The year 2020 will be forever remembered as the most earth-changing pandemic virus since the Spanish Flu of 1918. Coronavirus or the Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) swept the world by storm. Globally, tens of thousands were getting ill, hospitalized, and dying. Decreasing the spread of this highly contagious virus was the consistent commonality.
Life changed abruptly just after the new year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency on Jan. 27, 2020. The president declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020. Governors followed suit.
Stay-at-home orders and other social distancing rules followed. Many businesses closed due to having decreased or no revenue.
The only constant was change. Illnesses and deaths were occurring at alarming rates. Simple daily errands for seniors and the disabled were already challenged pre-COVID. Because of the loss of family support due to deaths, illnesses, quarantines, and fear of exposure during these unprecedented times, essential tasks such as medication assistance or grocery shopping were not easily provided. However, for many, having someone to help take their medication, getting them in and out of bed, having food available, or getting help to the restroom was their priority. Home care patients around the world were left many times to fend for themselves if they did not have the support of family, friends, or home care workers.
Home care staff continued to provide safe care in homes for patients who needed supportive services. These home care workers remained essential workers. The home care staff remained a valued asset to the families and patients who relied on the services and support of the home care aides. As essential workers, health care employment needs increased while staffing decreased due to fear of contracting COVID.
Fear of the unknown, uncertainty of the future, and the understanding of the vastness of the virus, fostered daily conversations within homes and news outlets. For business leaders, the challenges of leading were more pronounced than ever. Strategic plans were put to the side by leaders. They pivoted to focus on immediate business losses.
Without the understanding or experience of a pandemic, many did not know what steps to take to ensure their business would remain afloat. Every home health agency was impacted by COVID-19, and each agency’s emergency preparedness plan was put to the test. Many home care businesses did not have a comprehensive emergency preparedness program. The first and most crucial step is the need to conduct risk assessments for the facilities. The surge of the COVID-19 rates increased need for more personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased costs due to supply chain inflated costs.
The global message on how to provide protection included social distancing and working remotely. Following a stay-at-home order had its barriers for a home healthcare industry that relies on staff providing hands-on care. Providing patient care while managing staff shortages hindered access to care.
Providing financial support for some staff to work remotely was necessary. Compassion and understanding remains a requirement.
Planning through the pandemic included just-in-time training for appropriate use of PPE, screening for symptoms, infection control, reporting suspected or confirmed cases of COVID, and even self-care. The staff’s ability to overcome daily challenges, from family illnesses to staffing issues, must be assessed. A new level of planning did not include only crisis management. It also includes having an understanding that the planning is ongoing and may include waves of setbacks. Being able to pivot the direction of a previous plan would be able to aid in control.
Control what can be controlled, including what information is shared. Understanding that misinformation is worse than sharing no information. In the past, the community received their understanding of health-related information from health professionals.
This new form of health news outlets includes social media, allowing for the spread of misinformation. It creates a challenge for health professionals. Over-communication may not be effective, but “no news” may be viewed as “bad news.” Therefore, silence is not the response needed from a leader.
A person’s ability to imagine the worst possible outcome is a human downfall but one that, as a leader, it must not be overlooked. When sharing information, the use of professional resources will help ease the burden of the uncertainty of the pandemic. Leaders should recognize that many are dealing with varying degrees of anxiety. Sharing information with empathy and optimism can help build hopefulness and trust.
The importance of maintaining trust in the leader is more prevalent. If the staff does not trust the leader, the drive to carry out the duties may be incomplete. Delegation of many responsibilities outside of a staff member’s normal scope of daily duties may be required.
Globally, we call faced many challenges due to the pandemic in many ways. Essential workers offered hope as they served on the frontlines despite the challenges. The empathy and compassion extended from leaders helped. In the face of this horrible pandemic, the care and concern we normally did not see arose. Difficult days and months were eased by the uniting with others. The leader must show compassion, care, and authentic concern for a staff’s well-being, both mentally and physically. If there is a gap in trust between the leader and the staff, communication will be ineffective.
As we move forward, out of this pandemic, leaders cannot rest on their laurels. Staying ahead of the future crisis is of the essence. Leading staff during these unprecedented times calls for unprecedented measures. Having a plan and providing communication can help leaders manage any crisis, including a pandemic.