Interview with a Hospital CEO A Year Into COVID: Our Shared Role in Valuing People, Being Kind and Fostering Resiliency

I’m fascinated and in awe of every single healthcare professional and all of the leaders getting us through the single biggest healthcare crisis of our generation. Have you, like me, found yourself wondering:

  • How do they do it?
  • How are they doing?
  • What can I do to help?

A few months ago I interviewed nurses Amie Varley and Sara Fung of the Gritty Nurse Podcast to hear the frontline perspective (catch the replay here if you missed it).

This past month I sat down with the CEO of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA) Andrew Williams. Here are some of the powerful lessons I took from our conversation. The video is worth a watch. You will see how we ALL have an important role to play in this crisis. And, for you formal leaders, I suspect you’ll see just how many of your challenges are what healthcare leaders are facing.

Check out the whole video, or if you’re really stretched, here are the questions I asked and key juicy points from Andrew.

What is it like one year into COVID for staff and leaders in healthcare? 

  • It has reminded us of the importance of connectivity and that visible leadership is best (in fact, we leaders really miss it).
  • We have to remember that the decisions we made yesterday were the right ones and that even if we make different ones tomorrow, we did the best we could with the information we had at the time.
  • Our core job is to support one another and be present.
  • We need to try to maintain resilience by being compassionate to ourselves and others (in other words, failure resilience).

nurse COVIDWhat has helped providers to keep going despite constant uncertainty? 

  • People need to know they have the support of the organization and we have their back.
  • A leader’s role is to break down barriers, support those at the frontline doing this essential work, and ensure they don’t lose confidence in the organization.
  • If you feel valued you can move mountains. We need to constantly be finding ways to ensure people know they are valued and appreciated. 
  • We cannot lose sight of the bigger picture of people’s overall story; they have work and home to think about.

Has this time been a great reminder of the importance of compassion as a leader, COVID or not? 

  • You need to lead with compassion, transparency, consistency and clarity.
  • There’s no playbook on how to get through COVID so we can’t lose compassion as a focus.
  • You see someone’s character in a crisis.
  • Leaders must be willing to course-correct and that means they have to listen if people think there is a different way of doing things.
  • Everyone has been revving their engine for over a year and are “redlining” (burning out); compassion – for ourselves and others – is all the more important.
  • Seeing everyone stepping up has reinforced to me just how proud I am of the team; it is an unforgettable time as a leader.

What do you suggest to leaders who are also “redlining”?

  • Leaders need to be able to step back, even shift perspective off of COVID and the current crisis to keep sights on what is afterward; it brings hope when the focus can even briefly shift to the future and how the lessons from COVID can actually help in shaping a better future for care and the community. 
  • Leaders need to take time away, even if they feel they can’t, they must.
  • Each person has a story and must be heard; it’s important and valued.

How has the pandemic impacted recognition practices?

  • We have started “Frontline Fridays” where different community partners make food donations from lunches to baked goods.
  • We have tried to maintain traditions like retirement parties, above and beyond awards, long service and more virtually, however, it’s not the same and we look forward to doing this in person where there’s a greater sense of connection.
  • We’ve increased EAP and mental health support. 

social distance sign for COVIDHow can people support healthcare providers now a year into COVID?

  • Do the little things right – wear your mask, stay home, socially distance.
  • Be polite; there are so many examples of people being unkind to each other when it’s a tough time for everyone right now.
  • We will get through this by valuing and respecting everybody. 
  • Keep perspective, others impacted in less visible ways in our community such as losing their livelihood; appreciate our healthcare folks and also look out for each other.
  • It would be tragic if after this we didn’t learn from the lessons; we are committed to capturing the lessons COVID has surfaced and doing something with them.
  • We can bounce back (which is where I reinforced the FLIP side of failing – fail, learn, ignite and praise).

What is a moment of gratitude and excitement as a leader?

  • We had a tragic situation in a nursing home that had many deaths where staff stepped up to be redeployed there; it was very tough, and I’m so proud of how well the team handled a very heart-wrenching situation and did so with great generosity. 
  • When chips are down people step forward.
  • One of my biggest lessons from COVID is how integrated we need to be as a health system and we have to keep improving on this.

resilience in COVIDIf we were to fast forward a year from now, what else will we be celebrating?

  • We have been resilient and continue to be. 
  • We have continued to innovate as a result of applying the lessons from COVID.  
  • We have made strides to address socioeconomic divides in health.
  • We have more and more people who share their voices, as this drives us in what we do.
  • We provide opportunities for people to recharge at work and we know the importance of not burning out.

Any other thoughts as a CEO on a health system in COVID?

  • Be kind
  • Everyone has a story 
  • Value people as individuals
  • Never doubt how connected we are through the human experience

Well said, Andrew. Who is a healthcare hero you want to give a shout-out to? Why not share comments or share this with them to say “thank you”. 

And please don’t forget, it’s Nurses Week in just one month. If you don’t yet have your event planned or want to sponsor your local healthcare organization to celebrate in a big way, we’d love to help.

Nurses Week Resiliency Reboot

PS. – No time to plan an impactful nurses week celebrate with nurses week hot on our heels? This year we wanted to make things easier for everyone so we designed a live virtual learning experience designed to teach resiliency-building strategies that combat burnout in both the short and long term. Our goals: make it easy to access, cover all shifts, inclusive of nurses and everyone they work with, and all of the materials built for busy healthcare organizations to just invite nurses and that’s it. Want to celebrate with us? Reach out to us here.

Nurses Week with Sarah McVanel

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

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