In 2020, widespread social distancing and masking pushed seasonal flu cases to record lows. However, 2021 could be a different story. With effective COVID-19 vaccines available, far fewer people are taking precautions against airborne infections. What’s more, we may all be highly susceptible to new flu strains due to lack of previous exposure.
The bottom line: if a tough flu season overlaps with a winter spike in COVID-19, emergency departments and ICUs could quickly become overwhelmed. This is especially worrisome given the severe staffing shortages facing hospitals across the country.
So how can health care leaders prepare for a potentially difficult winter? Here are three lessons we’ve learned at Vituity across the more than 450 practice locations we deliver emergency medicine and other acute care services to care for over 8 million patients annually.
1. Assemble Your Clinical Team and Leadership
In a worst-case scenario, health systems may need to mobilize clinicians from across the organization as well as travelers, locums, and relief workers. To prepare, it’s crucial to map out a clinical command structure that defines roles and responsibilities. Positions to consider include incident commanders, team leaders, and bedside clinicians and nurses.
2. Build Your Surge Processes in Advance
Surges will play out differently at each hospital. For this reason, it’s important to have a solid plan in place while remaining open-minded and responsive. Key areas of your game plan should include ICU capacity (including surge contingency plans), clinical care protocols, and staffing scenarios.
3. Retain and Reward Your Workforce
To rein in further workforce attrition, hospitals must find ways to reward those loyal team members who stick with them. Over the long term, investing in your in-house medical and nursing staff will pay greater dividends than bonuses to per diems and travelers. Ensure your teams have the resources they need and take time to show appreciation for their hard work and sacrifice.
For more insights on keeping your workforce and patients safe this season, read Dr. Gregg Miller’s full article and listen to his recent podcast appearance with HASC. Miller is chief medical officer with Vituity.
With questions, please contact HASC Member Relations and Association Services Director Darryl Sanford.