By Mary Kate McGrath - June 30, 2020
In March, the COVID-19 pandemic began to overwhelm hospitals and healthcare facilities across the United States, inundating ICUs with critically ill patients and taxing healthcare workers. Nurses and physicians on the frontlines have struggled to protect patients, communities and themselves from coronavirus, sometimes working 24-hour shifts in overcrowded hospitals, taking on tasks for roles for which they haven’t formal medical training, and often performing procedures without sufficient PPE.
Hospitals workers have bravely done everything possible to assist patients amid the first wave of COVID-19, but the workplace conditions are not sustainable. Moving forward, hospital administrators must strategically fill healthcare shifts as the global pandemic continues to unfold.
Now that COVID-19 patient numbers are falling in certain states, hospitals will be tasked with figuring out how to safely resume elective procedures and continue caring for COVID-19 patients. Hospitals must invest in a new, sustainable way of managing operations, with systems and protocols that prevent pushing workers and facilities to the edge of their capacity.
If unaddressed, hospitals could be facing a mental health crisis among nursing professionals, with the pandemic taking an additional toll on an industry that already had a high-rate of burnout. Burned out clinicians have worse outcomes and are more likely to quit their job, emphasizing the importance of recovery time for overworked ICU workers in hotspot cities experienced the peak of the virus.
Effective shift management will play a role in future COVID-19 preparedness planning, allowing administrators to mitigate both employee burnout and limit the spread of the disease in hospital settings. Healthcare workers in ICU units are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to repeated exposure, and should take extra precautions if experiencing symptoms.
Meanwhile, hospital administrators should ensure that all physicians understand sick-leave or self-quarantine policy, have access to treatment, and that empty shifts are able to be filled by other workers. Technology can play a major role in establishing clear protocols and policies, conducting routine wellness checks for workers, and helping fill shifts as situations develop. Below find some best practives for filling healthcare shifts amid COVID-19:
Hospitals and healthcare facilities should ensure that workers who don’t feel well stay home. Communicate sick policy, including paid time-off benefits, thresholds for returning to work and other relevant information to workers. Encourage workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 to take personal time as necessary. One of the main obstacles to getting adequeate mental healthcare for hospital workers is stigma. Make sure that healthcare workers understand the importance of taking a break, and that anxiety, depression, or other mental illess is not just "part of the job."
A mass notification system can deliver real-time policy or protocol updates to healthcare workers. Administrators can reach doctors, nurses, and hospital workers with real-time changes or reminders. Amid the chaos of the pandemic, employees may not have time to seek out information regarding time-off or sick-time, and mass notification allows administrators to reach workers via text, e-mail, voice message, digital signage, or other mediums.
Many overwhelmed hospitals or healthcare facilities have broadened their field of workers in light of the coronavirus crisis, bringing back retired physicians and allowing medical school seniors to graduate early to bolster the workforce. For example, NYU allowed senior medical students to graduate months early and join the battle around coronavirus, as part of a “directive to get more physicians into the health system more quickly,” as per CNN. Nearly 69 students started their internships at New York hospitals in April instead of following planned commencement proceedings in July.
Broadening the field of healthcare workers by moving retirees and medical school seniors into ICU settings allowed cities with overwhelmed hospitals to better address the crisis, but the practice requires expediting training. Technology can help facilitate new healthcare workers transition into a hospital environment. A coronavirus response solution can be used as a directory of hospital policies and resources, including shift management protocol, mental health resources, and other necessary information for new workers. It also allows for internal communications, and recent medical school graduates can use the tool to contact supervisors for additional assistance at any time.
Many hospitals have been exploring innovative strategies for triaging patients, which can ease some of the burden on overworked physicians. Several Boston-based hospitals are experimenting with AI to foster patient self-triage, as per the Harvard Business review. Similarly, these healthcare facilities are deploying intelligent robots to perform simple tasks that are otherwise done by trained physicians, and relying on telehealth to ease some of the strain on healthcare workers.
The Betsy Lehman Center in Boston also implemented new training protocols instituted by the Center for Medical Simulation that encourages checking in with coworkers at various points throughout a COVID-19 shift. “Circle Up” training cultivates a supportive system of communication through work based briefings, peer check-ins, and debriefings to boost clarity, coordination, and resilience in the workforce. These communication-focused strategies can be critical as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, allowing for adaptive conversation, problem-solving, and exchange of vital information during shift turnovers.
A healthcare safety app can be an essential tool for administrators filling shifts amid the pandemic. The geo-poll healthcare check feature in the app allows hospital leaders to conduct routine wellness checks for workers, including their health status, whether or not they’ve reported any fevers, and general physical or mental wellbeing. If a worker reports severe burnout or any other health concern, the tool can identify another nurse or physician who might be able to fill their upcoming shift.
For any hospital or healthcare worker who has fallen ill with COVID-19, the app allows administrators or supervisors to ensure that those individuals have access to care and understand proper quarantine or self-isolation procedure. The tool can be used to regularly check in throughout the course of the nurse or physician’s recovery, and plan their return to the job when necessary or appropriate.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.