The healthcare industry is facing a wide variety of challenges—and solutions aren’t always straightforward. Each month, Modern Healthcare asks leaders in the field to weigh in on their approaches to the sector’s thorny issues.
This week, we hear from Deborah Bowen, president and CEO, American College of Healthcare Executives, and Dr. Kimberly Togliatti-Trickett, chief medical officer, West Market, University Hospitals, about the issues healthcare organizations continue to grapple with in the wake of COVID-19.
Given where we are in the pandemic and the state of the industry, do you think leaders are overly focused on crisis management
Bowen: By and large, as a field, I don’t see leaders stuck in crisis management mode. I think they’re looking for ways to solve problems and build their organizations in a way that respects all we’ve been through. … Many people are being relatively bold in disrupting lots of things about who they are and what they’re about in their organizations.
Togliatti-Trickett: At the start of the pandemic, everybody was focused on crisis management, tackling problems as they arose. We’ve reached a steady state after the pandemic with regard to tactical thinking. Management must now transition to strategic thinking while still dealing with the after-effects of the crisis from a staffing perspective.
Do you believe organizations were adequately prepared to manage the workforce burnout the industry has encountered?
Bowen: I’m sure people could say, “Yeah, we could have always done more,” but could we have done more to prevent the pandemic? I don’t know how. Part of this is the perfect storm resulting from the conditions we were surviving regarding the state of the workforce and the incredible demands on frontline workers and others.
Togliatti-Trickett: It’s been an unprecedented challenge. During the worst of the pandemic, burnout was inevitable because of the hours, patient volumes, rapid pace of change and severity of illness the teams were managing. As a result of burnout, we’re now facing staffing challenges requiring employees to work harder and longer. Also, the baby boomers are retiring, resulting in a workforce with different work/life-balance expectations.
Is there an undervalued healthcare leadership skill set that you believe deserves more attention?
Bowen: When I hear leaders talk about what really makes a difference, it’s more about the relationship dimension. It’s listening more, it’s building trust, it’s much more of the interpersonal skills. It’s really trying to connect with people to bring more meaning and purpose. How do we invest in people to make their jobs more interesting or better?
Togliatti-Trickett:I believe it’s the ability to connect with others. It’s about empathy and authenticity. As a leader, meeting staff where they are will encourage their engagement. Most successful leaders meet with their staff daily and listen to them—being present versus leading from behind a desk. Understanding the staff’s daily challenges and celebrating their successes empowers them.
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