Another crazy week in the trenches, and the “organizational behavior” consultant part of me wishes I could get some of my clients to listen to reality and take solid advice. Everyone is completely stressed, and justifiably so, but we need to figure out how to get through this.
This morning, I had a very painful conversation with a client who asked me to update him on what other similar organizations are doing with their outpatient clinics. Are they closing, running modified hours, consolidating by patient needs, etc. I put together a careful analysis with summaries and walked through them.
The client proceeded to yell at me and explain why each option wouldn’t work for their organization. I tried to gently remind him that his “ask” was for me to answer the question of “what are similar organizations doing in this situation” as opposed to “how should we handle this?” Because frankly, if he had asked the latter question, I’d have been likely to tell him it’s time to just pack it up and go home, because their lack of understanding of this pandemic and failure to follow CDC and OSHA guidance is putting their staff and patients at risk.
The bright spot of the week was a patient who asked me how I was doing as a person and how my family was holding up with me being on the front lines. He was sincere and caring. It was a welcome change from having to deal with the previous patient, who was self-absorbed and flatly refused to quarantine himself “because it’s boring and I can’t stand it any more” despite his fever of 102 and symptoms that were consistent with COVID.
Like just about every healthcare worker in the US at this point, I’ve been exposed to multiple positive patients, and without the recommended gold-standard N95 mask. Still, I can control the environment in the office and can wash my hands immediately after every single interaction, which is a lot better than what happens when you make a furtive trip to the grocery store. Plenty of people are still picking up items, looking at them, and putting them back, which is less than ideal during a pandemic. Our local grocer installed handwashing stations outside the front door, but I’d give myself even odds of being infected at work versus by the general public.
Our non-clinical staff members are having the hardest time with the situation. They are not trained for it and really didn’t know what they were getting into compared to the clinical workers. They’re constantly on edge, and one of them was crying in the break room during my last shift. Talking to physician colleagues across the country, they’re seeing the same thing.
We’re all supposed to act tough and not afraid, but as people, we want to validate our staff’s concerns and let them know that we share some of the same feelings. Unfortunately, some administrators across the country see such empathy as akin to “feeding into fear mongering.” I have two friends who received verbal counseling about the conversations they had with staff because they didn’t toe the corporate sunshine and lollipops line. When the CDC is telling healthcare workers to tie a bandana on their face if they don’t have appropriate personal protective equipment, we’re well past the sunshine zone.
Friday, March 20 was Match Day for fourth-year medical students across the country, many of whom have had their classes canceled and rotations ended for the rest of the year. Graduations have been canceled as well. Instead of learning their fate in an auditorium with friends, they learned it online. Good luck to each and every one of them. I remember what that day was like and can’t imagine how surreal it must feel to the class of 2020.
Speaking of surreal, I urge all organizations to go through any automated or pre-scheduled communications and make sure they make sense given the current situation. When the schools are closed and parents receive a notice about the 7 a.m. ACT prep session, that’s not a confidence builder.
Similarly, when vendors send out tone-deaf emails about patient loyalty or market share to health systems that have publicly announced that they will run out hospital beds within 10 days, that’s not a winning marketing strategy.
I’ve received several emails from HIMSS that are utterly devoid of acknowledgement of the present situation. Given that HIMSS might not survive after the loss of revenue from HIMSS20, I would urge them to not aggravate people. Their constant blasts about Virtual HIMSS are bordering on the absurd for people who are knee deep managing issues at their hospitals and health systems as the new normal.
On the flip side, I received a call from my bank, which is checking in with their small business banking customers to see if they can help with anything. The business they were calling about is my side hustle that I’m cultivating for retirement, so it’s not a major source of income. Still, it was a nice gesture.
Last week, on March 18, CMS announced that all elective surgeries and non-essential medical, surgical, and dental procedures should be delayed during the COVID outbreak. This is not only to preserve hospital capacity (some of those elective patients have poor outcomes and wind up in the ICU), but also to conserve personal protective equipment. Many outpatient offices have canceled well visits unless they include vaccinations.
My primary physician and ophthalmologist canceled all their annual visits and offered refills for the next six months, so thank you. Unfortunately, some major players in the healthcare industry are behaving badly and refusing to follow this directive. You know who you are, and shame on you. Please get with the program, I’m betting you’ll wish later you had all those masks and gowns back. If you’re organization is still doing elective procedures, this piece from a Seattle vascular surgeon is a great read.
I’m keeping this brief so I can go back to the telehealth front lines. I haven’t been able to exercise my newly granted ability to see patients in states where I don’t have a license since there are so many patients to be seen in my home state. To all of you on the in-person front lines, stay safe, stay sane, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Email Dr. Jayne.