Supporting staff wellness in the ‘new normal’: A Q&A with two former front-line clinicians

As hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) continue to resume surgeries, clinicians may be facing new challenges as the healthcare landscape evolves to address COVID-19 concerns and the influx of patients needing surgical care.

With these additional stressors, it is important to proactively bolster the health and well-being of your staff. We sat down with Suzanne Champion, RN, director of Clinical Operations at Cardinal Health, and Marvella Thomas, RN, senior consultant of Clinical Operations at Cardinal Health, to discuss wellness strategies to support your team.

 

Q: As facilities are resuming surgeries, staff may be taking on greater responsibilities than before. What should facility leaders do to help keep their staff physically healthy?

Sue Champion: It’s important to keep in mind how the changes to protocols will affect the physical demands of the staff. New cleaning protocols may place a greater burden on the staff responsible for cleaning, like cleaning the entire room rather than just in the operative area. The new cleaning protocols may also require staff to take on duties not previously part of their responsibilities. 

Marvella Thomas: Additionally, when it comes to the ambulatory setting, there are fewer resources available to the clinical team. They are the cleaning staff, turnover staff, and will be responsible for all the additional cleaning protocols that have been implemented. Similarly, business office or admitting staff may be responsible for cleaning and disinfecting public areas and waiting rooms during the day. They need time to manage these tasks and need the training and education to do an effective job. 

SC: Another consideration is that new traffic patterns for patient movement may require more steps for the staff. All these added movements and duties impact the physical well-being of staff. Having fewer support staff in the rooms and maybe even fewer PRN — or on-call — staff for meal and break relief will take a toll as well. 

MT: Again, in the ambulatory space, many facilities are also planning to extend hours of operation during the week and opening on Saturdays. There may not be enough staff to manage the increase in hours. Leaders must be sensitive to a work life balance for their staff and not overextend their staff resources.

SC: With these thoughts in mind, consider how you schedule surgeries. Build in time for the staff to take a breather. With increased cleaning protocols and fewer support staff, turnover times will be impacted. Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be readily available along with policies and procedures to support the PPE process. Clear guidelines are the best way to ensure cooperation and compliance.

 

Q: What about supporting staff mentally and emotionally?

MT: It’s important to be sensitive to the welfare of your staff – office teams, clinicians, sterile processing, anesthesia, and surgeons. Many lost their income for several weeks. Leaders will need to keep communication open, listen to concerns, and provide support as needed. Acute settings may have HR counselors or employee assistance programs, but ASCs usually don’t have the same extent of resources. If you are a member of a management group, explore what options for support may be available from the corporate office.

SC: Also, allow staff to voice their concerns and/or fears. Solicit feedback from staff to better understand how the processes are working and allow staff to offer suggestions on procedure revisions. As much as possible, allow the staff to be involved in the decision-making process. Participation in decision making gives staff a sense of empowerment that helps to alleviate mental and emotional stress. 

MT: Speaking of emotional stress, patient isolation is going to place additional emotional and mental strain on the staff. Patients will not have family or caregiver support while on site in the facility, and your clinical team will need to supply the additional emotional support their patients need. 

SC: So, the key takeaway here really is: Give staff adequate time to regroup and feel that they are doing everything in their power to keep themselves protected and safe.

 

Q: What are some other factors to keep in mind to support staff wellness?

SC: Facility leaders should keep in mind that supporting staff wellness includes helping them care for their families and loved ones in this “new normal.”  

MT: That means leaders need to be sensitive to staff needs as they try to manage home and work responsibilities. Flexible shifts and scheduling processes that include staff input will be critical. Make sure breaks are available more frequently to give staff time to contact their families. 

Another related factor is that ambulatory surgery centers don’t have cafeterias or coffee shops, so staff typically bring their lunch and store it in a community refrigerator. Break rooms are small, so staggering break times and lunches can help with social distancing. Providing insulated lunch bags and accessories can reduce crowding in the refrigerator and prevent possible cross contamination. Providing occasional box lunches will keep staff healthier, both physically and mentally.

 

Q: What should staff be doing to take care of themselves?

SC: Staff should ensure they understand the new protocols, use their PPE properly, and voice concerns when they arise. I’d encourage them to ask questions and offer suggestions, so they become part of the process, not just bystanders. 

MT: Also, staff should try to minimize clutter and disorganization. Clean, organized surroundings are more calming and reduce the stress of trying to find items or work around items. 

SC: Last, staff should take time to mentally and physically regroup and remember that their health is just as important as their patients’ health!

 

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Additional resources:

3 Ways to Fight Fatigue in the OR – The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses

Assistance and Well-Being – American College of Surgeons

Wellness Resources – American Society of Anesthesiologists 

 

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For more information on how Cardinal Health is addressing COVID-19, and additional resources and tools, visit cardinalhealth.com/covid19.

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