To say that COVID-19 has disrupted the workplace over the last two years is an understatement. As we approach year three of the pandemic, we have experienced a sudden or accelerated shift to remote work, readjusted workplace policies with each successive wave of COVID, and most recently the "great resignation"; which has left many medical staff offices with unfilled openings. Being a manager prior to COVID could be challenging. This can be especially true in a medical staff office where you interact with employees, other departments, physicians, and leadership with each group coming with their own unique set of challenges or requests.
To fully understand how managing staff has changed because of the pandemic, I reached out to DeLaine Christie, CPCS, CPMSM, who is the Manager of Medical Staff Services and the Centralized Verification Office (CVO) at Health First. Health First operates four hospitals: Health First Cape Canaveral Hospital, Holmes Regional Medical Center, Palm Bay Hospital and Viera Hospital, two surgery centers: Melbourne Same Day Surgery and Melbourne GI Center along with the Health First Medical Group, which is the largest multi-specialty physician group on the Florida Space coast. DeLaine manages 11 employees spread across four medical staff offices and the CVO.
DeLaine has been working in Medical Staff Services for 25 years in various roles. DeLaine joined Health First in December 2020; prior to that she was the Regional Director of Medical Staff Services for Garden City Hospital in Michigan. DeLaine has a Master of Arts in Management and Organizational Leadership from Spring Arbor University and is dual certified by the National Association Medical Staff Services (NAMSS) as a Certified Provider Credentialing Specialist (CPCS) and Certified Professional in Medical Services Management (CPMSM).
Prior to COVID-19 our Central Verification Office (CVO) was in its own offsite office location. When COVID hit, we initially set the CVO up to have only one employee in the office each workday while the others worked from home. We did not anticipate this would be a long-term need. Six months in, we realized the need for a more long-term/permanent solution and made the decision to permanently close the office and convert the entire CVO team to a remote workforce. Three years in, there are no plans to bring the CVO staff back on site as these positions will now stay fully remote. This decision was validated as a good one when we realized the staff was more productive in the new remote setting.
I would say understanding the new stressors everyone is now feeling because of COVID. Also, it is extremely challenging to manage half a team that is working remotely. Pre-COVID at Health First it was unusual to work from home for a Medical Staff Professional (MSP) or CVO staff member. Now this is a daily opportunity. Additionally, because staff were sent home so quickly initially, no specific metrics, goals or rules were implemented prior to sending the staff home. As a result, no one really understood the accountability part. The one bright spot is that once we got some metrics in place, we could monitor their workload because they are doing the technical piece. We were able to monitor work efficiency by maintaining our Average Turn Around Time (TAT) of 11.49 days. Health First did implement a work from home policy that we had to follow, but we ultimately did not create any additional policies for the CVO staff.
I find that I do more individual or one on one meetings because the staff seems to need more support and mentoring. We do have virtual team meetings, but everyone continues to struggle with the change in everyday functions given how often things change with each subsequent wave of COVID. As guidelines and policies change with each wave of COVID, it can sometimes be challenging to make sure we adhere. For example, are masks required when walking the halls of the hospital today? Or do I have to wear my mask while sitting at my desk? As the manager, I find that I must reiterate corporate communications to my team more often than I would have if we were all onsite. With the rapidly changing situations, you may imagine we sometimes get bombarded with communications so I feel like some staff may suffer from communication fatigue. I have also had to get creative with ways to foster a team mindset when all my staff is spread out remotely or working in different facility locations while also staying cognizant of the corporate policies regarding meeting sizes in the COVID world. To that end, we have begun a series of offsite "gatherings" at local area restaurants to make sure our team has an opportunity for continued connection and in person interaction. These have been successful, and we are now contemplating periodic fun non-mandatory events to further foster a "team" mindset.
Set yourself up for success - put specific rules, goals, metrics in place prior to sending staff home to work remotely.
Hang in there! There is an end in sight! Hopefully!
I would like to thank DeLaine for taking time out of her busy schedule to contribute to our Life Amid COVID series.
In my work as a consultant, I interact with a variety of MSP's, managers and directors and am able find out how their facilities are meeting these challenges head on. While the changes within the workplace over the last few years have not been easy, to DeLaine's point, it seems like so many now excitingly have the option to work remotely, at least some, if not all the time. This flexibility, at least for me, has really allowed me to create a work life balance I wasn't able to achieve previously. I think it is important to focus on these positives where we can. As I discussed in my first Consulting Connection article, "How Procrastination Can Impact Your Goals", as humans we naturally tend to remember what went wrong or was negative over what was positive. As we continue to adapt to our ever-changing situation with COVID it remains important to celebrate the wins.