Dealing with a crisis situation as one team
Care and hospitals go hand in hand, but this usually relates to patient care. At Az Damiaan in Ostend, they extend this care to employees with the same focus. Az Damiaan regularly appears in the press with original employer branding campaigns. Of course, just the image of a caring, creative employer with 'a twist' is not enough. Without a supportive and established HR policy, this reputation would be in danger. During the first wave of coronavirus, the hospital showed that they have a solid foundation in this area. Chief HR Officer, Dirk Van de Velde, explains.
"No matter how many years of experience you had when the coronavirus crisis hit for the first time, it was a challenge for everyone. How could we create extra capacity while reducing anxiety, stress and absenteeism as much as possible? Especially, in terms of uncertainty about the gravity of the situation. Nobody had the answer. The only way to tackle this was as a group by coming up with solutions together, without the benefit of scientific evidence as a guide.
Consultation and decision-making in a group
As a hospital, we were required by the authorities to set up a crisis unit. This included a pneumologist, an emergency doctor and the head of the clinical lab, who then validated the proposals from the various working groups (Personnel, Hospital Hygiene, Escalation, De-escalation and Equipment).
Every day, we attempted to find solutions in the working groups. How and by what means can we protect everyone in the best possible manner? Which departments can close down to receive coronavirus patients and where should the existing patients be moved to? What competences do we need for this and where can we find this capacity? And so on.
The chairs of the working groups were also part of the crisis unit and discussed the proposals from the morning in the afternoon. The validated actions were presented in the afternoon. A hellish schedule, but we managed to stick to it because we all had the same goal in mind.
Real-time capacity planning
Planning and care were the two pillars in our Personnel working group. It was essential for planning that we had a continuous view of our actual capacity. Again, we were not able to rely on experience as – unlike a week of recovery with 'normal' flu – it often takes much longer to return to work in a healthy state after contracting Covid-19. What's more, coronavirus patients require more care than other illnesses. Normally, the head nurses are responsible for planning but since they were needed for patient care at the time, it was managed centrally by the Personnel working group.
We called in outpatient nurses for extra help in the coronavirus unit. Their departments were virtually at a standstill due to fears of consultations or the lack of non-essential treatments. For example, as a buddy, they helped with putting on heavy protective clothing or transporting patients. In addition, we expanded our inflow with temps, students and candidates from the site reserves.
In consultation with managers, we called every absent employee to check whether the absenteeism was work-related. Due to fear – for themselves or their families – and because they were part of a risk group, they sometimes isolated themselves at home. By helping to support them efficiently and thoroughly thanks to our precautions, we were often able to reassure them and bring them back to the workplace.
Taking care of and unburdening each other
HR also paid particular attention to the care and well-being of our colleagues. We called each employee who had been tested personally to let them know the result. In case of bad news, we arranged their sickness certificates, which kept them from having a consultation. Together with the teams involved, we had a dialogue with the Hospital Hygiene working group during the Team care moments. After all, a positive test also causes enormous stress within the team.
In recognising Covid-19 as an occupational disease, with the coronavirus parental leave and the coronavirus unemployment of mainly blue-collar workers who were unable to work from home, we took over as much of the administration as possible from the employees involved. SD Worx helped us enormously with all these complex support measures, amendments in social security and labour law, individual questions from employees and the translation into our payroll. We would like to thank SD Worx for their work. This was done quickly and efficiently because they have, among other things, customised payroll software for our organisation and have been Az Damiaan's HR partner since 2006, so they know us inside out.
The Escape rooms allowed employees to unwind, have a drink, relax in comfy seats or consult a psychologist and external health and safety officer for psychosocial aspects at certain times. In addition, we ran webinars providing advice and tips on healthy eating, getting enough sleep or sufficient exercise, dealing with stress, and more. Finally, together with the City of Ostend, we provided daytime childcare during the Easter holidays.
Firmly focused on communication
The Digiflits internal newsletter, created for our doctors and employees, provided daily figures within Az Damiaan on the number of coronavirus patients, the closure or reopening of departments, and much more. Practical arrangements, such as the closure of the cafeteria or the installation of thermal cameras at reception, were also discussed.
Like many other organisations, we have also discovered MS Teams. This comes with real benefits, such as enabling staff to work from home or the opportunity to organise meetings with all key nurses without having to physically bring them all together in one room. This new way of working also had some disadvantages, as it reduced contact with colleagues. We also used MS Teams for external meetings. This meant that selection interviews continued to take place virtually, which was a tough task. If we do have to return to compulsory home working, we will also pay more attention to the disadvantages of teleworking.
Even though we've made it through the first wave thanks to everyone's efforts, we still have a lot to learn. Just before the summer, each working group organised a Lessons learned session. These workshops served to identify what went well and what could be done differently during the next wave. After all, there is always room for improvement. As a group, we can only learn and grow from this. This will make us stronger together.