7 ways Cleveland Clinic optimized its workforce to respond to COVID-19

Whether it is retraining physicians to care for respiratory patients or protecting staff wellbeing, unparalleled workforce challenges have confronted hospital leaders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Becker's first Human Resources + Talent Virtual Summit, Linda McHugh, senior advisor and chief human resource officer emeritus of Cleveland Clinic, spoke about how the 18-hospital network mobilized a team to respond to the pandemic, redeployed talent and boosted communication, while simultaneously keeping clinician wellbeing at the forefront. 

The session, sponsored by Workday, was titled "Talent Agility: Optimization in a Changing World." Deanna Kraft, the global head of healthcare go to market for Workday, moderated the 30-minute discussion.

Below are seven ways Cleveland Clinic prepared its workforce to respond to the pandemic and improved staff resiliency:

1. Tackling redeployment and mobilizing teams by setting up labor pools. Cleveland Clinic set up three labor pools to help its redeployment strategy, Ms. McHugh explained. The first pool included physicians and advanced practice providers who were going to be redeployed into intensive care units and retrained on things like how to care for respiratory patients. A second pool was established for nursing caregivers who worked in the outpatient setting or the operating room and didn't have work due to the suspension of elective care. Cleveland Clinic created a curriculum for 1,500 nurses so they felt prepared to work in the inpatient setting. Some were even trained to run ventilators as respiratory therapists were in demand. The third labor pool was for everyone else, who could be tapped to take on a variety of new things Cleveland Clinic needed to staff, such as helping to set up the drive-thru testing site, taking temperatures at the hospital entrances or handing out masks, Ms. McHugh said.  

2. Adding flexibility to its paid time off, administrative leave policies.Cleveland Clinic knew early on in the pandemic that it needed to add flexibility into its PTO and administrative leave policies as childcare facilities and schools started to close, Ms. McHugh said. The pandemic had an effect on staff members' home lives, and Cleveland Clinic wanted to ensure its employees were supported. As a result, Cleveland Clinic suspended prior requirements that prohibited staff to enter into the negatives on their PTO banks, and let people take leaves of absence for longer than they typically would, Ms. McHugh said. 

3. Taking an intentional approach to communication. One of Cleveland Clinic's main focuses was improving communication with staff to boost transparency and reduce some of the fear and anxiety about the pandemic, Ms. McHugh explained. This involved several new initiatives like setting up an incident command team that met daily, sending out a daily email to staff that contained relevant COVID-19-related information, establishing an online COVID-19 toolkit and starting a hotline for staff to ask questions about patients, family or themselves. In addition, Cleveland Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic, MD, would send out an email or recorded message each day to the team that described what was top-of-mind for him and included an inspirational message. Another item of the communication strategy that improved staff engagement was a daily webinar from Cleveland Clinic's Chief of Staff Herbert Wiedemann, MD. Dr. Wiedemann's webinar went through statistics, described initiatives, research or things the system was seeing in the care of patients. "The feedback [from the webinar] was that no matter who they were, they could speak to what was going on, how we were taking care of patients, and what we were seeing and thinking would come next," Ms. McHugh said. 

4. Establishing a caregiver support team for staff who tested positive for COVID-19. For staff members who tested positive for COVID-19, Cleveland Clinic created a caregiver support team. The caregiver support team would contact staff members who tested positive to offer them myriad services, such as meal delivery, grocery delivery and a hotel room to isolate if necessary. The Cleveland Clinic struck deals with programs such as Instacart and hotels in the area to provide the services to their employees in need. 

5. Bringing in new services to help ease stress on front-line staff.Cleveland Clinic wanted to do more to make the lives of their front-line caregivers better amid the pandemic. It set up "grab and go" stations that allowed caregivers to grab a meal for up to four on the way home after a long shift, created relationships with grocery stores so that they could always get priority pickup and created a pantry in the hospital for them to buy some fresh produce. "We were trying to make their life easier, because we knew the stress they were under at the hospital," Ms. McHugh said. 

6. Creating an emotional crisis hotline for caregivers. The wellbeing of clinicians was top-of-mind for Cleveland Clinic, Ms. McHugh explained. As a result, it established an emotional crisis hotline for its caregivers, which focused on social and financial stress brought on by the current situation. This crisis hotline allowed staff to have a phone or virtual visit with a therapist. 

7. Established peer-to-peer group check-ins.At the end of each shift in the intensive care unit and emergency department, peer groups would huddle together and talk about what went well, what didn't go well and what they were grateful for that particular day. "Sometimes resilience is about expressing gratitude and [talking through] what were they going to do to prepare to come back the next day ... we got a lot of great feedback around providing those moments for them," Ms. McHugh said. 

Listen to the full session OnDemand here

More articles on workforce:

A snapshot of the US contact-tracing workforce
Cleveland hospitals, colleges to create healthcare talent pipeline
125,500 healthcare jobs added in July; hospitals see 2nd month of gain since March

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