COVID-19 is creating challenges never seen before in many of the nation’s hospital health systems. Those in the current and emerging hotspots, such as New York, New Orleans and Chicago are grappling with mask and ventilator shortages, overflowing ERs, staff sickness, and abrupt policy changes in response to the virus. Other health systems where this virus is not yet as rampant are doing their best to learn from their peers in the hot spots and be ready for their likely surge in COVID-19 patients. The new normal is creating a threat to staff health, morale and confidence in their leadership. The current situation is unlike anything I ever saw in my years as head of communications at George Washington University Hospital.
The communications team cannot solve supply shortages, but it does play an important role in providing up to date, accurate information and emotional support to staff in this crisis. Based on our Insight research, conversations with current clients and our healthcare experience, there are four best practices to help protect reputation, reduce the staff stress and guard against staff burnout.
- While public support for healthcare workers is high now, there is a risk that public attitudes will change the longer the crisis lasts and the higher the mortality rate grows. Health systems should establish on-going reputation monitoring and social media listening to track changes in public views during and post-crisis.
- There is critical need for genuine, authentic and repeated demonstrations of appreciation for staff from inside and outside the organization. It’s great to see neighbors holding signs and applauding doctors and nurses as they leave for work or come home from work—but these organic demonstrations come and go very quickly. Health systems should put a structure in place to capture as many tweets, posts, videos, thank you cards and comments from community members and executives and share them with employees on as many platforms as possible, including social media, emails, and the intranet.
- Our research tells us that the #1 most important thing to health system employees is having trustworthy, visible leaders. This is especially true in the current COVID-19 crisis, when there is so much uncertainty over supplies, patient and staff safety. Now more than ever, the C-suite needs to be communicating with employees on a regular basis to reassure them that they understand the situation and have a plan to manage it.
- Finally, although we are in the middle of the pandemic, now is the time to begin planning for post-crisis communications. By assigning someone to think about the future, chronicling lessons learned, and updating the employee engagement surveys to take into consideration this crisis, health systems will have a clearer understanding of what they need to do to get back to normal in a post-virus environment.
By following these best practices, health systems increase the chance they will come out of this crisis with their reputations intact and staff who feel supported, confident and connected to their community and their leaders.
Download APCO’s Reputation Tracking and Staff Engagement for Health Systems During and After COVID-19 one-pager to learn about our offer in this space. For additional insights, resources and research on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit: /coronavirus/.