NewYork-Presbyterian CXO Rick Evans: Have we moved beyond languishing yet?

Reading headlines this week, many of us are experiencing déjà vu. Is it summer 2020 or summer 2021? 

In spring 2021, COVID-19 case numbers were coming down. Hospitalizations and deaths were declining. Vaccination rates were climbing. We moved into summer with optimism.

This week, it's feeling more like last summer with cases rising again in many parts of the country. Yet there is a major difference this year — we have vaccines. And, the push is on to raise vaccination rates everywhere. The evidence is overwhelming that getting vaccinated is the best defense against COVID-19. Meanwhile, the delta variant continues its spread, leaving many of us with a crucial choice about how to move forward and lead in healthcare.

Last fall, I wrote about addressing our "suck-it-up" culture in healthcare and the need for us to be more transparent and authentic as leaders, modeling behaviors that allow space for people to express where they are in this life-changing pandemic — especially if they need help. Sometimes that means sharing our own feelings and struggles. It also means validating the experiences of others as we interact with teams as leaders. That was what was needed at that moment. 

All of that is still true. But I believe a further pivot is now needed.

I've been thinking a lot recently about an article I read in the New York Times back in the spring by Adam Grant. The article is entitled, "There's a Name for the Blah You're Feeling, It's Called Languishing." In the article, Grant talks about a feeling many of us are experiencing — a space where you are not depressed, but you're not energized either. You're not disengaged, but not at the level of engagement you had in the past. It's a feeling that it's hard to see beyond what is right in front of us at the moment. The view of the horizon feels lost. This is the emotional long haul challenge of COVID-19. The end to the pandemic we are all seeking just isn't here yet.

What does that look like in our healthcare organizations? For leaders, it has never been more challenging. Keeping our teams and front line focused and motivated has never been harder. We are tired, but the work of healthcare must still be done. While we continue to deal with COVID-19, we still have to provide quality and safe care. The patient experience must be maintained. Our efforts to evolve healthcare into the digital age must continue. And, other basic issues of healthcare leadership must still be addressed — Joint Commission surveys, annual employee training, budget preparation and so much more must continue.

So, where is the balance between not being a "suck-it-up" culture and still meeting our obligations and addressing long term issues? I believe it lies in reconnection — with each other and with our purpose.

In recent weeks, I have been meeting with groups of leaders at NewYork-Presbyterian as we try to restore elements of our patient experience strategy and goals. There is a common theme in our discussions. 

In the age of Zoom, many feel we have lost a sense of connection with each other. Many of us come to work and spend the day as a box on a screen. Despite great effort, there is a feeling of isolation from peers and team members. This plays out in the ways we interact — at virtual meetings, over emails, etc. We need to find ways to safely restore connection with each other. We are talking about restoring our personal connections in the times when we are together physically, even if it's raising our heads and saying good morning in the hallway or on the elevator. We are talking about how to make Zoom experiences more engaging and interactive. We are re-engaging with some of the platforms we have to recognize and thank each other.   

Reconnecting with our purpose is also key. When you feel isolated from other people, it's easy to lose sight of the core reason why we are here every day. We are here to care for our communities and for each other as well. We've spoken about how we can once again share stories of what we have been able to do for our patients and families. We have spoken with each other about the support we need from each other as colleagues. We are reconnecting with our values, especially empathy, respect and teamwork. You can be tired, but still see meaning and experience joy. We just have to consciously make that a priority again. In my experience, while this is "work," you tend to reap what you sow. You get back what you give to the team.

This reconnection needs to happen, because we still need to get our work done. We need to meet our promise to our patients and to our workforce. It's not about "sucking it up," it's about working together to get back on our feet as a team, supporting each other as fellow health professionals and as fellow humans, and putting our eyes and hearts forward to see the horizon once again.   


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