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CEO Coalition readies to take action to support hospital staff

Declaration of Principles includes psychological, emotional wellbeing, justice and safety, says UCLA Hospital System CEO Johnese Spisso.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

The driving force behind 10 hospital CEOs taking a pledge for workforce safety was brought about by long-standing issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workplace concerns became more urgent as healthcare team members faced the enormous emotional stress of living with the uncertainty of the pandemic. Just witnessing such tremendous loss impacted people personally, said Coalition member Johnese Spisso, CEO of UCLA Hospital System. 

"We just weathered really an incredible storm," Spisso said. "We really need to do something to bolster the resiliency so that we can be better prepared in the future."

COVID-19 also introduced new challenges.

"Never in my career did I witness fear in the eyes of my colleagues," said Dr. Bridget Duffy, CMO for Vocera, a medical communications company that is one of the founders of the CEO Coalition.

There was the fear of infection, the fear that they would infect loved ones and the fear of not having the right protective equipment against COVID-19. There was also the stress of being the only communicator between patients and their loved ones as family members were kept out of hospital rooms.

"Never did I think we would strip loved ones away from each other with no ability to communicate," Duffy said.

Nurses did amazing things such as holding up telephones for a FaceTime call between family members, she said. "These are things that made us as a coalition have a sense of urgency to go faster," Duffy said.

It hasn't taken a lot of arm twisting, said Vocera CEO and chairman Brent Lang. CEOs have jumped aboard. All realize there is a need to recommit to safety, he said.

"During the pandemic, I think we all saw firsthand all the psychological, emotional and physical dangers that our frontline caregivers really subjected themselves to," Lang said.

One CEO told coalition members that some people go to work everyday expecting to be assaulted or harmed. But the coalition addresses issues beyond burnout and physical safety. The CEOs created a Declaration of Principles with three pillars: emotional and psychological safety, health justice and physical safety.

"CEO Coalition's Declaration of Principles really expands the definition of safety to include safeguarding psychological and emotional wellbeing of team members, promoting justice and ensuring physical safety to eliminate workplace violence, both physical and verbal," Spisso said.

The pandemic also highlighted and coincided with another long-standing issue: racial injustice.

"It was fascinating to meet and talk in depth with CEOs," Duffy said. "All of them said, my teams cannot be safe – physically and emotionally is one thing – unless they're free from health injustice."

The protest over the death of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic collided in Minneapolis. There was concern that staff had to go to work while the National Guard was outside the hospital, according to Duffy.

"For me it was a profound revelation that our definition of safety to date has not been truly complete enough," Duffy said. "Our intent with this coalition is to create a grassroots movement to make this pillar around health justice such a critical component of safety."

WHAT'S THE IMPACT? ACTION

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement is leading the effort on developing an action plan, with the involvement of the CEOs and supporting teams. It is expected to be implemented at several demonstration sites, Lang said.

The CEO Coalition is adding more members and building awareness of the importance of supporting staff, at a time when some workers are leaving the profession due to stress, which adds to workforce shortages. 

"Post-COVID PTSD is real and will exist, and that if we don't do something and something quickly, our nation's healthcare workforce will be crippled, because we will have a shortage of staff, and in particular women, who fill many of the frontline roles in nursing, and ancillary staff that will leave to go into other professions," Duffy said.

THE LARGER TREND

The CEO Coalition was founded earlier this year, and includes:

  • Dr. Tomislav Mihaljevic, CEO and president of the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Robert Garrett, CEO Hackensack Meridian Health.
  • Andrea Walsh, president and CEO of HealthPartners.
  • Wright Lassiter, president and CEO of the Henry Ford Health System.
  • Dr. Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare.
  • Dr. Anne Klibanski, president and CEO of Mass General Brigham.
  • Dr. Rod Hochman, president and CEO of Providence. 
  • Laura Kaiser, president and CEO of SSM Health.
  • Johnese Spisso, CEO of UCLA Hospital System.
  • Susan Ehrlich, CEO of Zuckerberg San Francisco General. 

Founding partners are Lang and Duffy, working in collaboration with Dr. Kedar Mate, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com