9 Ways to Show Strong Leadership During the COVID-19 Outbreak

MHE PublicationMHE June 2020 Issue
Volume 30
Issue 6

The COVID-19 outbreak has tried the souls of people the world over, both personally and professionally, and healthcare executives are no exception. Despite seeing their plans and schedules torn up, executives can meet and master the unrelenting demands of leadership when a typical workday is anything but. Consider these tips from your industry peers to not just survive but also thrive — and to inspire your employees to do the same.

1.) Support the ingenuity of your workforce

“Leaders must encourage innovative and creative solutions to solve big and small challenges,” says Jaewon Ryu, M.D., J.D., president and CEO of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania. “For us, that has included creatively redeploying staff to areas of more pressing need, 3D printing of supplies with local community partners, rethinking how we use our space, refurbishing out-of-service ventilators and so much more. These solutions have come from all across our system, from people in a variety of roles and responsibilities.”

Richard S. Isaacs, M.D., FACS, a Permanente Medical groups executive, says carpenters who were used to making furniture for hospitals and medical offices started making face shields instead. “In the first two weeks, our carpenters delivered nearly 12,000 face shields that went into immediate use for our frontline clinicians.”

2.) Stay ahead of the curve can help flatten it

Geisinger serves 45 counties in northeastern and western Pennsylvania. “We are learning from our areas with higher or earlier COVID-19 prevalence to make sure we’re prepared for what may come,” says Ryu. “Better yet, we’re working to flatten the curve in our regions that haven’t been as heavily impacted yet.”

3.) Stand by — and behind — your team

“During these unprecedented times, we are intensely focused on fostering compassion for our caregivers and team members, who are the heroes of our health system and the communities we serve,” says Carrie Owen Plietz, FACHE, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the hospital division at WellStar Health in the greater Atlanta narea. .

“Remember that standing behind your team members on the front lines of patient care is imperative,” Owen Plietz says. “It’s our responsibility to go above and beyond to support, encourage and protect them.”

4.) Make mental health services available and confidential

“It’s critical that messages be communicated from the top down to help everyone work as a great team and support each other,” says Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. She helps lead the school’s well-being program, which has had added resources because of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The well-being program is available to everyone from physicians to nurses to the staff providing dietary services, Meltzer-Brody says. “We want everyone to access these mental health services without charge, confidentially, then be directed to different or additional levels of service tailored to the individual,” she notes. “That could be support groups, the employee assistance program or more formal psychotherapy if needed.”

5.) Learn from others

“As we work through and respond, draw on the expertise of those who have gone before us in this pandemic, both internationally and nationally, so we can be even better prepared,” Owen Plietz says. “We also regularly connect with our system leaders and industry peers, both locally and nationally, to share challenges and best practices.”

6.) Prepare and practice

“Each of our 11 hospitals and other facilities has been preparing to support an expected influx of patients by monitoring and actively managing our staffing levels, capacity and supply chain to make sure we have adequate, continued access to the personnel needed to care for patients, as well as beds, materials and equipment,” Owen Plietz says. “In addition, we have an established, regular cadence of drills and simulations for different intake scenarios.”

7.) Communicate regularly and openly

Yes, leaders can lose people if they overcommunicate; even dedicated team members will tune out after a while. But holding back during a crisis can lead to rumors and worry. “Be visible, overcommunicate and be transparent with your people,” advises Isaacs. .

Owen Plietz says communication via different, accessible platforms can be a two-way street of listening and sharing updates. The exchange “equips team members to be more engaged and invested, which strengthens us all,” she notes.

8.) Accept that sometimes luck enters in

“Understand there are good and bad decisions you can make, and good luck and bad luck are associated with each outcome of a decision,” says Steve Messinger, president of ECG Management Consultants in Arlington, Virginia, and co-chair of healthcare at the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, a business group that advocates for national priorities. “Ask yourself, ‘Am I making a fundamentally sound decision, and is this a good framework?’”

Messinger has seen staffers use the best information they could to make a call and then be crushed by bad luck when they didn’t get the anticipated outcomes. “People really need to focus on the way they make decisions and on their style,” he says. “Bring people along, and help them understand the leadership role they’re taking. Be obvious, be consistent and be present.”

9.) Recognize that this one is different

“Most healthcare organizations we’ve worked with are excellent during times of crisis, like a weather event or heavy-hitting flu season,” says Messinger. “They mobilize and understand logistics. This pandemic is really testing the fortitude of provider organizations due to its long-term duration.”

Messinger adds that leaders need to make sure their staffs are well supplied, a not-so-simple task during this outbreak, and address morale issues. His advice is to be kind and to listen — and to remind people of how important they are.

Stephanie Stephens is a journalist and radio and television producer and host in Orange County, California.

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