Insights on Being a Healthcare Leader After the Pandemic - Cover

Insights on Being a Healthcare Leader After the Pandemic

Taylor Davis, president of KLAS, recently moderated a panel hosted by the Millennium Alliance. The panel was an assembly on how to be a leader in the healthcare world after the pandemic. Included on the panel were Dr. Leslie Jurecko, the Chief Safety, Quality, and Experience Officer at Cleveland Clinic; Mike Woodruff, the Chief Patient Experience Officer at Intermountain Healthcare; and Ramon Soto the SVP and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Northwell Health.

The panel’s in-depth discussion was helpful for healthcare leaders who wanted to know what they could do to continue to build up healthcare quality and improve patient experience. What follows are some highlights of their conversation.

Getting Back to Where We Were and Moving Beyond

During the pandemic, the quality of healthcare has suffered, especially as the pandemic has dragged on. Considering this, Davis kicked off the initial discussion by asking the panelists for their thoughts on the current degradation of some key indicators of safety and patient experience. He then asked how health systems could get back to where they were before the pandemic and then go beyond the previous progress they had made.

Dr. Jurecko confirmed that some of the quality aspects that the industry measures nationally, like central bloodstream line infections, patient falls, and pressure ulcers, have worsened over the course of the pandemic. In addition, there has been a decrease in patients’ likelihood to recommend their healthcare providers. However, she also noted that this represents a great opportunity to improve. She said, “sometimes, we put tons of solutions on our frontline staff and hope they all work and there's so much complexity. I think we need to simplify and focus on those things that absolutely can prevent harm and provide higher quality and a better experience for our patients.”

Woodruff agreed with her comments and added that the pandemic has shown us that the workforce in healthcare is a precious resource. In his words, “the truth is that every clinician is a highly trained, skilled worker, operating in a very complex environment where the stakes are high.” He then compared clinicians with Formula One racecar drivers, who require teams and many resources to be successful. “That's the way we have to start thinking about this. It's what has gotten us through the pandemic with minimal impact on some of our outcomes and actually deepened our engagement with our workforce. [Trust is] essential to delivering excellent outcomes. We have to have the trust and engagement of healthy teams that are focused on the mission. And if we don't have that trust . . . we might have transient success, but we're not going to sustain it over the long run.” When it comes to building trust with clinicians, Woodruff proposed leadership developments and for leaders to really invest in skills, structure, clarity, and accountability for physician and nursing leaders.

Rebuilding Trust in An Era of Burnout

During the assembly, an audience member asked whether trust had eroded during the pandemic, and if it had, how leaders should work to regain it. Soto pointed out that at first, the industry “went into firefighting mode and ran toward the flames to keep society safe.” With that came a lot of pride that paralleled the burnout. But he noted that trust really started to erode when vaccine mandates started, and they had to let 2,000 employees go. That sparked a lot of contentious debate. He said, “I think we’re through that now, and most who are still with us understand why we went through it. There’s still a lot of pride, but we have to deal with those underlying issues, particularly the burnout phenomenon. We’re in the third quarter, and there’s still more of the game to play.”

Dr. Jurecko added, “I think this year and next year are going to be even more challenging than during the pandemic because of what was mentioned already, and we're all having financial challenges.” She stated that their caregivers ask leaders to surround them with more, but that the healthcare system is still hard to work in, and that it is a challenge to innovate when finances are tough.

Davis then asked how healthcare could be simplified and who could simplify it in order to decrease burnout and focus on the most important things. Woodruff said, “for me, this ties to whole system quality and how a hospital or healthcare organization thinks about process improvement, including principles from the industry around lean management and eliminating waste from systems. I think you combine that approach of continually looking for the waste in the system and what can we stop doing that's not adding value with a lens of consumer focus and workforce focus and bring those people into the discussion to co-design the processes.” He also brought up how, early in the pandemic, there were a lot of questions around PPE guidelines that could have led to a loss of trust. But they decided to bring clinicians and patients into the conversation and to listen. “To me, it was being inclusive in that process of codesign and really honoring their voices. Bringing in the stakeholders . . . goes a long way toward making the ultimate decision go a lot easier to get to a place of mutual respect in some of these hard decisions. And it hopefully maintains that that fragile bond of trust through the . . . difficult decisions and helps rebuild later.”

Personal Challenges

Davis finished the assembly by referring to the cracks that the pandemic had revealed in our healthcare system. He also asked the panelists to share some of the cracks that they had identified in their own personal leadership and the changes they had made to improve. All three of the panelists shared similar insights. Soto brought up work-life balance and maintaining self-awareness to make changes as necessary. Dr. Jurecko shared that being able to be vulnerable about your weaknesses in front of your team or teams is something she’s still working on but that it needs to be done to help create psychological safety within an organization. Woodruff added that staying focused and having humility is challenging, but it is especially important when you face uncertainty.

After listening to the panel, I felt a sense of hope from these leaders that our healthcare providers will be able to innovate and meet the ongoing challenges of this post-pandemic world. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have exposed some issues and exacerbated others, if we can continue to develop strong leadership, I feel we’ll be well on our way.

The Millennium Alliance is a technology and business educational advisory firm with the mission of helping to transform the digital enterprise. To learn more about their senior executive-level assembly program, go to their website or reach out to KLAS.

Photo Credit: Flamingo Images, Adobe Stock