As the COVID-19 pandemic entered our country, hospitals and clinicians faced something never seen before. We quickly and significantly altered the playbook for disaster and emergency preparedness, collaborating, innovating, utilizing and deploying every available resource to survive the crisis. A crisis, unfortunately, that many are still battling.

While COVID-19 surges continue in the midst of the influenza season, lessons learned by health systems large and small reveal the importance of teamwork, communication, flexibility, preparation and supporting the physical and mental health of all staff. Insights from hospital and clinical leader members of the American Hospital Association and American Society of Anesthesiologists, who navigated COVID-19 when it first arrived, reveal key strategies to provide the best patient care and keep front-line workers safe. In this second in a series on these lessons, we explore the importance of communication.

Opening lines of communication top down and bottom up is vital, with administrators providing regular updates about cases, new protocols and encouraging staff to reach out with suggestions, questions and concerns.

To help prepare for the first surge, many hospitals relied on their disaster training, forming COVID-19 incident commands with multiple workgroups to address specific areas, meeting several times a day to provide updates and discuss needs. Some of the common areas addressed by workgroups included: project management, clinical care, staff education and training, ancillary and support staff, human resources, workforce safety and inventory management.

Constant communication is key for the entire team. “We had daily situation calls, daily hospital-wide safety huddles, weekly workgroup meetings and frequent video messages for staff to keep our team informed and give them as much support as possible,” said Bruce Flanz, president and CEO of Medisys. But timely communication is especially critical in informing anesthesia staff who lead COVID-19 patient management.

“I had a daily call with my staff to discuss the number of patients admitted, how many were COVID positive or presumed positive and the number on ventilators,” said Antonietta Morisco, M.D., chair of anesthesiology at Medisys. “Even staff who were ill would call in so they knew what was going on.”

Full transparency also goes hand in hand with communication and engenders respect and trust with all stakeholders. That means sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with staff and the community at large – including the number of employees who test positive or die.

It also means leaders must champion victories – such as when patients get off ventilators and go home – to infuse staff with optimism when there is so much stress, anxiety and pressure. It is important to show employees that the leadership celebrates the courageous work being done for patients.

Clinical and administrative teams that have collaborated before on projects, such as the Perioperative Surgical Home, help transform health care delivery. COVID-19 takes this partnership to a new level. The lessons learned provide hope for the promise of a brighter future, in which decision making happening in a collaborative, more agile way will be the new norm.

Additional resources are available at AHA Updates and Resources on Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and ASA COVID-19 Information. More resources designed to support those leading through crisis and fostering well-being across an entire organization provide free tools and real-world examples.

 

Patrice Weiss, M.D., is the past chair of American Hospital Association Committee on Clinical Leadership and the executive vice president and chief medical officer at Carilion Clinic, and Beverly Philip, M.D., is president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

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