When I first heard about a new virus causing health crises and lockdowns elsewhere in the world, I was concerned. After all, a pandemic affecting billions of people can lead to devastating results — and in too many places, it did. But as a consultant for various skilled nursing facilities across the East Coast, I was even more worried for our residents’ safety, as they make up one of the most vulnerable patient populations.
We were fortunate that the long-term care facilities we work with had the necessary, and life-saving, protocols in place to adapt to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic to protect their patients’ livelihoods, but not all long-term care centers shared that same fate. And it’s only because our leadership team was able to quickly enact and enforce decisions and processes that allowed us to pivot in the right, and secure, direction.
This has been a transformative experience for our centers that has changed the way we operate, how we define interactivity and connectedness, and how we define ourselves as leaders and health care providers.
While my focus is in senior care, other companies have also had to upend and rethink their entire operations to protect their employees, their clients, and their own survival. I wanted to share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about leadership through this pandemic not only for other healthcare executives, but for leaders across every industry.
Understanding how to manage risk
Risk management is critical to keeping operations running smoothly and dealing with further crises down the road. At skilled nursing facilities, we had to recognize early on that the development of any new, easily-transmissible virus would be a concern for us, long-term care residents, and their families.
At the long-term care centers, we had technologies in place to help us mitigate any potential risk. Telemedicine capabilities, for example, allowed residents to have access to quality care without leaving their facilities so as to not risk unnecessary exposure to the virus. But video communication also played a critical part in ensuring residents could maintain some semblance of social interaction when we had to make the difficult decision to suspend all activities and visitations to prevent the spread of the infection. We know that senior loneliness can be detrimental to patient health — even futile — so keeping the lines of communication upon even with the cancellation of activities and visitations was a mandatory implementation.
Other companies were also forced to use video conferencing tools such as Skype or Zoom once the pandemic hit. Remote work was once only a luxury afforded to younger tech companies, but it soon became the only way many organizations could survive the pandemic. Having the right technologies in place, and the right training to ensure employees understood how to use these technologies, became a matter of life and death for businesses.
Acting quickly and efficiently matters
The magnitude of the pandemic took everyone by surprise. Circumstances began to change weekly, sometimes even daily. The laid-back attitude of summer was replaced by serious concern as a second wave set in. In all cases, our leadership team had a responsibility to act decisively in response to these changes. If that meant changing policies, there was no value in rigidity. People’s safety had to remain at the core of our coronavirus response.
Making sure we had the best decisions in place meant listening to others, being open to new ideas, and staying creative. We asked for and received feedback from residents, family members, and staff about options that could keep residents safe and improve their feelings of inclusion at the same time. Whenever circumstances changed, we had to change. There’s no point in sticking to one choice simply because it’s worked well in the past. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, you have to think about what’s going to work for the future.
The same is true in any business model. All of the people we oversee as leaders, whether it’s senior citizens and their families or employees and customers, should be our insight into a better tomorrow.
Protecting company culture in a crisis
In healthcare, we need to put people at the center of our work. The pandemic was not only a measure of our success in controlling the spread of the virus, but also of how well we live up to the principles we assert when we recruit staff or welcome new residents. By keeping our company culture at the forefront, we were able to continue recruiting skilled, dedicated staff members who went above and beyond on the front lines of the pandemic.
This also means listening to employees and sharing their concerns and fears for the future. It is important in any company to protect employees during difficult times. Burnout in the healthcare sector has always been an issue, but it’s one that leaders could no longer ignore because of the pandemic. The skilled nursing facilities we work with pride themselves on providing their residents with the highest standard of care, and that is only possible in a company where everyone matters. The same is true for your customer service efforts. If you don’t prioritize your internal team, your external relationships will falter.
Remaining confident in difficult times
A pandemic can be a time of great distress for almost everyone. We’re all not just concerned about our workplaces, but for our loved ones, too.
In the healthcare industry, we know this very well since every decision we make can affect people’s lives. For that reason, caring, decisive leadership is perhaps more important during a crisis than ever. By remaining confident, affirming, and supportive even in challenging times, we can help boost morale among all of those who are suffering. Employees and residents know that this situation will be difficult for all, but if we are getting through it together with guidance in place, we can all share hope for our future.
There are certainly better ways to learn lessons in business leadership, but those that emerged from this pandemic will be some of the longest-lasting and most deeply held. Leaders that rise to the challenge during the coronavirus pandemic are also those who will move forward with stronger, healthier businesses, ready for the next challenge to come.