5 ways to protect the wellbeing of frontline healthcare professionals

Shujaat Ali, founder of Medical Travel Market, suggests five ways healthcare organisations can protect frontline healthcare professionals wellbeing during the pandemic

The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll in many countries, but nowhere more so than amongst the integral frontline healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and others) taking care of the ill and frail. Many healthcare professionals have died in the pursuit of duty, while countless others continue to suffer from burnout, exhaustion, and fear of the pandemic.

The pandemic has split families, with healthcare workers staying away from their families to shield them from the risk of catching the virus. Most of them will carry the psychological sequelae of these desperate times with them for years to come, or, in some cases, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For many healthcare professionals, this is an unprecedented experience on a scale, unlike any infectious disease outbreak in recent decades.

Here are five ways healthcare organisations can protect employee wellbeing during the pandemic

  1. Listen to frontline healthcare workers

Healthcare leaders should ask doctors and nurses what they need and listen to their needs. They work on the frontline and are well-positioned to advise on what they may require. Whether it is PPE, equipment and supplies, medications, more beds, better schedules, help with emotional strain, debriefing sessions, more training or simply some encouraging words – checking in daily can go a long way in creating the right environment for them to flourish. Establish clear communication channels to find out what your staff needs and then supply it as best as you can.

  1. Organised work environment

A surge of patients can easily overwhelm a health system, and healthcare leaders are being called upon around the world to make time-sensitive, life-critical decisions. These are moments when great leaders shine, and it is a time when exceptional strategic planning skills are most crucial. Emergency preparedness is a vital aspect of any health system strategic plan, and lack thereof can have devastating consequences. Calm and measured responses, getting help when needed, and forethought is required. There is nothing more demoralising for frontline caregivers than chaos and a sense of uncertainty.

  1. Accelerate telemedicine adoption

A critical measure for maintaining health service provision has been the ability of organisations to transition towards digital healthcare services. Many hospitals and medical practices have rapidly embraced telemedicine technologies and are enabling their staff to perform virtual COVID-19 screening and non-pandemic related visits via video consultations. Virtual patient visits reduce the risk of exposure, protect the wellbeing of doctors and nurses working in the hospital and most importantly, this helps to maintain healthcare capacity for the treatment of patients who are at high risk.

  1. Adequate nutrition and sleep

Organisations can create space where frontline workers can get adequate sleep between shifts. If no space is available in the hospital, they can cooperate with local hotels, and B&B’s around the facility to provide rooms where they can safely get a shower and a clean bed without putting their families at risk. In South Africa, Ubuntu Beds is a community organisation that leveraged empty B&B’s to provide support for frontline healthcare workers. The NY Four Seasons also offered space for healthcare workers.

Proper nutrition is equally as important. Organisations can provide nutritious meals and hydration stations for healthcare workers and partner with businesses for exclusive rewards and discounts. Outside the hospital, organisations can rally suppliers to donate free meals, snacks and drinks for staff, as a physician did in New York as a small act of kindness.

  1. Mental and emotional health support

Healthcare professionals are aware that their decisions can impact lives, so maintaining their own emotional and mental wellbeing is critical for the safe running of any health system. Organisations are also duty-bound to protect the mental health and emotional wellbeing of their employees in the course of their duties.

Research from a Great Place To Work shows:

“When employees feel a sincere interest in them as a person, not just an employee, they feel a greater sense of psychological safety and have greater trust in their leader and the organisation.”

Small acts of kindness, recognition and communication can have a powerful impact on an organisations culture. For example, frontline teams can start each shift by allowing a staff member to share a brief uplifting story. Such small acts can help to strengthen morale, team bonding and core values.

Other helpful support strategies can include, allowing the use of personal mementoes to encourage staff at moments where they feel overwhelmed. Providing online access to meditation resources, investing further in employee wellbeing clinics, setting up virtual moral distress release sessions and more.

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