Doctors and Nurses With Arms Around Each Other in Support

In 2020, the first wave of COVID-19 brought forth a generous amount of love and appreciation for healthcare workers. As they worried about the scarcity of PPE, bringing COVID-19 home to their families, and dealing with changing guidelines, they were showered with community support. However, as the pandemic carries on, community support has waned while clinician stress has risen. Clinicians are “living on the adrenaline edge of practice.” Health systems are now challenged with attracting quality candidates and keeping them from leaving due to burnout.

Strategies to keep bedside nurses engaged

In SimpliFi’s first session of RED2021, “Navigating Labor Challenges in a Pandemic,” we heard from an esteemed group of panelists who shared creative strategies implemented in their health systems to engage and retain their nursing team. Chief Nurse Executive Claire Zangerle with Allegheny Health Network and Chief Nursing Executive Beth Beckman with Yale New Haven Health System shared what was beneficial in their health systems.

At Allegheny Health Network, Zangerle said leadership worked to address the nurses’ immediate needs and provided them with breaks from the bedside.

“We have serenity rooms throughout our hospitals where they can just take five minutes and go into these rooms and just get away from the beeping noises and everything that’s going on,” she explained.

When mass vaccination clinics opened in January 2021, Zangerle’s team was able to redeploy their nurses to staff the clinics.

“Honestly, giving our nurses the opportunity to staff those clinics really helped them because it gave them a break from the bedside, but it used their skills,” Zangerle said. “The grateful patients that they saw coming to get those vaccines restored their faith in their practice. That was very helpful for us.”

Beckman said Yale New Haven Health System implemented a program to measure the staff’s stress levels and gain understanding on who needed help.

“We put out a stress survey. Anybody could take it. If the results generated concern, you got a referral to a person who would then have a conversation with you,” Beckman explained. “It still continues to go on today. It’s a longitudinal look over time that then got people to a referral base. “Then, we had a program designed where people could talk about what it was that they were experiencing. Interestingly enough, not everyone unpacked [the stress of the pandemic] the same way at the same time with the same degree of relief,” she said.

Giving nurses and their leaders opportunities to get to know each other on more personal levels also helped. During Nurses Week, Zangerle’s team gave every nurse the book “The Gratitude Project.”

“The nurse leaders every week are reviewing a chapter on that,” she said. “They’re trying to learn how to be grateful during this really tough time. Different nurse leaders take an opportunity to present one slide on a chapter and give nurses their perspective from a nurse leader’s view of how to gain the resiliency they need while also being grateful around it. It’s really important for them.”

Gratitude was also a focus for Yale New Haven Health System.

“We had a week of gratitude and it was just simple but elegant,” Beckman said. “We literally started and everybody just took time out of their day. They went to their units, everybody else’s units. They had intentional rounding around gratitude. The creativity that came from that was just astonishing. The things that the bedside leaders put together were heartwarming.”

Strategies to keep nurse leaders engaged

These health systems found they could do more for their bedside nurses when they also focused on their nurse leadership.

“If they’re not strong and resilient and we’re not building them up, they’re not going to be able to help their staff,” Zangerle said.

Allegheny Health Network worked with a psychologist to implement a time management course for nurse leaders.

“My team worked with a psychologist who custom-built a nurse leader time management course for us based on everything [nurse leaders] have to do every day,” she said. “Our nurse leaders really appreciated that. They felt like they didn’t get out of the chaos, but they could control the chaos a little more.”

Zangerle added to this level of support by establishing a weekly nurse leader Zoom meeting that focused on communication.

“I have upwards of 250 people on that call every single week,” she explained. “It’s communication, communication, communication. They know if they don’t hear it from me then it’s not what is going to affect them. They have to know that all of these things that are swirling around them, they hear it from me, they know what’s happening.”

Ongoing support

During the pandemic, Beckman said healthcare executives learned they needed to find a “way to appreciate, understand, and recognize the heroic nature of which people responded.” Nurse leaders had to determine what would mean the most to their staff to keep them engaged. They learned that came through an ongoing show of support.

Zangerle added, “There’s not one thing that you can do [to support your nursing team]. You have to do a lot of things and hope some of it sticks.”

The conversation around workforce strategies in the pandemic continues in a second session of RED2021. Register today and join a cross-functional panel of leading healthcare executives on November 4 from 12 – 1:30 pm CST for the free session, “Lessons Learned: Crisis Staffing in a Pandemic.”