The virtual summit brought expert speakers together to discuss topics of interest to nurse leaders to help them navigate the current healthcare landscape and plot a road map for the future.
In the age of COVID-19, nurse leaders must grapple with new challenges—increased patient volumes and limited resources, to name a few—while managing increasingly stressed teams. The pandemic has affected all facets of healthcare but nurses on the frontlines are hit especially hard.
At the HealthLeaders Nursing Now Online Summit, sponsored by Kirby Bates Associates, in October, expert speakers discussed strategies for nurse leaders to navigate this new landscape created by COVID-19 and enrich the working environment for their teams. The following are three lessons to take away from the summit.
1. Focus on Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)
Health disparities were already an issue worthy of focus before COVID-19 but the pandemic has greatly impacted communities that were already at risk of SDOH, including communities of color and rural populations, according to Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP, principal at EFS Supervision Strategies, LLC.
In addition to its impact on healthcare costs, SDOH are a huge factor in health outcomes and nurses should be mindful of them and be more engaged when interacting with patients, says Fink-Samnick. "We know that patients who are unemployed or who don't have as much access to healthcare, are really struggling with accessing appropriate care, as well as testing in their communities. COVID-19 has only made all of these factors worse. COVID-19 has totally amplified every single social determinant, which is overwhelming," she says.
Beyond tackling implicit and explicit biases that may exist against certain populations to address SDOH, Fink-Samnick calls for focusing on funding initiatives and community collaborations to establish short- and long-term sustainable programming. She points to existing successful programs as models like Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute, which partners with transportation providers, pharmacies, and grocery stores to address at-risk behaviors.
WellCare's GED test benefit program is also a success to look to as a model, says Fink-Samnick. It was created after WellCare noticed that many of its beneficiaries lacked access to education. By providing GED test prep classes, telephoning coaching, and paying testing fees, WellCare has seen substantial savings. AmeriHealth Caritas has similar programs that focus on early childhood and higher education, language literacy, and job placement.
2. Maintain Open Communication and Engagement to Help Retain Nurses
As nurses are stretched to their limits due to the pandemic, staff morale is taking a hit, says Sylette DeBois, DNP, MSN-Ed, RN, founder and CEO of Nursing First and Dr. Sylette Enterprise. Keeping staff morale up is a constant battle for nurse leaders, and current conditions pose additional challenges to nurse retention.
"One thing that we can do to retain nurses is keep communication open. Make people know that they are important. If I feel like I'm a part of something, if I feel like I have a say in what happens on our unit, that I'm being listened to by my leader, then I want to stay. It's just that simple," says DeBois.
Rather than just letting staff go through their day-to-day duties without checking in on them, dedicate a few minutes for short breaks in which you ask them how they're doing, if they have any suggestions to make their days go smoother, etc. DeBois says this will help keep staff engaged and give them a sense of purpose, which will ultimately help with retention.
This type of honest and open communication is the best way to show continued support for your staff and keep them encouraged, she adds. Even keeping staff in the loop about the latest comings and goings of the hospital or department will go a long way. So, for example, if there has been a shortage of PPE, provide updates on the situation and when more PPE is expected to arrive.
"You don't want to leave moments open for your staff to wonder what's going on and to feel left out of the conversation," she says.
DeBois also suggests picking a small handful of nurses to serve as team leads and says, "Recognize your nurses that are leaders on your unit and cultivate that. Let them shadow you so they understand what's going on. Then they feel a part of the team."
In turn, these team leaders can relay important information back to the rest of the team so everyone is on the same page and understand what's at stake, she adds.
3. Keep Business Communication Professional
Perhaps now more than ever, effective and professional communication among your staff is important and can strengthen team relationships and foster collaboration. Effective business communication practices can reduce instances of fragmented or hostile gossip that can serve as barriers but it's not always clear how to encourage staff to adopt these habits, says Diana Swihart, PhD, DMin, MSN, APN CS, NPD-BC, P-PCA, FAAN, CEO and managing partner of the American Academy for Preceptor Advancement.
Swihart suggests nurse leaders partner with an educator who can introduce the principles of effective communication and talk to the staff about how they can change the way they communicate or express themselves when they're working within the context of a business environment. In that same vein, inviting a representative from your human resources department to give a presentation can also be helpful.
Modeling business communication principles can also be effective, Swihart says. "You'd be surprised how many people are listening to the way that you express yourself as a nurse leader … the way that you use your language, the ways that you actively listen to them, the way that you attend when they are speaking, the way that you redirect their questions so that you can get more information and you help them to be the ones who are guiding the conversation or guiding the communication that is on the table at the time."
Invest in programs to address the social determinants of health, which have been amplified by COVID-19.
Maintain honest and open communication with your staff to strengthen retention and engagement.
Partner with educators and human resources to teach your staff strong business communication practices.