Caring for Our Caregivers: Strategies to Drive Systemic Change

Strategies to Drive Systemic Change
Cross Country Healthcare
May 10, 2021 04:45 AM (GMT-04:00)

As our nation continues to heal from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, those who have healed us during the worst of times are perhaps most in need of a restart button. Healthcare workers rose to their calling to care for patients in need, but for many, this came with a high cost.

Many of the challenges associated with patient care delivery even pre-pandemic were exacerbated over the last year – from staffing shortages, safety concerns and risk of burnout to disenchantment with the profession overall. As healthcare organizations take an honest look back at the lessons learned during the pandemic and look to rebuild a better, more fulfilling workplace for healthcare professionals, Cross Country Healthcare’s Forever Altered: Adapting to a Post-Pandemic Healthcare Landscape white paper takes a specific look at effective ways to embrace a new culture.

Re-engaging, supporting healthcare staff.

Many workers at all levels of the profession are burned out, and the industry is at risk of an even greater shortage of much-needed patient care. One in four healthcare workers have considered leaving their job since COVID hit in early 2020, and one in 10 have resigned, according to a recent poll. The psychological damage is widespread. Forty-six percent say their mental health has worsened, and 74% of emergency medicine physicians say their burnout has intensified.

Despite the stress and anxiety generated by the workplace environment, healthcare professionals are often not provided with adequate emotional support. The physical and mental exhaustion and lack of support can lead to negative emotions and psychological trauma. Under these conditions, the World Health Organization recognizes the importance of nurses' mental health and well-being and that nurses need supportive psychological interventions to promote emotional release and improve their mental health.

There are many factors that contribute to positive healthcare worker engagement. Hospital leaders will need to recognize the real factors causing burnout and develop the right programs to combat it. Specific strategies could include:

include colleagues, job flexibility/work-life balance, management, and career growth opportunity.

Specific strategies could include:

  • Attend to team-building methodologies suited to a remote work environment to maintain employee engagement.
  • Help healthcare workers develop more competencies to handle complexity, enhance decision making and critical thinking, promote better communication with patients and colleagues, develop leadership skills, and change management.
  • Utilize locums tenens and other contingent talent to reduce the scheduling burden on clinicians and staff.
  • Concentrate on reinforcing trust in the organization, one of the leading factors connecting and engaging all the participants in the crisis. The crucial downstream importance of that nexus was highlighted by Press Ganey: “Patients’ trust in their healthcare is intertwined with caregivers’ trust in their organizations.”
  • Implement programs aimed at helping healthcare workers manage the pandemic’s psychological toll. Consider peer-support programs, mindfulness training, stress management, and interventions involving small group discussions.

However, it is vital that healthcare employers don’t rely on these measures alone to sufficiently address caregiver burnout, engagement, or retention. Systemic changes, from giving providers more scheduling flexibility to sweeping changes targeting the culture of medicine are equally, if not more, important.

Fixing People by Fixing Systems.

A systemic challenge facing the healthcare sector for years, adequate staffing levels and models were put to the test during the pandemic. For many organizations, the lack of a well-planned, holistic staffing model put them squarely at a disadvantage when the crisis hit.

On the other hand, there is now growing evidence affirming the beneficial outcomes of a more strategic, enterprise-level approach to talent management. The pandemic has fueled this trend for several reasons:

  • The crisis spotlighted the intricate connectedness of processes in hospitals and health systems. As a result, it is becoming clear that the path to a “new normal” will require systemic rather than isolated solutions.
  • The current talent picture is characterized by a complex new mosaic of furloughed employees, onsite and remote working staffers, and various contingent personnel supporting multiple care sites. This mix is likely to persist for some time.
  • Multi-dimensional planning is needed to ensure sufficient resources to ramp up procedure volume, support distance and other alternative care modes, and assist with public health initiatives.

All of these factors point to an imperative to better manage talent and also to optimize it. In fact, according to the Cross Country Healthcare survey, 70 percent of healthcare executives agree they would have engaged their staffing partners and suppliers earlier to help meet the staffing demands brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the long-term, collaborative, and broad Cross Country Healthcare workforce partnerships that were tested throughout the pandemic were significantly more successful in meeting the unprecedented demands and flexibility required by the surges. Healthcare organizations will need to consider future-forward strategies to reap the benefits of a one-source workforce model, including:

  • Evaluating the current strength of the HR/talent management department. As one analysis put it, “Emerging from this crisis, organizations should ask themselves if human resources (HR) is positioned to make the impact they can and should be making across the enterprise … to help position the organization to both recover and thrive over the next decade.”
  • Considering the current situation as an opportunity to deploy one-source workforce management programs that can build a strategic, talent-optimizing infrastructure for the long-term.
  • Using data analysis and automation to optimize the ability to orchestrate talent. An example pertinent to staff utilization is the construction of "productive staffing grids." This decision-making aid overcomes typical gaps in current productivity data and methodology by combining various metrics to produce optimal staffing mix recommendations.

Taking Stock.

Healthcare professionals at every level have weathered dreadful conditions. The sector certainly wasn’t perfect before the pandemic – it has always had its flaws. But it took a health crisis like COVID-19 to see just how deep the cracks were.

If there were ever a time in our history to take stock of where we were and how we got here – and ensure it doesn’t repeat itself – it’s now. Healthcare workers have been asking to fix the system for years, but many wondered if anyone was really listening. Moving forward, healthcare organizations must not only listen, but take action to fix systems to drive better health, engagement, recruitment, and retention of valuable healthcare workers.

To assist organizations in moving forward with operational and strategic, healthcare leaders can sign up to download our extensive, evidence-based guide – Forever Altered: Adapting to a Post-Pandemic Healthcare Landscape.

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