COVID-19 has been a learning experience on many fronts. Every facet of our health care system has been affected by the pandemic — from providers to patients to hospital and health system CEOs — and we will be sorting out lessons learned for some time to come. 

This applies to hospital boards and governance practices as well. Building excellence in governance, particularly in times of crisis, calls for ongoing learning and effective practice of key leadership habits. To that end, AHA Trustee Services offer a variety of resources that address governance issues and practices. 

Even as we deal with continuing flare-ups of COVID-19 around the country, our entire field is also looking ahead and reimagining the future of health care. The ability of hospital boards to adapt their governance practices to new realities will play a central role in our success. 

What do these new realities include? Three pressing challenges have taken on more urgency since the pandemic began: workforce resilience, behavioral health and health equity. 

These issues were among those considered by the AHA Committee on Governance earlier this year when committee members shared strategies and learnings from the pandemic. The 26-member COG represents AHA’s trustee members and participates in the association’s advocacy, policy and resource development, with a particular focus on strategic opportunities. 

Workforce. The stress and exhaustion of the pandemic has prompted many professionals to leave health care. Hospitals leaders are concerned about maintaining a robust workforce in the future, and governing boards not only need to be aware of health care workers’ struggles and stresses but also actively supporting strategies to help them cope. For starters, many boards created special thank-you videos for health care teams to express their gratitude and appreciation for all they were doing to care for patients. 

Behavioral Health. Boards have continued to rethink their strategic planning during the pandemic, recognizing that going forward, more resources and strategies are necessary to rebuild and maintain an emotionally and physically strong, healthy workforce.  COVID-19 tested the resilience of our health care workers as never before, and boards are supporting efforts to ease stress and anxiety, and increase the sense of well-being among our caregivers.   

Health Equity. Boards also have recognized the growing importance of adding health equity, diversity and inclusion to their overall strategy, if they weren’t doing so already. The pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color and highlighted long-standing disparities in health care. As we redesign and reimagine what health care will look like in one, five or 10 years, equity, diversity and inclusion must be woven in to everything we do. Here again, boards have a role to play in helping to set the tone and pace for progress. 

Meanwhile, as governing boards filter teachings from the pandemic and apply them to future actions, certain practices — such as virtual meetings— will remain useful for effective leadership. 

Strong governance benefits all of us and our communities, and will help lead the way for our field as we work to advance health for everyone.  

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