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Rethinking Crisis Management in Healthcare

By LCDR Manuel H. Beltran, FACHE, PMP

Summer is here and it’s been an eventful year thus far. The COVID-19 pandemic has held its grip on the nation and the world over the past four months, although the death of George Floyd and protests against systemic racism has eclipsed its importance in recent news cycles. As the country moves forward and begins to ease public health restrictions, it is vitally important that leaders at all levels not lose sight of what we have collectively learned about COVID-19. This includes critical lessons learned in healthcare that we can use to help plan and prepare for subsequent virus waves or other medically related crises. The time is now for public health officials, healthcare executives and medical personnel at all levels to review what we have learned and begin to revise or develop crisis management plans in support of future scenarios. We can no longer allow crises or contingency management be subject to whimsical priorities or the latest trends. Our patients and communities have a right to expect ready and resilient healthcare systems that are prepared to step up and meet the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop in local communities and around the country, there are actionable steps that leaders at all levels can and should take to bolster their ability to respond heading into late summer and early fall. The following steps are recommendations only. It is highly advisable that executives gather and discuss the actions that will work for them, both in the short and long-term:

  1. Conduct a Risk Assessment. This includes a comprehensive review of national and local COVID-19 data to ensure your organization is prepared to meet the challenges associated with treating our most vulnerable patient populations. Before decisions can be made with respect to beds, supply chains, staffing, etc., the potential problem or risk must be properly framed.
  2. Develop Courses of Action. This represents the ability to develop solutions to mitigating the risk in your communities, for your patients and your staff. This involves everyone from preventive medicine professionals to environmental services. It also involves having a comprehensive understanding of your capabilities and capacity to treat COVID-19 patients, as well as other critical patients.
  3. Implement Decisions. After deciding how to proceed, now is the time for leadership to implement actions that will meet the needs of its patients and the community.
  4. Monitoring and Controlling. This requires a thorough understanding of what you wish to accomplish, the methods in which you are accomplishing them and the measures of performance that you and your leadership team are going to use to ensure you are on the right path. It also means maintaining situational awareness of your hospital’s bed, staffing, supply and equipment status at all times. Have redline thresholds that require someone on the crisis management team to alert leadership for decisions that need to be made.
  5. Document and Discuss Lessons Learned. This is a continuous process. Knowledge management is critical to learning from mistakes and improving processes. Simple conversations during shift changes and regular huddles between leadership and staff are vital to ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

As leaders in healthcare and in our communities, it is imperative that we take stock of the actions required to lead our organizations in times of crisis. It is never too late to make the appropriate changes for your team, your organizations and perhaps most importantly, for yourself. Strive to develop and improve your knowledge, skills and abilities in the crisis management arena and those of your organization. Whether it is COVID-19 or any other emergency that may hit our doorstep, take appropriate action now—the lives and well-being of your patients, staff and communities depend on it.

LCDR Manuel H. Beltran, FACHE, is a United States Naval Officer and healthcare administrator within the Military Health System. He is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and the 2019 District 6 Early Careerist Healthcare Executive of the Year.

This piece was adapted from an essay originally published by the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives.

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