By Adrian Johansen, freelance writer; @AdrianJohanse18.
Hospital workers are burnt out. The physician shortage in the U.S. is growing increasingly dire, and COVID-19 variants are filling up intensive care units from coast to coast.
In late August, U.S. Army veteran Daniel Wilkinson made news, dying of a treatable illness outside of Houston, simply because no hospital beds were available. Parts of the country, like Louisiana, are finding themselves unable to provide ambulance services and other essential hospital functions due to case surges.
It’s times like these when our front-line workers jump into action, risking it all to manage high patient influx while delivering the highest quality care possible. As an HR worker, there are ways you can also help support your hospital staff, both professionally and personally.
Communicate to Fill Roles Efficiently and Effectively
“One-third of the physicians now working in the U.S. are expected to reach retirement age in the next decade,” and besides that, the aging American population is requiring increasing care for a growing number of chronic illnesses and ailments. The physician shortage in the U.S. isn’t going anywhere, especially in light of COVID-19 variant surges.
That means HR workers are working overtime to fill in the gaps. When physicians fall ill or are otherwise unable to work, fill-ins are also in order. Communicating with your hospital staff can help you better understand their needs. Perhaps they need a nurse who specializes in critical care, or maybe a doctor with experience in infectious diseases. Increasing the number of nurse practitioners hired may also help to fill the gap left by retiring physicians.
Quitting rates are higher than ever before, and one way to deal with the talent shortage is to liberate your talent strategy. Maintaining a database of pre-vetted, qualified applicants can help streamline the hiring process, which could otherwise take weeks or months. Recruiting culture is fast changing to allow for faster hiring and more efficient communication.
Encourage Positive Habits
Because of physician shortages caused by the pandemic, aging medical providers, and an increase in chronic illnesses, doctors and nurses tend to be stretched pretty thin these days. If they arrive to work tired or under the weather, their capacity to fulfill their duties diminishes.
As an HR professional, hearing that your staff is tired and overworked is never a good thing. It’s especially a problem when your staff is in charge of overseeing the well-being of tens to hundreds of patients every day.
Fortunately, you can encourage your staff to get a proper night’s sleep. If they’re having difficulty, you can even recommend a memory foam mattress, provide evening relaxation tips, and lead crash courses in meditation. Other positive habits you can encourage as an HR professional include limiting evening caffeine intake, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and promoting exercise for your hospital staff.
Better yet, you can set an example by following the same positive habits and stress management techniques. Once they see results firsthand, your hospital staff will be sure to follow.
Offer Mental Health Management Tips
Any office can be stressful. Where there are deadlines, meetings, and uniforms, there are bound to be high stress levels. In a hospital environment, particularly during a global pandemic, the risk of stress-related physical and mental consequences is severely elevated.
In normal times, studies show that over 25%, or 1 in 4 American adults, will experience the impact of mental illness during a calendar year. For physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened stress, anxiety, and depression have plagued healthcare workers. Some of the most common effects reported by hospital workers include insomnia, headaches and stomachaches, and an increase in drug and alcohol use.
Interestingly enough, few respondents cited overworking as one of their primary stressors. Rather, physicians and medical workers across the board have been struggling to deal with the risk of virus exposure and the burden of extra protective equipment. As a result, another survey conducted by Mental Health America revealed that “93% of health care workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.
Mental health can be difficult to manage even in the best of times, but managing depression and anxiety may be harder during COVID-19, especially for our front-line workers. Here are some of the top tips to help manage mental illness during the pandemic:
- Encourage telehealth services.
- Keep a healthy routine and prioritize a good night’s sleep.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Seek additional help through therapy or medication, if necessary.
Adapting to COVID-19 HR Changes
Checking in on your staff from time to time can make all the difference when it comes to their mental health and productivity levels, especially when you work in a high-pressure field like medicine.
For example, extra safety protocols may be necessary for hospital staff if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Understanding the applicable labor laws, following recommended cleaning protocols, and determining the best way of informing colleagues are essential steps to navigating HR in a post-pandemic world. Additionally, increasing your company’s focus on diversity and prioritizing mental health can make all the difference for hospital staff, who often don’t have the flexibility or means to work from home.
Just like medical providers, HR workers must stay on top of their game in today’s constantly changing hiring landscape. HR is a job that requires flexibility, communication, and a real knack for interpersonal interaction. By working diligently to fill hiring gaps and boost office morale, you can help lift the spirits of some of America’s most prized frontline workers during a healthcare crisis.