The American Hospital Association (AHA) has released the first of three reports detailing how hospital and health system leaders can help address healthcare workforce challenges by supporting worker wellbeing and behavioral health and preventing workplace violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated workforce challenges, such as staffing shortages and financial instability. AHA has frequently called on federal leaders to offer short-term support, including additional financial support and extended public health emergency flexibilities to help hospitals and health systems address these challenges.
The trade organization’s recent report offers a series of long-term efforts that chief executive officers and other executive leaders should consider to support their workforce.
“America’s healthcare workforce is the heart of healthcare,” Rick Pollack, president and chief executive officer of AHA, said in a statement. “The AHA has sounded the alarm repeatedly that our workforce is in crisis, and the national emergency demands immediate attention from healthcare leaders and policymakers at every level of government.”
“As part of our ongoing efforts to support the field, we have developed this new guide with strategies and resources that can help hospital and health system leaders navigate these complex challenges.”
Addressing employee wellbeing is critical, especially after the pandemic increased the likelihood of administrative burden and provider burnout, AHA said. For this reason, leaders should address burnout from a system-wide level.
Executives should first assess their current available resources, such as employee assistance programs. Leaders should identify any gaps in their existing resources and determine key priorities when developing new plans.
When developing plans to advance wellbeing efforts, leaders must engage all stakeholders involved in the organization.
For example, front-line managers can offer insight into where support is most needed. But they will need support from human resources, operational teams, and technology staff to drive the changes.
In addition to stakeholder input, hospitals should establish a team of executives who can lead the wellbeing efforts.
Supporting behavioral health is also essential when it comes to addressing healthcare workforce challenges, according to the report.
Healthcare workers faced high levels of anxiety, stress, depression, and loneliness during the pandemic, but few received behavioral healthcare services, AHA noted.
Executives should review the services they offer and ensure that staff members have access to the full range of the behavioral health service continuum. The continuum should meet the needs of children, adolescents, adults, and seniors, and include access to integrated physical and behavioral healthcare.
Ensuring that organizations have an adequate network of behavioral healthcare providers is also important to facilitate access for staff.
Executives should assess their health system’s culture surrounding behavioral and mental health. For example, considering if sick leave policies address behavioral health disorders and if leaders encourage staff to receive annual behavioral health screenings.
Part of the cultural shift includes reducing the stigma around behavioral and mental health treatment, AHA added. Providing staff with mental health awareness training could also help create a culture where behavioral healthcare is encouraged and accessible.
Finally, hospital and health system leaders can help address healthcare workforce challenges by implementing initiatives that prevent workplace violence.
Executives can create a culture of safety by prioritizing the physical and psychological safety of their workforce and the patients they serve. By developing safety initiatives, creating accountability measures, and regularly assessing vulnerabilities, leaders can help prevent violence in the workplace.
In addition, leaders can support those who have experienced trauma due to past violence and offer access to trauma-informed care.
“Despite the most trying of circumstances, our healthcare workforce continues to give of themselves to offer healing and consolation, night and day, day-in and day-out,” Ron Werft, chair of the AHA board of trustees’ task force on workforce, said. “There is no higher priority than ensuring that we care for the caregiver, that we make our working environment safe, and that we foster the ability for individuals to have joy in their work.”