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A better normal

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Reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns is certainly on top of every healthcare worker, as well as patient agenda, in recent weeks. However, hospitals never closed throughout this pandemic, they just learned a long list of new safety measures.

The coronavirus pandemic quickly forced healthcare as a whole into an urgent mode of operating. Now, routine services are slowly coming back, but hospital leaders say they’ve learned too much to return to ‘normal.’

The pandemic has pushed both private and public healthcare providers to stand up to the dangerous demand with which it was tasked, rising to a new level of functioning.

Hospital leaders are talking about a new normal that must be a better normal. There is a need to do a better job of taking care of communities that are most vulnerable.

Health care systems are experiencing unprecedented challenges globally because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a pivotal time in healthcare. There are simultaneous clinical and financial demands, alongside the need to make good a commitment to improving quality and safety. It has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. The normal work rhythm at most every healthcare facility had been disrupted.

In late February, the number of COVID-19 cases started growing exponentially around the world. With the country’s limited capacity in terms of bed, resources and technology, we were not ready to manage a deluge of potential cases. The normal work rhythm in the country’s healthcare scenario had been disrupted.

The next two difficult months saw healthcare staff going above and beyond the call of duty to support patients — even as some of them were experiencing some form of loss, including patient, family members or friends taken by the virus. Some have lost a role at work or their family has suffered a loss of income. The potential impact of all this was difficult to comprehend, but it was clear frontliners and healthcare workers needed help through their grieving process and find ways to come to terms with their new reality. COVID-19 posed a threat that could well contribute to a future wave of staff burnout.

Hospital leaders were already under pressure to contain labor costs while optimizing for patient well-being. Now they were starting to look at staffing levels from a new perspective.

During this crisis, many hospitals had been rapidly making decisions. Pre-COVID 19, the order of the day was usually to get full consensus around an issue prior to making changes. It had been almost impossible to get everyone’s high five before an important decision because every issue had to be addressed with urgency. Every stakeholder moved much faster than before. It didn’t help that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and April, every news coverage carried features on hospitals nationwide postponing nonessential procedures and services to conserve resources for the care of COVID-19 patients in accordance with recommendations from both the Centers for Disease Control and our local Department of Health.

COVID-19 has put a huge toll not just on patients and grieving loved ones but also on the frontliners who go beyond their duties to support those in need, even if they’re going through the same thing.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/ BERMIX STUDIO

To respond to COVID-19 and ensure safety in the organization, there was little time to build uniform consensus. Moving in time with the rise of infection and death due to the virus meant effectively making changes in three weeks that would have normally taken over a year or more to accomplish!

But moving at that quick pace left holes and opportunities for improvement after changes — it was important not to be defensive and willing to evolve every day and listen to people to make things better.

Transparency and educating people about the reasoning behind a change is important, but it was important to understand: we don’t have to be perfect. We can use these learnings to change how we in leadership work and to be far more efficient going forward.

During this crisis, one of the biggest learnings is a new level of preparedness, to become even more ready to handle something like this pandemic should it hit again. As hospitals and clinics start to open their doors to elective procedures and face-to-face consultations, there is a call for patients to trust the delivery of safe, quality care.

THE trust between healthcare workers and patients has never been stronger than now.

Trust in healthcare has never been more critical than it is today. COVID-19 has created a new world for the healthcare industry, a world in which masks and face coverings cover the smiles we once saw, virtual visits supersede in-person care, and visitor precautions leave patients feeling isolated.

While we’ve never lost sight of quality and safety — in many ways it has ramped up — we know that building trust right now means doubling down on showing kindness and compassion to each other and to patients when they need our expertise and guidance most.

The whole world will have to look at this pandemic long and hard and ask if we all stood up to this crisis. History will reflect back on what this industry could have done differently to manage this disease.

I am hoping we can use this pandemic’s effect as the push to make changes, to create new, innovative healthcare delivery systems that allow us to care for more people… better, safer, at a lower cost.

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