The Future of Healthcare Human Resources After COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic sent seismic shifts through the healthcare industry, forcing organizations and workforces to evolve at a breathtaking speed. For the first time, the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) annual conference was held virtually this past August. While many healthcare systems were gearing up for change before COVID-19 hit, the pandemic exponentially accelerated the pace of change.
So what does that mean for healthcare HR? Although it accelerated change, the crisis also highlighted existing barriers to performance among healthcare workforces. The stress test of experiencing COVID-19 laid out a blueprint for long-term growth and success in the new healthcare landscape.
COVID will have a long-term impact on the way healthcare organizations function. Here are some of the healthcare HR trends that are here to stay.
Worker stress and anxiety have skyrocketed since COVID-19 hit. In addition to the stress of working on the frontlines during a pandemic, workers are also worried about maintaining health and safety for themselves and their families and juggling schedules to meet childcare needs. The pandemic has demonstrated that stressors from home affect employees at work, and vice versa. Moving forward, supporting the needs of the whole person — not just the employee — will be a top concern for healthcare HR.
Prioritizing mental health and well-being will extend far beyond COVID, suggests Benjamin Isgur, Managing Director at PwC’s Health Research Institute. The workforce will not be able to perform without proper access to mental healthcare, he says, and ultimately the cost of not covering mental health will outweigh the cost of coverage. Healthcare HR teams should begin shoring up their existing benefit plans with robust mental health coverage.
Additional benefits, such as student loan repayments or childcare options, can mitigate some of the causes of worker stress. Survey your workforce to identify and support their specific needs. “Our role is to support employees to be the best they can be on behalf of the patient,” says Aimee Giglio, CHRO at Dartmouth Hitchcock. “The experience of both populations is not exempt from the other; it's integrated.”
The integration of the employee and patient experiences is especially critical when providing healthcare in minority communities. COVID-19 highlighted disparities in healthcare towards racial and ethnic minorities in underserved communities. “Equity affects how we deliver healthcare,” Isgur says. Moving forward, healthcare HR must address disparities through diverse staffing and a more inclusive employee experience.
Diverse teams are instrumental in delivering quality care for all. A lack of diversity among clinicians and in clinical trials creates an insular approach to healthcare delivery. A diverse healthcare team, on the other hand, brings a better understanding of minority communities. A heightened awareness of each community's social determinants of health outcomes, as well as culture, customs and language, all produce better care and patient outcomes.
“There's going to be a lot more focus on transparency around diversity and inclusion efforts,” Isgur says. Moving forward from COVID, healthcare HR must plan to increase diversity across the employee lifecycle — from recruiting to retention to promotion.
During the pandemic, healthcare workers across departments and levels worked under high pressure and in rapidly evolving situations. Healthcare organizations need to develop flexible workforces and processes that can pivot and adapt to any scenario. “We probably would not have acted with such velocity if it weren't for COVID-19,” Giglio says. “It’s forced us into this new reality where both our workforce and the organization need to be more agile.”
Health and safety measures will account for frontline workers and non-clinical staff, leading to a long-term movement to remote work. “HR is having to rethink what the work environment looks like for healthcare professionals,” Isgur says. Healthcare HR needs to create an infrastructure that allows workers to switch between physical and virtual environments easily. Additionally, the increase in virtual care requires a change in hiring and training. Future clinicians must be comfortable delivering care in a digital environment.
Healthcare businesses are moving forward quickly, and HR plays a pivotal strategic role in that evolution. “Having HR sit next to business leaders to help make decisions only betters the outcome for everyone,” Giglio says. Supporting employees, increasing workforce diversity and developing an infrastructure that supports rapid change are business imperatives in a post-COVID-19 future.