Health care staff and clinicians are indispensable to the care of the patients and communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they themselves are facing many challenges, both personally and professionally. This climate provides opportunities for organizations to innovate and adapt. Participants in Vizient’s Staff Well-being Coping with Crisis Events collaborative have done just that, reducing voluntary nurse separations by 19% on average and identifying several leading practices that support staff well-being during a crisis.

Nursing, performance improvement, human resource and well-being leaders at the 12 participating hospitals spent six months learning together to develop an action plan to support staff grief, resilience and help strengthen trust and loyalty in their organizations and its leadership. The result was reduced voluntary nurse separations as well as the identification of leading practices in the areas of trust, communication, mental health support and work environment.

Strengthen and restore trust and a sense of community—Consider committing to daily, in-person leader rounding, ensuring leaders are visible in surge or high-risk areas to show an understanding of the demands in that work environment  and support for the clinical staff; training managers and leaders in psychological first aid; and holding listening and debrief sessions to understand what matters to staff.

Also consider assessing and monitoring staff well-being, adequacy of support resources and need for new resources regularly. Ideas include:

  • Surveying the entire workforce ensuring anonymous responses, tracking trends in stress levels, identifying specific drivers of stress and developing supportive interventions
  • Asking a staff resiliency question of the week (thumbs up, thumbs down), assess compassion fatigue, conduct pulse survey on how well staff disconnect from work at home and identifying three good things that happened during the day

Develop a proactive, transparent and consistent communication plan—Create predictable and stable expectations for communications during the crisis period and throughout recovery. This may include weekly employee townhalls, daily email or voicemail updates, information hotlines and intranet updates.

In addition, communicate with transparency and vulnerability. Admit what you do not know and be honest about bad news, so staff can be as prepared as possible. It is important not to transmit false hope or commit to timelines you cannot meet. Your organization likely will not look the same following this event, so avoid making statements like “it’s going to be fine” that may belittle the seriousness of the crisis.

Assess mental health and psychosocial needs of staff and develop support plan—Consider providing crisis support services early, often and in real-time, including:

  • Creating respite areas where employees can step away from their work to relax, staff hotline, scheduled time to relax and a relief time to provide breaks/meals
  • Establishing weekly time with internal psychologist(s) to be available for walk-ins, conduct virtual therapeutic check-ins and offer free 24/7 mental health services

You also can create and promote peer support by conducting end-of-shift debriefs by unit/profession, assigning a “battle-buddy” to front-line staff and offering group and peer counseling

Establish a physically and psychologically safe work environment—Ensure your organization has developed a crisis preparedness and response plan, implemented workplace hazard controls and conducted risk assessments and has designated an implementation team. You also may want to create a well-being task force or committee to develop staff needs assessment and ensure initiatives are met.

Other ideas include reducing the risk of exposure to staff and their families by providing scrub laundering, showering/changing space, temporary housing and work-from-home options for staff who are able as well as establishing drive-through testing sites, triage hotlines and symptom screening for employees.

Additional information and resources for workforce wellbeing are available from the collaborative project webpage (members only), the Clinical Team Insights webpage, an advancing team culture playbook and a clinical workforce well-being playbook.

Published: March 16, 2021