COVID-19 Recovery: Creating the Healthcare New Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us through uncharted territory.  As we begin to adapt to uncertainty, consider how we stop reacting to this unplanned event and instead move forward towards our “new normal”.  We know healthcare will never quite look the same, and we are compelled to accept this change, incorporate the important lessons learned and forge a path ahead.  Those that remain focused on uplifting the workforce, meticulous preparation and leadership/organizational agility will survive and thrive.  This is the first of a four-part series designed to help our healthcare partners construct the post-COVID-19 new normal. 

Promote Workforce Well-being  

Part of preparing for the new path ahead includes acknowledging the exhausted healthcare workforce and promoting resilience.  All of us who work in the health-related field do so with a strong sense of duty and obligation to serve and care for others.  Without proper self-care, we cannot fulfill that most sacred intention.   

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (2020) created a tool/guide to help healthcare leaders understand and act on behalf of the needs of their staff.  The tool in short delivers practical approaches to provide physical and psychological safety for staff through essential tenetshear me, protect me, care for me, prepare me and support me.  Although there is significant focus on workforce wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and rightfully so, intention without action will surely fail.  Commit now as a leader to action orientation.  Leader rounding with active listening is one of so many actions you can take now to support the workforce 

Prepare for the Unexpected  

Expect the unexpected in our new normal.  Although we commonly drill for natural disasters and mass casualty events in the acute care hospital setting (often to the exclusion of aftercare such as home care, private practices, etc.), we have not always been as apt to prepare for public health events.  Such preparation is fraught with complexity because the same people that make up the healthcare workforce are in fact, also healthcare consumers.   

Preparation and drill activities must not only include public health catastrophe in the actual acute care setting, but it must also be coordinated with community partners for a more realistic and comprehensive approach.   Additionally, attention to the personal environment of the workforce is key:  providers need to stay well themselves and limit family exposures.  Plans should include the contingency that some workforce members could become ill or may opt out of work during a pandemic related to family concerns.  Realistic and highly inclusive drills (that consider the aforementioned factors) are one critical approach for maintaining readiness for the unexpected.   

Yet, modern American healthcare is no stranger to critical public health events such as the 2014 United States cluster Ebola crisis This crisis featured issues similar to the COVID-19 pandemic including proper provision and use of PPE and early disease identification/control.  Part of preparing for the unexpected includes examining past events with a critical eye and learning from them.  Public fear along with slow government response early on as previous historical public health events would dictate, compel individual hospitals, hospital systems and communities to prepare for early, independent responses initially.   Do not assume anyone will help you identify an early forming crisis and help negotiate first steps:  be as independent and prepared as you possiblly can 

Enhance Leadership and Organizational Agility  

The Baldrige Excellence Framework core competency of organizational learning and agility “…requires a capacity for rapid change and flexibility in operations” (pg. 40, 2019-2019 Baldrige Excellence Framework Healthcare).   With similar public health events surely in our future, the ability to respond quickly and with laser focus may quite literally make the difference between life and death of people and organizations alike.  Continuous learning, embedded deeply in the culture of an organization and in the DNA of each leader, is an intentional act supported by people and process.   

It has perhaps never been more important to demonstrate flexibility as leaders and organizations as it is now in this COVID-19 pandemic emerging new normal.  Most experts agree it is not a matter of if, but when, the next public health event will come, and we need to be prepared differently.  That preparation should include bolstering workforce culture, overhauling key work systems and processes and focusing on innovation and learning systems.  A recent article in Harvard Business Review (2020) contends that part of being agile ironically includes initially increasing organizational stability.  Take a moment as an organization, many of them, to assess and hardwire changes to process and people initiatives you may be lacking.  Do not let your pre-COVID-19 business as usual becomes your post-COVID-19 business as usual.  


Our next blog in this series will feature more information about Workforce Well-being.  


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