Without child care, work and family are impossible

https://theconversation.com/without-child-care-work-and-family-are-impossible-137340?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20May%2022%202020%20-%201630015658&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20May%2022%202020%20-%201630015658+Version+A+CID_f23e0e73a678178a59d0287ef452fe33&utm_source=campaign_monitor_us&utm_term=Without%20child%20care%20work%20and%20family%20are%20impossible

Without child care, work and family are impossible

I have a Ph.D. from Harvard and a 20-month-old child.

Without child care, life revolves around the toddler.

I am a political science professor and researcher, but lacking child care, I count myself lucky to work a few hours each day.

I am increasingly aware there is no such thing as the so-called work/family conflict. This is not only a personal observation. Scholars have found that good jobs – full-time, with benefits – and family, without help, are simply incompatible.

The concept is also wrong. If three-quarters of American women become mothers, and also most women do paid work, then doing both is, well, life; it’s not some existential, context-free choice.

Work and family are both full-time pursuits. If the problem is framed as a choice between them, the battle is lost, since family will usually win. Telecommuting and “workplace flexibility” are important but do not make up for a lack of time and space to think and work.

Those who need care, especially little children, are needy and adorable, and mothers are evolutionarily disposed to focus on them.

(Whoops, excuse me, the toddler is trying to kill herself again … OK, child saved, with minimal screaming on both of our parts. Now what was I thinking? Did I reorder all our prescriptions? Hold on, I’ll be back.)

The national shift to home-based work and schooling has had challenging consequences for parents, especially mothers. Sometimes these effects are lovely, like giving us more time with family, but if your goal is getting work done, good luck to you.

Can you type with a toddler in your lap? Getty/Tom Werner

Not alone

Working at home these days without child care is incredibly difficult unless I can escape to another room and close a door. This inevitably triggers screaming, but oh well.

She’s worse than a cat; she climbs on me, presses things on the computer, sucks its edges and screams for attention, in addition to the normal baby bodily functions that comprise a disproportionate section of my thinking – when did she last poop? Is that a rash?

It’s not just me.

Submissions from women to academic journals have plummeted since COVID-19 hit.

One geography professor tweeted, “It’s hard enough to keep my head barely above the water with the kids at home and interruptions every 2 min … I can’t imagine writing a paper now.”

Another scholar said the data on diminished submissions from women made her cry because it wasn’t just her.

It turns out that someone has to supervise – and sometimes force – children’s learning, even if online, and this takes actual work. With parks, museums, sports, pools and movie theaters closed, and with kids mostly unable to hang out with friends, someone also has to do the physical and emotional labor of keeping children busy, engaged and upbeat. This too is work.

Then there is the simple fact that family members are eating, working and playing in houses most of the time, which means more cooking, more cleaning, more grocery shopping and, yes, more toilet paper.

(OMG the baby took a two-hour nap. I got to exercise and even shower. No time for leg-shaving but I’m still a new woman. Now what was I thinking…)

Because it is not just time, you see. Sometimes the child is playing quietly, and theoretically I could sit down and bang out a research article, but my brain is fuzzy as hell.

I used to wonder what cows thought, standing there chewing their cud in a field. Now I know. They are thinking nothing. Especially with the nursing, I have great sympathy with cows lately.

Before the baby, and before COVID-19, I had great plans for composing scholarly articles in my head during all that nursing downtime. But I forgot that hormones can change your brain and behavior.

Submissions by women to academic journals have plummeted since COVID-19 hit. Getty/ KT images

Hormones play a role

Feminist theory and research finds that much of what people think of as “biological sex” – female or male – is socially constructed, as in, strongly based on culturally contingent assumptions about women and men as groups. I firmly believe, and teach, this as evidence-based truth.

Hormones, though, have undeniable physical and mental effects. If they are turning your body into a milk-production and child-protection facility, there can be some side effects on brain function. Many of these changes (increased empathy and vigilance) are useful evolutionarily, and the physical alterations appear to be short-lived. But there can also be negative effects on memory and focus. If your brain is your job, as mine is, this can cause some serious work disruption.

Pat Schroeder had two young children when first elected to Congress as a Democrat from Colorado in the 1970s. When asked how she could do both jobs, she famously replied, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use them both.”

I try to live up to Schroeder’s standard, but lately I’ve found I have to qualify it; I tell myself she meant sequentially, not simultaneously.

Sequential is fine, as long as I have time and space to switch gears – I’m a first-time mom at 40 and the gears sometimes stick or stall out – and the peace of mind to focus beyond the child and the never-ending housework. We don’t call this “women’s work” anymore, and men do more than they used to, but it’s essential work and still mostly done by women.

There’s another way

With luck and science, COVID-19 will recede soon, and we can trickle back to offices, for which I have a newfound respect.

Will the U.S. take something positive from this crisis by learning an enduring lesson about the power of child care?

Americans tend to think of having children as an expensive, private choice. The alternative is to think of it as a public good.

Other countries offer far more generous parental leave and low-cost, high-quality daycare, knowing that “work versus family” is a false formulation. The U.S. is losing serious talent and promoting gender inequality by continuing to misunderstand the problem.

There are many potential options when child care is made a priority in a society.

Government subsidies for child care centers would help low-income workers have access to good care. The U.S. almost managed this in 1971, when Congress passed, on a bipartisan vote, a bill to establish child care centers across the country, funded in part by the federal government. President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill.

Universal pre-K starting at age 3, as in New York City, is another option to advance the interests of working parents and children.

And because working parents are drowning in high child-care costs, the government could offer subsidies and tax relief for curriculum-based care – which encourages child development and learning as well as safety – for those early years. I make a pretty good salary, but still, an extra US$1,000 a month or more to ensure my child is safe and well cared for while I work is painful.

It’s not a work-family conflict; it is a lack of high-quality, low-cost child care. Framing the problem otherwise damages the ability to enact good solutions.

It also makes a lot of good, hardworking parents feel enduring guilt over a problem that isn’t theirs alone to solve.

 

 

 

 

Many Jobs May Vanish Forever as Layoffs Mount

Week 9 of the Collapse of the U.S. Labor Market: Still Getting ...

With over 38 million U.S. unemployment claims in nine weeks, one economist says the situation is “grimmer than we thought.”

Even as restrictions on businesses began lifting across the United States, another 2.4 million workers filed for jobless benefits last week, the government reported Thursday, bringing the total to 38.6 million in nine weeks.

And while the Labor Department has found that a large majority of laid-off workers expect their joblessness to be temporary, there is growing concern among economists that many jobs will never come back.

“I hate to say it, but this is going to take longer and look grimmer than we thought,” Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University, said of the path to recovery.

Mr. Bloom, a co-author of an analysis of the coronavirus epidemic’s effects on the labor market, estimates that 42 percent of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss.

“Firms intend to hire these people back,” Mr. Bloom said, referring to a recent survey of businesses done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “But we know from the past that these aspirations often don’t turn out to be true.”

In this case, the economy that comes back is likely to look quite different from the one that closed. If social distancing rules become the new normal, causing thinner crowds in restaurants, theaters and stores, at sports arenas, and on airplanes, then fewer workers will be required.

Large companies already expect more of their workers to continue to work remotely and say they plan to reduce their real estate footprint, which will, in turn, reduce the foot traffic that feeds nearby restaurants, shops, nail salons and other businesses.

Concerns about working in close quarters and too much social interaction could also accelerate the trend toward automation, some economists say.

New jobs, mostly at low wages — as delivery drivers, warehouse workers and cleaners — are being created. But many more jobs will vanish.

“I think we’re in for a very long haul,” Mr. Bloom said.

In the meantime, the Labor Department’s latest data on unemployment claims, for new filings last week, reflects the shutdown’s continuing damage to the labor force.

“The hemorrhaging has continued,” Torsten Slok, chief economist for Deutsche Bank Securities, said of the mounting job losses. He expects the official jobless rate for May to approach 20 percent, up from the 14.7 percent reported by the Labor Department for April.

A household survey from the Census Bureau released Wednesday suggested that the pain was widespread: 47 percent of adults said they or a member of their household had lost employment income since mid-March. Nearly 40 percent expected the loss to continue over the next four weeks.

In testimony before the Senate on Tuesday, the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, emphasized how devastating prolonged joblessness can be for individual households and for the economy.

“There is clear evidence that when you have a situation where people are unemployed for long periods of time, that can permanently weigh on their careers and their ability to go back to work,” he said.

Emergency relief and expanded unemployment benefits that Congress approved in late March have helped tide households over. Roughly three-quarters of people who are eligible for a $1,200 stimulus payment from the federal government have received it, according to the Treasury Department.

Workers who have successfully applied for unemployment benefits are getting the extra $600 weekly supplement from the federal government, and most states have finally begun to carry out the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which extends benefits to freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t routinely qualify. The total number of new pandemic insurance claims reported, though, was inflated by nearly a million because of a data entry mistake from Massachusetts, according to the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

Mistakes, lags in reporting and processing, and weeding out duplicate claims and reports have clouded the unemployment picture in some places.

What is clear, though, is that many states are still struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand, drawing desperate complaints from jobless workers who have been waiting two months or more to receive their first benefit check. Indiana, Wyoming, Hawaii and Missouri are among the states with large backlogs of incompletely processed claims. Another is Kentucky, where nearly one in three workers are unemployed.

The $600 supplement has become a point of contention, drawing criticism from Republican politicians who object to the notion that some workers — particularly low-wage ones — are getting more money in unemployment benefits than they would on the job. But many have also lost their employer-provided health insurance and other benefits.

Sami Adamson, a freelance scenic artist for theater, events and television shows, received the letter with her login credentials to collect benefits from New Jersey only Monday, more than two months after she first applied.

She said her partner, who is in the same line of work, had filed for jobless benefits in New York and quickly received his payments.

By the time she heard from New Jersey, a design studio had called her for a temporary assignment. She plans to eventually reclaim the lost weeks of benefits, but for now she is helping to make face shields in a large warehouse where assembly-line workers are spaced apart, handling plastic, foam and elastic.

“I don’t think I’ll need aid for the next two or three weeks,” Ms. Adamson said, “but I’m not sure too far ahead of that.”

Nearly half of the states have yet to provide the additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance that the federal government has promised to those who exhausted their state benefits. Workers in Florida — which provides just 12 weeks of benefits, the fewest anywhere — are particularly feeling this pinch. And while several states, including those that pay the average of 26 weeks, have offered additional weeks of coverage during the pandemic, Florida has not.

Small-business owners who were hoping the Paycheck Protection Program would enable them to keep their workers on the payroll contend the program is not operating as intended.

Roy Surdej, who owns Peaches Boutique in Chicago, applied for a loan after he was forced to close and the pandemic eliminated the season’s wave of proms, quinceañeras and graduation celebrations were canceled.

Under the program, the loan turns into a grant if he rehires the 100-person staff he had built up in February in anticipation of selling thousands of ruffled, sequined and strappy dresses during the spring rush. But he said that would be impossible, given the income he had lost and the restrictions that continue to pre-empt social gatherings.

“No way can I qualify for full forgiveness,” said Mr. Surdej, who said revenue had dried up. “It’s devastating for us,” he added, saying he had no clue when he would be able to reopen and begin rehiring. “If the government can’t adjust the dates to allow us to use it properly so we can survive, then I won’t use it.”

At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office warned that businesses able to use the Paycheck Protection Program might end up laying off workers when the program expires at the end of June.

Several states have warned workers that they risk losing their benefits if they refuse an offer to work. Federal rules enacted during the pandemic say that workers are not compelled to return to unsafe working conditions, but just what constitutes such conditions is not necessarily clear.

On Tuesday, Democratic senators sent a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to “clarify the circumstances” so that workers are not “forced to choose between going back to work in unsafe conditions, or continuing to social distance and losing their only source of income.”

Workers with child care responsibilities can stay on unemployment if public schools are closed, but once the term ends, a lack of day care or summer programs is not considered a legitimate reason. Nor are self-imposed quarantines.

Officials can lift stay-at-home and business restrictions, but then what happens? “There are lingering concerns about health, family situations, kids not in school, relatives who are sick and needing care,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust. “There’s going to be a very slow and gradual process of reopening and restoring employment beyond just a declaration from the statehouse or the county seat.”

 

 

 

Melinda Gates: US coronavirus response ‘lacking leadership at the federal level’

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/us-coronavirus-response-lacks-leadership-at-the-federal-level-melinda-gates-151610533.html

Melinda Gates: US coronavirus response “lacks leadership at the ...

Philanthropist Melinda Gates on Thursday sharply criticized the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, telling Yahoo Finance that the country is “lacking leadership at the federal level” and as a result has endured unnecessary deaths and economic pain.

“It’s highly distressing and disappointing,” says Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which she said has donated $300 million to organizations involved in the coronavirus response.

“To have 50 state-grown solutions is inefficient, it makes no sense, and it’s costing people their lives,” she adds.

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday “there’ll be more death” as states lift stay-at-home measures but has urged a path toward reopening the economy in order to blunt job loss and other damaging effects caused by the mandates.

The Trump administration has drawn criticism for what some consider a failure to adequately address the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages. Trump has repeatedly said “nobody” could have foreseen the pandemic though he reportedly received dire warnings as early as February.

“The lack of action is really causing harm and hurt unnecessarily in this country,” Gates says. “I’m incredibly disappointed to see that.”

The White House recently declined to take up guidelines written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for how schools, restaurants, and other institutions can safely reopen, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

The Trump administration did release a set of conditions for coronavirus containment that it recommends states meet before they reopen, including a 14-day downward trajectory in new cases or positive test rates. However, many states that remain short of that benchmark have started to reopen or will do it soon, among them Kentucky, Ohio, and Utah, the AP reported on Thursday.

On Friday, the monthly jobs report showed the U.S. economy cut 20.5 million payrolls in April, and the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7%.

The severity of economic pain is a direct result of inaction from the federal government, Gates said.

“It is impacting families now, because if we had a good testing and tracing system like Germany has, we would have started to reopen slowly more places in the economy, people wouldn’t be struggling so much to put a meal on their table,” says Gates, who released a book last year entitled “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.”

‘Difficult tension’ faced by parents at home

She said the U.S. must bolster its benefits for paid sick, medical, and family leave in order to mitigate some of the economic pain and reopen the economy, since some workers will return to their jobs while others will need to remain home to care for sick family members or children educated remotely.

Speaking with Yahoo Finance, she called on Congress to improve the paid sick and family leave expansion passed in March, which excluded many companies from the benefits requirements.

“Congress made a first step that is in one of the stimulus packages, they really did put in sick days and paid leave,” she says. “The problem is, it doesn’t go far enough.”

Moreover, she advocated for a nationwide paid medical and family leave plan — a proposal backed in part by both parties, though they differ sharply on the details.

The Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House remain divided over an additional stimulus measure, while President Donald Trump has sought likely-polarizing tax cuts to be included in the bill, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Gates said she is optimistic that Congress will enact paid medical and family leave.

“Congress is hearing about this difficult tension moms and dads — but particularly moms — are facing at home,” she says.

 

 

 

Grocery workers are keeping Americans alive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what they need.

Grocery workers are keeping Americans alive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what they need.

Grocery workers are keeping Americans alive during the COVID-19 ...

As worried Americans pack supermarket aisles in anticipation of quarantines and shelter-in-place orders, grocery workers like Courtney Meadows are working at a frantic pace to keep Americans fed and alive, and risking their own health in the process.

Meadows, a cashier at Kroger in Beckley, W.Va., said her store is the busiest she has seen it in 10 years on the job. “I have worked through snow scares, a blizzard, two derechos, holidays, anything that can impact a grocery store,” she told me. “This is the absolute worst I have seen it. It is a sea of people everywhere.”

Over the last week, I traveled to supermarkets across the Washington, D.C. region and interviewed workers from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and the District to hear—in their words—how COVID-19 is impacting them. These crowded stores I visited had few visible safeguards or protections for workers.

“We aren’t staying six feet away from the customers,” said Michelle Lee, a Safeway cashier in Alexandria, Va. “When we ring them up, they are like two feet away from us. We check out 200 customers a day. A doctor can wear a mask and protective gear. We don’t have all of that.”

Amber Stevens, a cashier at Shoppers in Prince George’s County, Md., expressed concern over social distancing as well. “I do still have a job to go to, but it isn’t helping me with social distancing because I am hands-on with customers,” she told me. “That is the scary part. Dealing with money, having to be so close to people.”

More than their own health, the grocery store employees I interviewed expressed the most concern about the safety of those around them: their loved ones at home, their elderly customers, their colleagues with underlying health conditions, and their neighbors in crowded apartment buildings. Several workers welled up with emotion as they described how hard it is to be unable to care for older relatives during the pandemic.

“All of that worry plus the stress of double the number of customers we normally have,” said Lisa Harris, a cashier at Kroger in Richmond, Va. “This isn’t just for one day. It is for weeks.”

As grocery workers put their lives on the line—often for low wages and few benefits—it is imperative that employers, policymakers, and even customers act with urgency to protect, support, and compensate them.

EMPLOYERS MUST KEEP GROCERY WORKERS HEALTHY

Employers need to implement immediate steps to reduce grocery workers’ exposure to COVID-19. First, employers should expand access to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves and end any restrictions on workers wearing them. While supplies of protective masks and gloves are extremely limited across the country, employers and policymakers should prioritize PPE for grocery workers as they become available. Employers should provide adequate cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, regular opportunities for workers to wash their hands, and frequent equipment cleaning.

Second, stores should shorten hours and limit the number of customers at any given time. While several stores—including Trader Joe’sWalmart, and Safeway—have limited store hours and introduced “senior only” hours, most stores are not following the CDC’s guidance of limiting gatherings to 50 people. Even tighter restrictions may be needed to keep workers safe as the virus spreads; for instance, some stores in China are checking customers’ temperatures before they enter the store.

Third, grocery stores should implement additional measures to protect workers and enforce safe spacing of customers. Albertsons, which owns Safeway and 19 other grocery chains, was the first major company to announce they will install plexiglass “sneeze-guard” barriers at checkouts in its 2,200 stores over the next two weeks. Walmart and Kroger have made similar commitments, and other grocery stores should follow.

Even in the absence of specific CDC guidelines for grocery workers, employers should act boldly and creatively to modify stores to keep workers safe, continuously adapt to evolving best practices, and respond to safety priorities identified by unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents over 1.2 million workers.

INCREASE COMPENSATION AND OFFER HAZARD PAY

The coronavirus pandemic has put a harsh spotlight on the low wages that grocery workers earn for their life-saving work. At Kroger, the country’s second-largest grocery chain with 453,000 workers, the average hourly wage of cashiers is just $9.94 per hour, according to estimates on Indeed.com.

Lisa Harris, a Kroger cashier, described the financial hardships she and her low-wage colleagues face: “I have coworkers who stand all day serving people, and then have to go pay for their own groceries with food stamps. I am very lucky that my boyfriend works in pizza because that is our survival food. If we can’t afford to buy food, he brings home a pizza.”

Even in “normal” times, grocery workers—like other service and low-wage workers—deserve better wages. In these extreme times, adequately compensating them is even more imperative. As grocery sales soar and their stock prices rise, employers should provide additional compensation and hazard pay to their workers on the front line.

“I think that some pay increase would be wonderful,” Kroger cashier Courtney Meadows told me. “I don’t think they understand the toll that comes through in our lives. They don’t see it. They don’t see the panic on people’s faces.”

In response to the pandemic, the two largest grocery employers, Kroger and Walmart, have offered workers one-time bonuses of $300. Responding to pressure from the UFCW, Safeway and Shoppers are now offering an additional $2 per hour of hazard pay, while Whole Foods and Target are also raising pay $2 per hour.

These pay increases are an important start, but they don’t go far enough. The raises should be permanent, and enough to provide a family-sustaining wage to workers.

ENSURE ACCESS TO HEALTH INSURANCE AND EXTEND PAID SICK LEAVE

Now more than ever, paid sick leave and health insurance are critical for grocery workers. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of grocery workers didn’t receive paid sick leave from their employers. Responding to public outrage and pressure from employees and unions, most large employers now have updated their sick leave policy to respond to COVID-19. However, their policies don’t go far enough: They are temporary, focus narrowly on COVID-19, and are insufficient to meet the needs of workers.

Companies including Safeway, Kroger, and Walmart are now offering 14 days paid sick leave for workers with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. But COVID-19 tests are in extremely short supply and many workers with suspected cases will be unable to get tested. Employers should modify paid leave policies to allow flexibility for ill workers to access the benefits even without a confirmed test, at least until testing is more widely available.

Policies should cover paid leave for grocery workers to care for their immediate family members or people they live with if they become ill. Employers should also compensate workers for any coronavirus-related medical bills that are not covered by their health insurance.

Employers should provide extra support to grocery workers who are especially high-risk, such as older workers and the immunocompromised. The most vulnerable workers may need to simply stay home during the pandemic and not work for weeks or months. Employers should do their part to ensure those workers have extended paid leave or other forms of adequate compensation and benefits, including health insurance.

CUSTOMERS CAN HELP KEEP GROCERY WORKERS SAFE

A major concern for the workers I interviewed was the actions of individual customers that could jeopardize their health. Many workers noted that customers continue to come to their store even when they are sick.

“Some customers will come through the line and cough or sneeze in their hand,” said Safeway cashier Michelle Lee. “If you are sick, you should stay home or cough in their elbow.”

Customers should do their part by keeping a safe distance from workers at checkout and throughout the store, practicing proper hygiene when coughing or sneezing, and staying home when ill.

RIGHT NOW, GROCERY WORKERS ARE EMERGENCY PERSONNEL

On March 15, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz made grocery store employees and food distribution personnel eligible for free child care by designating them as emergency workers. Four days later, Vermont’s Department of Public Safety added grocery workers to its list of essential personnel, giving them free child care at school-based centers set up by the state.

Other states should follow the lead of Minnesota and Vermont and designate grocery workers as emergency personnel, granting them the same protections and benefits as first responders and health workers.

If we had an opportunity to get free child care, people like me could go in,” Matt Milzman, a 29-year-old Safeway cashier in Washington, D.C. and father of two small children, told me. “They need all the people they can. I am low risk and healthy. I would much rather me work than someone who is older with a million health problems.”

Grocery workers are among the true heroes of the pandemic, providing basic necessities to keep Americans alive, but also human comfort for their customers during an anxious time.

“I choose to be happy and positive,” cashier Courtney Meadows told me. “If you can talk and make someone laugh, that might be the only positive thing in their life that day. That is what I choose to do.”

We owe them not only our gratitude, but the protection, support, and compensation they deserve.

 

 

 

“We’re looking at a tsunami”

https://mailchi.mp/a3d9db7a57c3/the-weekly-gist-march-20-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Yesterday we spoke with a senior healthcare executive leading the COVID-19 response for a regional health system on the West Coast. Their area is now experiencing exponential growth of new cases, with the number of local diagnoses doubling every couple of days. In all likelihood, they’re less than two weeks from having the number of cases seen in harder-hit areas like San Francisco, Seattle and New York City. She said the “anticipation of what is about to happen” is the scariest part of the around-the-clock work they are doing to prepare.

But that two-week lead time has given them precious time to organize, and she generously shared key elements of their action plan. Their preparation work—surely similar to what hundreds of health systems around the country are doing—impressed us not only with its breadth, depth and comprehensiveness, but also the level of energy and confidence conveyed by the hundreds of actions and decisions, large and small, the system is making every day. Here are some of their important learnings so far:

  1. Even though the surge of patients has yet to begin, staff are “worried and scared”. They are concerned about PPE shortages and personal safety and stressed at home with schools and daycare closed. Detailed and regular communication is more critical than ever—and they’re trying to answer every inbound concern or question from associates directly. They are funding and expanding childcare options for staff, through partnerships with community organizations and daily stipends for home-based care.
  2. As the system works through worst-case scenario planning, they anticipate the need for critical care nurses, respiratory therapists, and emergency physicians will be the worst bottlenecks, and they are working to cross-train adjacent clinicians and build new staffing models to increase capacity. While most providers are deeply dedicated to providing care for COVID-19 patients, a small number have already “called off” and refused to report—creating unanticipated questions around how to manage these difficult situations.
  1. As they prepare to implement new surge staffing models, the system is now navigating through a period of downtime. With elective procedures cancelled and some ambulatory sites closed, they currently need fewer nurses and clinical staff than a month ago, and are creating policies, like allowing staff to go negative into PTO, to maintain income while they wait for the surge. Staff who must work in-person are working variable shifts to reduce crowding. They are also working to credential nurses and staff furloughed from local ambulatory surgery centers, so they have them ready to deploy when needed.
  1. IT staff are working nonstop to quickly make it possible for all eligible employees to work remotely, and to enable staff to safely gain access to the system’s intranet while guarding against new cybersecurity threats. The system is training and enabling hundreds of doctors to deliver care virtually, including affiliated independents.
  1. Guidelines for coronavirus patient management and recommended PPE practices change daily; it’s a full-time job for clinical leaders to keep up. Doctors are eager to try novel and creative treatments for very sick patients. (For instance, one doctor is developing a 3-D printed device that will allow one ventilator to be used for four patients simultaneously.) This eagerness to “do something” is understandable but creates a bit of chaos as leaders work to create policies around how to best manage patients.
  1. While leaders communicate with other health systems and local and state authorities daily, the vast majority of decisions are made internally, on the fly. For instance, the system is connecting with now-empty local hotels and universities to provide options for low-acuity patient capacity, but leaders hope that parallel efforts at other organizations can be brought together into a more unified regional response. For now, however, coordination would likely create unacceptable delays.
  1. Long-term health and stamina of staff is top among the system’s concerns. “If I borrow worry from the future”, this leader said, “I am worried that we are facing years-long trauma, both emotional and financial, and I’m not sure how we will sort it out”. For now, efforts to support staff and provide moments of relief and joy, are critical, and very appreciated by front-line team members.

We left this conversation emotionally overwhelmed ourselves, and with a huge sense of gratitude for clinicians and health system leaders. Americans can take comfort in the amount of work that is taking place even before critical patients begin to appear—and that doctors, nurses and hospitals are truly dedicated to providing us the best possible care under circumstances they have never faced before. If you know about creative approaches or new ideas organizations are putting in place to contend with the current situation, please let us know. We’re eager to share great ideas!