As the pandemic took hold in the U.S., University of Utah Health sent more than 3,000 employees home to work and redeployed others to new jobs to avoid layoffs and furloughs. Amid all the changes, one thing was constant: regular and open communication from senior leadership.
The health system used videos to keep workers updated and connected and to share tips on how to be resilient during the pandemic, said Sarah Sherer, human resource officer for hospitals and clinics at University of Utah Health.
“I think the biggest thing is always making sure there’s that connectivity between staff and leadership,” Sherer said. “This will end eventually, but people will always remember how you treat them.”
Since March, University of Utah Health has worked with a local childcare provider to fund 200 spots for the children of clinical staff. And now they’re preparing support for parents as they get ready for an unconventional school year.
Sherer stressed the importance of having empathy and accepting feedback from employees. “They’re not only dealing with work-life challenges; it’s home life, it’s social,” she said.
To recognize employees’ hard work, leaders randomly pass out items like donated gift cards. And sometimes, just thanking employees is helpful, Sherer said.
The Joint Commission issued guidelines on how healthcare organizations can support their staffs’ mental health, recommending being transparent, having clear lines of communication and providing psychosocial support resources.
“The mental, emotional and physical strain healthcare workers are experiencing during these unprecedented times of COVID-19 cannot be understated,” said Erin Lawler, a human factors engineer for the Joint Commission.
At Intermountain, caregiver safety officers, who are clinicians themselves, work in COVID-19 units to make sure employees are donning and doffing personal protective equipment properly. In one case, the system’s chief nursing executive, Susan Robel, stopped two caregivers rushing to respond to a patient in arrest because they hadn’t put on their masks properly, Harrison said. “In the heat of battle, they were going to risk taking care of themselves,” he added.
The system has asked front-line workers how to manage their needs. As a result, Intermountain added snacks in break rooms, provided different types of masks by request, offered an on-site laundry service so caregivers don’t have to worry about wearing potentially contaminated clothing home, and provided an emotional support help line for caregivers.