More so than many industries, healthcare has grappled with the “great resignation” and staff burnout during the pandemic. But the news isn’t all bad.
MH: Can you share an update on where your organization stands with regard to staffing challenges?
Maxine Carrington: We’ve been able, thankfully, to weather the storm a little bit better than some. I’ve been with the organization since 2008. I’ve seen its evolution and development, and its investment in people. I think that investment helped us, certainly, through the pandemic. I always say infrastructure, culture and the ability to adapt to change are what really matter. But most of all, it’s the culture.
Dr. Luis Garcia: In general, the challenges for retention and recruitment are there for everybody in healthcare. We used to think about our competition being the neighboring health system. Now there’s truly competition with other industries. Think about Amazon and the CVS’s of the world. Everybody is trying to get into healthcare. Another issue we have at Sanford is that we’re truly rural, with many counties federally designated as provider shortage areas.
MH: Did your organization use any “outside the box” strategies to mitigate workforce issues?
Carrington: Even before the pandemic, we talked about a “returnship” program: identifying people who have been out of the workforce for at least two years, who find it harder to get back into work. This includes folks who have been in the criminal justice system. The initiative involves partnering with other organizations to [assist] folks who have that background, but they are rehabilitating, looking to be employed or trained.
Garcia: One thing we’re dealing with is the difference in expectations from the various generations that populate the healthcare workforce. The traditional employment model might work for those who have been in healthcare for 20 or 30 years. But it might not work for the new nurse or physician who are looking for more flexibility. So we’ve had to adapt quickly with our benefits and offerings.
MH: Since the pandemic, a lot of the focus has been on staff burnout and well-being. Is there still a lot more work to be done? Where do we stand?
Carrington: I would say it’s what a lot of organizations struggle with. It’s not the [mental health and wellness] services, because we have robust offerings, and utilization is up, but it’s the people for whom there might be a stigma attached. They don’t think they need “help.” So that’s a lot of what we’ve been working on—trying to normalize conversations through storytelling, through being more visible and present.
Garcia: The industry is having more conversations about caregiver mental health. If you look at the statistics, 61% of clinicians after COVID feel they have gone through a period of anxiety or depression, or they still are. One of the things we have focused on is the concept that it’s OK to not be OK. … It’s OK to have a bad day. And it’s OK to raise awareness about it, because that’s the only way we can help you.