Awards

At the Frontlines

HRO Today’s 2021 People in Healthcare Summit highlighted the incredible work of HR leaders at healthcare organizations during unprecedented times.

By Zee Johnson

HRO Today’s 2021 People in Healthcare Summit, held in Houston, TX, brought together HR, healthcare, and business professionals who worked relentlessly to implement programs that supported frontline workers through burnout, talent shortages, social unrest, and the transition to remote work where applicable. Senior-level HR practitioners and chief nursing officers gathered to discuss the best practices that sharpened their skills on talent acquisition.

CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHT: CHRO PANEL
Three CHROs exchanged their pandemic tales and shared what methods helped their organizations survive and thrive.

The healthcare industry has overcome a world of change since March 2020, and their resiliency along with their focused, empathetic, and humane leadership, allowed them to conquer unprecedented challenges. Arguably the sector that saw the most changes while working on the frontlines of the pandemic, their efforts inspired professionals and people across the world. Some have pondered, “How are they going to work every day?” “Did they want to quit?” “Are they scared?” And some healthcare professionals still don’t have these answers.

Three CHROs gave a glimpse into how they built the best practices that saved thousands of lives and strengthened an entire industry.

How They Did It
The 11th Annual People in Healthcare Summit featured a CHRO panel facilitated by Elliot Clark, CEO of HRO Today, with Vicki Cansler, chief human resources officer of Piedmont Health; Bet Rosa, chief human resources officer of VNA Health Group; and Eric Humphrey, senior vice president and chief human resources officer of Froedtert Health. This “courageous conversation” gave the audience a firsthand perspective on what it was like leading an organization through an unforeseen crisis. Each CHRO detailed their approaches and the lessons they learned along the way that helped lead their companies to the other side.

All could agree that one of the biggest challenges their organizations faced at the beginning of the pandemic was reassuring staff of their workplace safety. With misinformation running rampant from person to person and all across social media, these CHROs worked overtime to get in front of the problem. “It was tough because people didn’t believe us,” Cansler said. “There was still so much unknown. During the early days at Piedmont, we had a culture of not making decisions quickly—then we did. But were very clear through the partnership with our quality, safety, and service personnel on the protocols that they should follow.”

To ease employee worry as best they could, the primary focus became educating and equipping company staff and leaders on evolving company policies and keeping them up-to-date on new government mandates.

Another shared notion across the panel was the impact that the global push for greater well-being support had on their workforce. If the pandemic revealed anything, it showed how important it was to talk purposefully about all aspects of well-being, and how such empathy and understanding can have a huge effect on the strength and vitality of their businesses. Some leaders hired therapists to help stressed and anguished staff members sort through their emotions, and some began employee resource groups to provide comfort and instill trust.

“We have bereavement coordinators and clergy [that] decided that they wanted to be a part of the solution for our employees,” Rosa said. “They started things like music therapy at 12 noon every day to sing a couple of songs and relieve stress. The clergy gave their cell numbers out to all 2,500 of our employees and said if there’s ever a time you need to take a stop, just pick the phone up and call me. It was people taking care of people.”

From social injustices occurring across the country—instances that sparked new conversations and inspired DEI programs that some companies hadn’t seen before—to combating the talent shortage, these CHROs worked endlessly to ensure businesses survival.

A lasting takeaway? Though these leaders came face to face with life-altering events for many grueling months, in the end, they came out stronger, more efficient, and more agile in preparation for what’s to come.

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