Fireside chats, food and town hall meetings are among the ways hospitals and health systems have boosted employee satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For a closer look at these efforts, Becker’s Hospital Review asked organizations on the Forbes list of America’s best employers how they’ve made their workplaces better for employees. Read their responses below, presented alphabetically.
Editor’s note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.
Dick Argys, chief culture officer and chief administrative officer of Boston Children’s Hospital: It started with us focusing on keeping our employees as safe as possible. We stressed the utilization of PPE, social distancing, testing, communication and facilities changes (such as plexiglass). We also were able to quickly pivot to having over half of our colleagues working remotely. We established weekly open meetings by Zoom, fireside chats with special operational guests, free meals and refreshments for our on-site work force. We encouraged our e-work teams to connect daily and to establish social networks with nonwork agendas. Constant communication from our leadership was a priority. All trying to support the spirit and overall well-being of our most valuable asset, our people.
Naomi Cramer, chief human resources officer of Banner Health (Phoenix): As the pandemic waged on, Banner doubled down on its commitment to taking care of its employees. The organization implemented flexible scheduling and remote work options, offered numerous well-being and emotional support resources and provided child care subsides through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs. Throughout the summer, we held special employee appreciation activities at facilities across Arizona and Colorado with music and food and well-being resources. Employees also were engaged in activities from mask-making to delivering meals to nourish our teams — more than 3,500 of them — and showed up for each other in ways big and small. We also provided housing for our front-line healthcare heroes to reduce their worry about returning home after caring for COVID-19 patients. And because we believe so strongly in keeping our employees informed, we’ve released monthly video messages highlighting stories of our frontline and support teams, developed a text tool for instant access to resources, held monthly virtual town halls and invested significantly in keeping our team members safe. We recognize that we are running a marathon and not a sprint and will do whatever we can to support our employees.
Brian Crawford, chief administration officer of Willis-Knighton Health System (Shreveport, La.): The one way that Willis-Knighton Health System boosted employee satisfaction during the pandemic was to value and appreciate our providers and support staff as our greatest resource every day, long before COVID-19 ever darkened our doors. Employee satisfaction, like trust, is something that is built over time and not something that can or should be expected to emerge, if not already there, during times of crisis. Thus, WK’s workforce efforts during this time were truly remarkable and a testament to the ever present teamwork philosophy, family-oriented work environment and the health system’s dedication to our employees, that in turn compelled our physicians, nurses, and other clinical and support staff to rise to the overwhelming challenges when faced with this monster. Not because they had to, but because they wanted to. This is what happens when an employer combines the intangibles of gratitude, respect and appreciation with the tangibles of fair and honest pay and benefits, respectful work areas and open offers for advancement opportunities to all.
We are Willis-Knighton, and although we were pushed as never before, we pushed back — our healthcare heroes never relenting to an invisible enemy as they cared for their patients and sometimes cried with their families. These experiences, however difficult and challenging, have also been rewarding, as they, through our employees’ actions, have helped reshape the Willis-Knighton and American healthcare system for the better.
Susan Edwards, CEO of ProHealth Care (Waukesha, Wis.): We’ve done a number of things that employees have appreciated, including multiple efforts to keep people safe, all-employee town hall teleconferences with members of our senior executive team, hero signs and window decals and a video featuring employees that became a social media hit. But perhaps most popular was an extended period of free meals in our cafeterias — a small token of thanks for the extraordinary work our people are doing to meet the needs of our community during this crisis.
Heather Farley, MD, chief wellness officer for ChristianaCare (Newark, Del.): ChristianaCare’s Center for WorkLife Well-being focuses on supporting caregivers so they can find meaning, connection and joy in their work. We recognize that this is an incredibly difficult time to be a caregiver and understand that all caregivers may be uniquely impacted by the stresses and challenges they face. We are committed to providing our caregivers with services and resources to meet their changing needs.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, caregivers in the Center for WorkLife Well-being have been conducting in-person rounding with a well-being cart. The cart contains comfort items, including snacks, lip balm, hand sanitizer and thank you notes from the community. This in-person, proactive communication also offers caregivers in-the-moment support, provides direct access to more intensive services, if needed, and identifies caregiver concerns that can be escalated for rapid resolution. The Center for WorkLife Well-being has interacted with thousands of caregivers through in-person rounding, and connected hundreds of caregivers to individual and group support sessions.
Alison Flynn Gaffney, executive director of service lines, ancillary and support services at University of Utah Health (Salt Lake City): We began preparing for COVID-19’s arrival in the state of Utah in late January and February. We received our first patient in mid-March at out healthcare system.
From day one as we began this journey with our teams, patients and community, we felt paramount to our effort was clear and consistent communication. We implemented daily live streams to be able to speak to our entire healthcare system. The feedback from our employees has been overwhelmingly positive that we have made communication a priority. Within an evolving local environment, some teams working remotely and a need to communicate changes at certain points hourly — this was and still is a very effective satisfier for our teams. We continue still with multiple live streams weekly.
We also implemented a financial recognition thank you, a reusable mask-hand sanitizer, and a white healthcare hero pin was distributed for each employee. We received a tremendous outpouring from our community, and we redirected our catering team to coordinate all of our meal donations from our community to be focused on our clinical and nonclinical teams-not leadership across our system. We implemented an internal “grocery” for key items and meals to-go to assist with family meal planning as well as redeployed staff, implemented telecommuting and offered a child care credit and other options throughout the pandemic.
Kerry Heinrich, CEO of Loma Linda (Calif.) University Health Hospitals: From the earliest moments of the pandemic, we realized our healthcare team faced a crisis situation most of them had never experienced. As leaders, we committed ourselves to listening to their concerns, supporting their need for information and equipment and celebrating their efforts whenever possible. It was vital for us to find ways to support our employees’ physical and mental health while they dealt with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, not only on their work, but on their homes and families, too.
Daily information transparency proved to be an important key to reassuring our team about how the pandemic was unfolding in the hospitals. We communicated to staff via a daily COVID update email that included dashboard figures so employees could see the flux in numbers; town hall meetings with leadership that included question-and-answer sessions. Staff were able to submit their questions and concerns in advance using an online survey and live during the meeting. Extra signage was placed around campus to help with new workflows and important reminders; and a new employee portal coronavirus resource page as a source of truth and repository of assets, such as work guidelines and spiritual care resources, was created.
Hospital leadership provided three days of on-site food trucks giving meals to thank our caregivers for their hard work and ongoing meal deliveries for employees working on COVID-19 units. Additional staff appreciation events were also held, such as cheering for and greeting all staff on both day and night shifts as they entered and exited the hospital; administrator rounding to all departments/units with snacks; care carts for units that include personal care items such as lotions, lip balms, Scripture bookmarks and other items; daily online prayer sessions with chaplains and weekly online soul care sessions with employee spiritual care leadership; and messages of support on sidewalks where employees enter and exit the hospital.
R. Lawrence Moss, president and CEO of Nemours Children’s Health System (Wilmington, Del.): The safety and health of Nemours associates has been a key priority throughout the pandemic. At the outset of the pandemic, Nemours committed to not furlough any associates, and we made some reassignments to best meet evolving patient needs. Another area where we’ve been focusing our support is toward associates who are parents, who are dealing with the realities of virtual learning and limited child care options. We are offering a peer support program, revised employee assistance program services, suggested child care options, work flexibility and remote work where possible, and communication surrounding these topics.
From a talent development and support perspective, we created leadership webinars that directly supported the needs of our managers in the transition to a virtual workforce. This included topics on resilience, self-care, emotional intelligence and dealing with and managing change. We also provided one-on-one coaching for leaders needing support during the transition. We also completely transitioned our leadership development courses from an in-person format to a virtual format with limited to no interruption or rescheduling, so our associates could continue to engage in their development. New hire orientation was also fully transitioned to being virtual, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Timothy Pehrson, president and CEO of Integris Health (Oklahoma City): In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, communication was critical. Keeping our caregivers and providers informed on the quickly evolving situation and protocols brought calm to a crisis. We initiated daily written communications and multiple video updates per shift. We also held virtual town hall sessions to address questions and concerns. Not only did this keep our teams informed, but it showed our commitment to their safety. In addition, we recognized the emotional toll the pandemic was taking on our clinical caregivers, and in response, we made individual phone calls to our front-line employees to check in on how they were doing emotionally. We continue to offer behavioral health support to any caregiver who needs it.
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