Hospitals and health care providers are making preparations for winter as cooler weather moves gatherings indoors and many states record their highest-ever numbers of diagnoses and deaths. Despite COVID fatigue, providers of all kinds must draw upon their experiences from the spring at the outset of the pandemic and adopt new policies and procedures to protect patients and staff.
As thought leaders and influencers in the towns and cities they serve, health care systems must continue as responsible stewards of their communities’ health by encouraging preventive behaviors like wearing face coverings and social distancing. They can serve as trusted sources of information at a time when rumors and conflicting guidance leave people unsure what information is correct.
Preparing now will provide a clear path for your organization and offer important information for your community as we move into the colder months. Consider these ideas to help refresh and revitalize your outreach efforts for the season ahead:
1. No surprises – Don’t let the first time patients or visitors find out about your COVID-19 practices be at your door. Clearly communicate any updates well in advance and through multiple channels so patients know about changes in traffic patterns, parking locations, entrances, etc. This is especially important for people with COVID-19 symptoms.
2. Seek out coverage – Your media outlets are keen on having a local perspective on national stories. Reach out to newsrooms to offer to talk about why it’s important to stay vigilant this winter and plan holidays safely. Think about making clinical personnel available, especially as vaccine guidance is issued; they can reinforce the importance of annual flu shots, too. Set clear expectations that comments will be limited to preventing the spread of COVID-19 (not political commentary).
3. (Net)work it – Many traditional networking channels remain virtual. Ask for a couple of minutes on the agenda of every online public meeting you attend to talk about the outlook in your community and encourage face coverings, social distancing and other ways people can slow the spread.
4. Freshen up – Temporary signage and floor markers that went up in the spring are starting to show wear. Consider replacing them with fresh, updated materials to demonstrate you are still committed to maintaining a safe place for healing and health.
5. Share you are prepared – The spring saw critical shortages of masks and other PPE, forcing some health care systems to make difficult choices about how to maximize limited supplies. Start a dialogue with internal audiences, then the larger community, about the steps your organization has taken in recent months to ensure you are ready.
6. Prioritize your people – Make sure medical staff, employees and volunteers hear first about news and updates. They are your organizations’ most powerful spokespeople. What they say about their workplace influences community perception, especially whether they feel safe at work (or not).
7. Prepare your team – Winter will stress your staffs’ already taxed emotional resources. They may be still recovering from the events of this spring, unsure if they will be able to see loved ones this holiday or dealing with financial strain. Make sure they know where to find mental health resources, like EAP, now.
8. Maintain your composure – No matter your best efforts at transparency and proactive communication, there may be heated confrontations as the stress of emotional patients or loved ones is compounded by illness, uncertainty or fear. Remind personnel, especially at points of entry, of de-escalation tactics and service recovery efforts.
As health care organizations know better than anyone, flexibility is key, so taking these steps now can help you prepare for the coming months. If your COVID response or the outlook in your community changes, communicate clearly and quickly to protect the health and safety of your teams and the people you serve.
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