How Memorial Hermann is ensuring its 29,000 employees are healthy and safe

Hospitals and health systems should think about employee health and safety in a broad way and address the whole person, mentally, physically, emotionally and financially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Lori Knowles, chief human resources officer of Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System.

Ms. Knowles has served in Memorial Hermann's top human resources position since 2017. 

Here, she discusses her organization's COVID-19 efforts for its approximately 29,000 employees, reveals how Memorial Hermann is preparing for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients, and shares her advice for other hospitals and health systems.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: How is Memorial Hermann ensuring employee health and safety amid the pandemic? 

Lori Knowles: The healthcare community is obviously on the front lines of this. From the very beginning, we said we would support remote work for our employees. Today, we have 5,000 to 6,000 employees working from home at any given time. We've implemented social distancing protocols in the workplace and have allowed employees to work from different locations if they need to. We're also screening our workforce – checking their temperatures before they come in and giving a surgical mask to anyone entering our facilities. Very early on we set up a 24/7 call center for employees to ask questions or express concerns. If we do have an employee with COVID-19 symptoms, they are immediately tested. If we did have a positive test come in, we're offering 100 percent salary and benefits to that employee, regardless of where they may have contracted the virus.  

Q: How has the shortage of testing materials affected employees at your institution, if at all? 

LK: We've been able to make sure that for those employees who need to get tested, they have access to that testing.  

Q: How is Memorial Hermann preparing for peak demand for hospital resources due to COVID-19? 

LK: We set up our incident command center in late February and have been actively planning for a surge since then. We're also working regularly with other healthcare institutions across the Greater Houston area around things like staffing and staffing models, as well as access to resources. As we've thought through what a surge would look like, we're also partnering with the Houston Community College and Lone Star College [in Houston] to see how we can use their staff and students, if needed. A lot of planning has gone into what we believe will be each phase of the peak. We feel prepared.

Q: What is one piece of advice for other health systems looking to ensure employee health and safety?

LK: Health and safety in our mind is not just physical health and safety but emotional and financial as well. For example, we implemented a 75 percent pay guarantee for employees who have experienced a reduction of hours as a result of the state's order to postpone elective, non-urgent procedures. We've waived fees for behavioral health visits so people can get the emotional help they need. We've also expanded our childcare benefits. My advice is to think about health and safety in a broad way, to think about how you're taking care of the human who works for the healthcare system. 


More articles on workforce:
Beaumont Health offers blood antibody testing to 38,000 employees, inpatients
Staffing firm lured nurses to unsafe work in New York, $500K lawsuit claims
Florida health system quarantines 66 employees after 'exposure incident' 

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