. Offer mental health services and set up an organizational wellness program. Remind your providers of their access to their employee assistance program (EAP) or other resources. Establish a wellness committee, giving providers and staff buy-in and support needed to uphold the well-being of your organization.

Building a Culture of Care for the Greater Community

With the move from volume-based to value-based care, healthcare organizations have reignited their focus on meeting the needs of their individual communities. Further, the COVID pandemic has shown how critical it is for each facility to hold their community at the heart of their organization’s culture of care. To align the needs of the community with the services provided by the hospitals and health systems, leaders can:

  1. Call attention to community needs. Establish outlets for care that occur outside the walls of the hospital, for example, partnering with school districts to support at-risk students, food markets to promote healthy diet initiatives, playgrounds to enhance physical fitness, technology providers to address digital access and connectivity issues, and various organizations to provide vaccinations.
  2. Look for partnerships at all levels of the community. Partner with community-based organizations or niche-focused groups to gain insight into local patient populations and connect with the community.
  3. Focus on collaboration and consistency with community partners. Maintain open lines of communication, establish goals and responsibilities, create a plan for information-sharing. Remain committed to shared goals.
  4. Hardwire changes. To ensure lasting improvements, implement processes to address common roadblocks. Monitor progress and measure success by addressing social determinants of health. Maintain daily involvement with patient populations outside of the hospital to stay focused and committed to serving those patients in the best way possible.
  5. Build on progress. Meet with community partners to discuss efforts and celebrate successes. Help keep participants committed to shared goals and remind team members that each step forward is an important one.
  6. Move beyond the repetitive assessment cycle. For non-government, not-for-profit facilities, moving beyond the three-year timeline for the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) can be difficult. To break this cycle, work with community partners to gather more targeted data over longer periods of time, allowing a more focused assessment effort that can include many marginalized groups that may be left out of the larger community assessment process.

Assembling the Right Team to Build a Culture of Care

To build and maintain a culture focused on the patient, provider, and community, it is key to have the right leadership, staff, and support in place. To learn more about finding the ideal talent to help create culture for your organization, connect with the experts at Cross Country Healthcare.

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