May 21, 2021 Maximizing Organizational Performance in the COVID Era – Part I

Event Recap: Industry Perspectives Panel Discussion

You know the famous quote from Victor Hugo, “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” Well, I believe that is a fitting sentiment for the panel discussion that we held recently with some of healthcare’s foremost industry leaders. 

The topic was Maximizing Organizational Performance in the COVID Era. Our goal for the discussion was to explore how healthcare leaders are addressing some of the new challenges impacting organizational performance in a COVID environment. More importantly, we highlighted new strategies and opportunities for health systems to pursue that will build stronger, more resilient teams and organizations.

Our panel participants included industry leaders:

  • Dan Gross recently retired executive vice president of Sharp HealthCare, with a clinical background as CNO, as well as COO of Sharp
  • Mark Solazzo, executive vice president and COO of Northwell Health System
  • Nancy Pratt, senior vice president and clinical product development of CliniComp, and also has held roles as chief quality officer at Providence St. Joe’s, as well as Sharp HealthCare
  • Dale Beatty, CNO and vice president of Stanford Health Care

As a foundation for the discussion, we asked what healthcare leaders were doing and what they had learned over the 18 months. In this blog, we explore some of the top priorities within healthcare and what they are seeing as future opportunities for change to operate more effectively? 

Dan, what do you believe are the top three or four priorities in the healthcare industry at this time?

The biggest challenge in answering this question is narrowing it down to three or four priorities. Obviously, there’s a myriad of issues confronting healthcare systems today. The first one I want to touch on is what I call the leader and workforce imperative. I believe we are seeing a very disenfranchised workforce today. And we’re seeing very strained relationships between leaders. We hear the voice of many employees feeling as if during the COVID-19 pandemic, they really were not supported in the way they wanted. Now, today, we’re seeing that manifest itself in the survey data that is coming out. We are seeing reports with results as high as 40% of the healthcare workforce thinking they may want to leave. That’s alarming.

We also hear in that same message thread that they didn’t feel as if they were well cared for. Support was lacking. People are talking a lot about post-traumatic stress syndrome and exhaustion. And, as a result, we’re hearing increased talk about unionization. People are really looking for a voice to support them. 

Based on all of this, I believe we have a real challenge. However, there is also an opportunity to activate our leaders to start thinking about how we rebuild relationships with our frontline workforce and make them stronger. How do we begin focusing on things such as improving employee well-being and implementing self-care programs within our institutions? The key for us right now is empowerment. We must make certain that we find solutions and strategies in collaboration with the frontline workforce. Not just exclusively from our leadership and management teams.

Going forward, we need to take the lessons we’ve learned, the lessons we are still learning, and move them forward. 

You may have heard, but just recently there is a coalition of healthcare CEOs that have come together. Basically, they have pledged to put together new healthcare worker protections. They really are focused on a declaration of principles to address these types of issues. I would encourage people to look at that declaration and the principles they’ve included. And, you should also know that they are looking for more leaders within healthcare to join. I believe this is also a key imperative.

Another challenge in the workforce area is that there’s not been a consistent universal experience for frontline workers and it’s been less than what we desire. However, there have also been some very positive lessons learned around leader and workforce relations. Some of the messages that I’ve heard from many organizations are that frontline workers saw a greater presence of their leaders during COVID. More so than they had seen in the past. And for those organizations that saw the C-suite and mid-level management on the frontline, they felt embraced with caring and support. I think that this type of experience is a very strong lesson for us.

The last thing I’ll say on the workforce imperative is that we all must keep an eye on how we address our remote workforce. How do we ensure that we maintain the culture, strong communication, and relationships? This will be essential. 

The number two priority I believe is key for our discussion today is economics. It’s hard to find a healthcare system now that is not talking about the impact the pandemic had on their organization. Again, it has not been a universal experience. Some health systems weathered the pandemic better than others. But, if we listen to the conversation, we often hear how organizations had a declining revenue stream, and that operational expenses soared, that there was margin erosion, and organizations are having liquidity issues. An interest interesting data point comes from a recent report from Kaufman and Hall.  It basically said that in 2021 it’s anticipated that hospital revenues will be down somewhere between $53 billion and $122 billion.

So, economics remains a priority focus for all of us. Some of the key strategies here will be how we, as leaders, address our economic challenges and realities. We really need to think through how to establish realistic economic goals and timelines? I hear many anecdotal stories about how people want to move their system back to the same financial performance they had pre-pandemic. That’s a good goal. But the rate at which people move their organizations towards that goal is going to be critical. Trying to achieve it too quickly may have catastrophic results. Once again, here’s where we need to empower the frontline managers and staff to embrace the reality of our economics and to help us find the solutions to move forward.

It will be critical how we think through our five-year plans. Do we re-evaluate capital expenditures? Do we look at our infrastructure requirements considering a remote workforce? All these things should be up for re-evaluation for us to successfully forward. 

The third and final priority I’ll touch upon is consumerism. I believe consumerism as a priority was alive and well prior to the pandemic. I think the pandemic served us well in terms of delivering on consumer requests for more accessible, convenient, cost-efficient care. During the pandemic we found ourselves having to be more creative. We had to develop new methods of delivery and meet the consumer’s desire for virtual care.

From what I’m hearing and in some of the conversations I’ve had, is that people are backsliding a bit now that the pandemic has lessened for many. I would caution that it’s not a time to slide back. It’s time for us to continue to move forward. I think the ambulatory healthcare environment has done a tremendous job. We saw the acute care hospitals looking at new ways to deliver specialty care, consultations, and family communication. We need to keep that creativity moving forward. The demands for alternate care methods are there. There’s a lot that can be said about how we use data, artificial intelligence (AI), and new technologies to meet those demands.

Those are the priorities that came to my mind. I’m curious to hear what my colleagues think. 

Dale Beatty: Dan, I really appreciate the priorities and I agree. There is one thing I’d like to add to the leader and workforce imperative. I think this is germane to all of us as we work towards wellness and resilience within our workforce. The social climate that we’re in currently is also impacting our workforce. I want to highlight that diversity, equity, and inclusion is something that’s critically important for us to consider. In the midst of the pandemic, we faced racial and social injustice that impacted our workforce in many different ways. And we must stay attuned to this as a factor in workforce engagement and wellness.

In our next blog, we will continue with a deep dive discussion on these topics with our panel participants.

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