The collaboration started with a simple question: what if we could get a group of healthcare workforce well-being experts together to create a list of the top five most critical well-being actions that leaders could take now to support healthcare team members?
That was the question that spurred Heather Farley, MD, MHCDS, FACEP, chief wellness officer for ChristianaCare, and Tina Shah, MD, MPH, principal at TNT Health Enterprise and senior advisor to the Office of the Surgeon General, to reach out to their networks right around the turn of the new year.
It didn’t take long for folks to say yes. We all recognized that leaders were being inundated with messages around how to support healthcare team members who had been on the frontlines for two years’ worth of pandemic stress and distress – both personal and professional. We knew that a short list, backed by evidence, and designed for rapid implementation could be a lifeline to leaders who had their hands full managing infection control, capacity, and staffing.
Then Dr. Farley and Dr. Shah added another question: What if we could do it in a month? The challenge was on!
The Well-Being Five
In our initial brainstorm, there was a dramatic alignment around six-to-seven key ideas. We were working within some constraints: the actions we landed on had to be actionable within a three-month time frame, so dramatic workforce restructuring concepts and large-scale technology investments were off the table.
But where the alignment was clear was that all of us recommended actions that would focus on changing the work environment as the primary focus. We knew that team members need resources to support their mental health and well-being given what they had already been through, but we also knew that reducing or eliminating ongoing and future stress and distress is essential.
After debate, discussion, and vetting our ideas with additional experts, leaders, and frontline team members in our own networks, we landed on the following list of actions in the 2022 Healthcare Workforce Rescue Package:
- These are non-normal times. Adjust expectations. Align metrics, reporting, and processes to the available resources. This may include crisis documentation or pausing the organizational scorecard.
- Get rid of stupid stuff. Work with clinicians to identify high value work and eliminate as much as possible that’s not aligned with exceptional clinical outcomes and team member well-being. Give team members autonomy by moving decision authority as close to the frontlines as possible.
- Get radical to shore up staffing. Staffing shortages exacerbate team member overwhelm and limit clinical capacity. Move as many resources to the frontlines as possible with voluntary redeployment of non-frontline clinical leaders and administrative staff.
- Designate a well-being executive. Create a position (or committee) with operational authority to oversee and coordinate well-being efforts and ensure alignment with evidence-based standards. Make sure this leadership structure incorporates diversity, equity, and inclusion so that efforts support anti-racism and structural equity.
- EAP is not enough! Do more. Offer team members mental health support that is embedded in their work through peer support, leadership training, and ready access to credentialed counselors.
Toward Structural Safety and Well-Being
As we refined the final list, it was tempting to add in all of the details that we know are essential to building a culture of communication and well-being that will last well beyond the pandemic – key practices such as putting effective well-being metrics on executive and board dashboards, creating open and ongoing communication pathways between leadership and frontline team members, and creating meaningful recognition programs that show team members that they are seen and appreciated.
We know that the work to create a more humanized health system where team members can depend on the support, structures, and resources they need to achieve their highest healing potential – with their humanity intact – will continue well after the pandemic.
Our hope is that the five action items we’ve identified will create an accessible access point for leaders who are juggling multiple priorities. We hope it will spread as far and wide as possible and spark ongoing collaborations between stakeholders and leaders of every stripe. Healthcare team members deserve nothing less.
You can access the full 2022 Healthcare Workforce Rescue Package, including links to evidence-based resources for getting started, at www.allinforhealthcare.org/issues/2022-Healthcare-Workforce-Rescue-Package.
My profound gratitude to Drs. Farley and Shah for organizing this incredible collaboration. Deep thanks to our fellow collaborators: Elisa Arespacochaga, MBA, VP Workforces and Clinical Affairs, American Hospital Association ∙ Robyn Begley, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, SVP and CNO, American Hospital Association and CEO, American Organization of Nursing Leadership ∙ Corey Feist, JD, MBA, CEO Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation ∙ Jessica Perlo, MPH, Senior Director, IHI ∙ Christine A. Sinsky, MD, VP Professional Satisfaction, American Medical Association