How 3 academic medical centers have reached out to community, backed employees during COVID-19

During the pandemic, hospitals and health systems must ensure employees feel supported as they battle COVID-19, and, at the same time, ensure the communities they serve feel safe receiving care during a public health crisis. 

A panel of health experts discussed how their organizations have tackled these issues during a session at the Academic Medical Centers Virtual Forum Sept. 25. The panelists were David Entwistle, president and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health Care; Mark Miller, CFO and treasurer of UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Therese Hudson-Jinks, MSN, RN, senior vice president and CNO, chief patient experience officer of Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Kelly Gooch, senior writer/reporter at Becker's Healthcare, moderated the panel.

Here is an excerpt from the conversation, slightly edited for clarity. To view the full session on-demand, click here

Question: How has your organization gained community trust and supported employees amid the pandemic?

Mark Miller: I tend to think that we all probably have realized the importance of communication and transparency with our staffs and with our patients, and obviously, we need to continue to do that. And we need to be able to reach out into the communities that we haven't traditionally done. When we talk about vaccine trials and the like, we've got to get out into the communities that the African-American, the Latinx communities, the areas that are hit very hard by this virus, and get those folks into some of these trials so that we can have a good, broad spectrum of folks that are in that. And that requires a level of trust and confidence, working with community leaders and churches and whatnot, and taking the testing out to the people in the communities. That's going to be really important for us.

David Entwistle: For us, it was how do we make sure that the patients coming back [for care during the pandemic] felt safe? We actually used testing as one of those pieces. We actually went through and tested all of our employees to make sure that we could tell the community, "This is a safe environment to come into."

In fact, the interesting aspect of that data: We tested roughly about 12,000 employees and faculty or physicians, and we had less than a 0.3 percent positive rate on COVID. And that kind of piece allowed us then to be able to, even back to the community, advertise to say, "It's safe to come back in the ER. Don't wait for your care." Because we know that patients are waiting too long because what we're seeing come into the ER, we have a significantly higher admission rate, which meant that they're coming in too late.

I think at the same time, we all have an onus in that aspect to make sure that we're taking care [of employees]. These are incredibly trying times. I don't know about you, but I felt tired all the time. It's like, people that are able to more stay at home, we've been at work the whole time. We're here making sure that our patients are taken care of, and Zoom environments like we're on now make it so it seems like sometimes, probably our days never end. So, we do get tired. People are challenged. And I think we've got to make sure we're doing those things internally. They're feeling not safe sometimes. Am I going to take this virus home? So, what are some of the things that we can do to support our staff so that they then can support our community? And I think there's a lot we can do still.

Therese Hudson-Jinks: The response of the healthcare community and those closest to patients exceeded our expectations. And so we found ourselves, and still can find ourselves, communicating and overcommunicating because there's a thirst and there's a desire to know everything because it's just such a dynamic time in people's lives, let alone healthcare. There's so much disruption in all of their lives that as leaders in healthcare, whatever we can do to give them information, to help them feel empowered and in control and on top of situations, we're happy to do.

So, that's been a bit of a lifeline for our community. We've been out in the community throughout all of this. We've opened up testing centers in Chinatown [in Boston] and worked with our Chinatown community because that's where we're located as a medical center, asking them what they needed from us during this. And how can we take our knowledge and share it out in the community to, again, empower people to make great decisions? We are working hard to encourage people to come to healthcare and to seek healthcare so that we can all as a country be strong and be well. And that is really working well.

And the other thing I would just add is, we've looked to our patient family advisory council to say, "What is it like to be a patient during these times? What are we missing? What could we learn from what happened? What did we do well? What could we do differently? What do you need from us now?" Because although we're patients, too, in some sense, it's amazing how much I learn from just opening up that conversation and having them share with me how we can do a better job welcoming them back into healthcare. So, it's iterative, we're constantly learning. We say we're in a growth mindset. We're trying to be positive, trying to refuel our attendings after this very scary time in healthcare and be the better for it, if that's at all possible.


More articles on leadership and management:
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