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 first in a series on these lessons, we explore setting teamwork as the baseline.

Teamwork at every level and at every position in an organization is critical for any emergency, even more so during a pandemic. At institutions that already have a collaborative culture, the COVID-19 crisis highlights how much can be accomplished by individuals working as a team.

“Everybody felt like they were part of the solution and worked harder,” said Gary Loyd, M.D., a physician anesthesiologist and director of perioperative surgical home at Henry Ford Health System, a large health system in Detroit. “I worked a lot of night shifts and at 10 p.m. I was still seeing communications coming from administrators.”

Some of these solutions require staff to cross train and take on tasks outside of defined roles, based on whatever must be done at the moment with leadership clearing the way for teams to quickly shift as needed. One example: physician anesthesiologists pivoted from working in the operating room to treating COVID-19 patients in critical care units and ICUs, using their expertise in intubation, ventilation strategies and critical care medicine. This all-hands-on-deck approach is common in departments and positions across institutions.

At Medisys Health Network, a community system in Queens, N.Y., physician anesthesiologists aided respiratory therapists, and replaced their own colleagues who were ill; ambulatory clinicians managed inpatient floors; and surgical staff formed a central line service.  

Administrators at both institutions led by example, working as needed round-the-clock to stay on top of the situation – which changed regularly – moving patients to other facilities as needed, providing support and ensuring adequate supplies to protect both staff and 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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