Wednesday August 25, 2021

COVID-19: Considerations for Health Care Human Resources and Operational Leaders

Key areas to consider in light of the COVID-19 pandemic

Now, more than anytime during my more than 20-year career in health care HR and hospital operations, it is imperative that we consider thinking differently about certain policies, procedures and guidelines. Under no circumstances should we change policies that are critical to keeping staff, patients and communities safe.

Here are some areas we should review in light of current circumstances:

  • No Fault Occurrence Based Attendance Policies – While maintaining adequate staffing levels is crucial during a crisis, current policies could force some employees to choose employment over the safety of the staff and patients.  
    Consider: Suspend or alter the practice of counting occurrences of absence during this crisis for anyone who is positive for or whose symptoms are consistent with COVID-19. For this to be effective you will need to be transparent about the change and empower your department leaders to use their best judgement to determine the impact. 
  • Productivity Metrics – Productivity metrics can be a challenging subject in the calmest of times. During a crisis, front line leaders should not be focused on the department’s bottom line.  
    Consider: Suspend the practice of sending out productivity metrics or meetings on the subject. Furthermore, you may want to start tracking additional hours related to COVID-19 should funds be designed to reimburse for some of these costs. 
  • Structured Work Locations – Review your current telecommuting/creative work options policies and expand their utilization, where resources allow, to minimize the potential rate of exposure in the workspace and on public transit.
    Consider: Create temporary flexible work guidelines for all non-essential staff. The risk of losing significant numbers of essential staff due to exposure from a non-essential staff member outweighs any risk to changing these guidelines.  
  • Adjusted Worktimes – Ensure that employee to employee and nonclinical employee to patient exposure is minimized where ever and whenever possible.  
    Consider: Provide non-clinical employees opportunities to work evening and night shift or alternating on and off days with coworkers to ensure that work is complete with the least person to person exposure possible. 
  • Mandatory Education and Training – Staff need to have the proper training to do their job effectively is important. However as leaders, you know, the value each training course has on the safety of our patients and staff is not the same.
    Consider: Temporarily minimize or reduce training that is not directly related to the safety of your staff and patients, (i.e., engagement, communication, data analytics, etc.) while providing just-in-time training on safe practices guidelines. (e.g., limit touching surfaces, limit movement, practice social distancing, & proper handwashing, etc.) 
  • Meetings – If they are not directly related to patient care or something acute for your organization, you could be creating a setting in which you devastate the staffing in a department, division, or specialty.  
    Consider: Utilizing technology platforms or postponing unnecessary meetings until the risk has passed. 
  • Emergency Plans and Contingent Labor – As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
    Consider: If you have not already done so, review your emergency preparedness and contingent labor pool documents and review them immediately with your leadership teams. 
  • Create an Organizational Cadence – It is human nature to fill gaps in your mind, in the absence of information.  
    Consider: Setting a regular and consistent cadence for communication about COVID-19 that includes what is going on at a national, local, and organizational scale, and stick to the timeline even when there is little new to report. Do not let your employees mistake a lack of communication for withholding information.   
  • Know Your Business – Review your current HR policies/practices as well as those around clinical practice. 
    Consider: Provide scenarios to your leadership teams on policies that may be impacted by COVID-19 (personal/business travel, PTO utilization, STD waiting periods, etc.)  In addition, using your best judgement and CDC’s acknowledgement of vulnerable populations, determine your organizational response to employees who decline to care for or work in certain areas.

While these suggestions are in no way an exhaustive list, we’re hopeful that operationalizing one or more of these considerations will have an effect on the value, flexibility and safety for your organization. 

We appreciate the responsibility placed on our field by COVID-19 and we would like to acknowledge the heroic efforts by you and your care delivery teams. Thank you for serving your patients, communities and this country at this challenging time.  


Jeremy Sadlier 
Director of HR Initiatives  
American Society of Health Care Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) 
of the American Hospital Association (AHA)