Continuing our series of Gist member convenings to discuss the “Brave New World” that awaits in the post-pandemic era, we brought together a group of senior human resources and nursing executives this week for a Zoom roundtable.
Several themes emerged from the discussion. First, there was general consensus that the COVID crisis exposed a workforce that had become over-specialized and inflexible. Said one chief nursing officer, “Our workforce is much more brittle than we thought.” A key lesson learned is the need for increased cross-training—especially for nurses, and especially in critical care. Systems should work now to increase the supply of nurses comfortable in an ICU environment to enable hospitals to flex staff across settings and roles to deal with future waves of the virus.
Not surprisingly, layoffs were top-of-mind for many. Executives were of one mind on the need to safeguard clinical staff as much as possible, and many systems are now considering deep cuts to management and administrative ranks: “It’s easier to stand in front of your clinical staff and be able to say you’ve stripped millions from administration before turning to clinical cuts.”
There was broad consensus for the potential for artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to enable greater reliability and productivity at lower cost in areas such as billing, coding, and even some clinical functions—and that the pandemic will accelerate plans to implement these solutions.
On a more optimistic note, one executive shared that “relationships between clinicians and administrators have never been stronger. The pandemic has forced us to have difficult and constructive conversations we would have never had the courage to have before.”
Another noted the pandemic has spotlighted new leadership talent who might otherwise have been overlooked, and plans are now in place to formally recognize and retain newly crisis-tested talent for the work of restructuring the system.
On the whole, the discussion was far more upbeat that we had expected—as difficult as the crisis has been for many teams, the opportunity to rethink old ways of doing business seems to have created renewed enthusiasm even in the face of daunting financial and operational challenges ahead.