Leading Through Crisis

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Everyone has a plan, until they get hit.

Mike Tyson’s famous words, uttered over two decades ago, ring ever true. Think back an eternity ago to the beginning of 2020. Coming off the usual flu season, our teams were ensuring hospitals were safe and patients were cared for across the country. Personally, I was working with multiple healthcare systems to create new partnerships. Then, all of a sudden, we got hit.

The onset of COVID-19 was jarring because it was novel; a new virus that would force us to change. We did, and we still are. Healthcare leaders put on different hats and stepped in however needed. For some in our organization, this meant assisting in urgent supply chain efforts, for others it meant spending months away from home to avoid back-and-forth travel and for myself, this meant shifting to support onsite operations as a leader in San Leandro, a start-up captain in Ponca City and on the frontlines in Flagstaff. Living through it, much of the time felt akin to firefighting. We tackled whatever new challenges the pandemic threw at us each day, energized by knowing that we were all paddling in the same direction. Now, nine months in, I can reflect back on what I, and we, have learned.

Programs and systems are foundational to successful teams. I believe this now more than ever. Across multiple departments and healthcare organizations, I saw that those who had strong programs and systems in place were able to adapt quicker. When the supply chain for PPE and sanitizer threw a punch, those teams were agile because they better understood their needs and their PAR levels. They had additional capacity to focus on new problems because their systems relieved the burden of dealing with staffing challenges or daily operational issues. Crises have a way of highlighting our pain points and our inefficiencies. As a leader of a team, take a moment to reflect.

  • Where did your team struggle?
  • What can you build to be more efficient, more prepared, in the future?

People are at the core of our business and our teams. In healthcare, we directly relate our work to improving patient outcomes. We come to work each day to help people in need. In many ways, COVID-19 is not unlike what EVS leaders have dealt with on a daily basis (droplet, contact, airborne precautions), yet simultaneously this pandemic is clearly different in scale. Our teams have shown amazing resilience; so many have remained committed to caring for COVID-19 patients when they themselves may have loved ones suffering or lost, and others have balanced unforeseen personal demands as their children completed school from home amidst the shutdown. These struggles bring to mind the Cleveland Clinic “Human Empathy” video as a reminder that every patient or visitor in the hospital is going through a potentially life-changing event. Strong leaders recognize that equally as important as taking care of our patients is the need to take care of our teams and ourselves. This pandemic has drastically amplified the need for human empathy. As a leader, it is important to be keenly attuned to the changing mental state and morale of your team. Remember to check-in regularly and frequently. Think about how you can best support each individual team member. Be present and available.

Leaders are neither born nor made; they emerge. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a great deal of uncertainty and fear. Our team members wanted to help our patients, but many were worried about endangering themselves and their families. And then I saw a beautiful thing happening: leaders across the country stepped up. Xanitos Directors rolled up their sleeves to service patient rooms. It wasn’t just management leading the way. Many EVS aides were amongst the first to lead by example and show that, with the proper PPE and safety precautions, COVID areas could be safely serviced and fear could be overcome. I saw this same phenomenon play out across our hospitals all over the country. The effect was monumental as confidence rippled through our teams into an overwhelming wave against the pandemic. Leaders emerge in times of crisis and it is important for existing leaders to empower these individuals. The best teams have leaders emerge from all levels. What can you do to enable new leaders and inspire ownership?

One fact I knew long before the pandemic, which has only been reinforced, is that the work we do each and every day is of critical importance. We are the frontline of infection prevention, ensuring our hospitals are clean and safe in an effort to reduce healthcare-associated infections. Our teams did this work before the pandemic and continue to do so now. Nothing has changed in that regard, only now more people are paying attention. I am incredibly proud to work in Environmental Services with each and every one of you. Quite simply, what we do helps save lives.