Staffing Hospitals During a Pandemic Crisis

We are currently living in unprecedented times with a worldwide pandemic crisis affecting nearly every aspect of our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has raised serious concern about staffing hospitals and providing adequate patient care in such a high-risk situation. Your healthcare team is on the frontlines, caring for patients who may already be infected.

As the need for healthcare providers surges, you must do everything you can to protect your staff from becoming infected while still providing the best patient care possible. Resources, as well as staff, will be stretched thin. Without a proper plan in place, hospitals and staff may become overwhelmed.

In this article, we'll outline the steps your hospital can take to create a pandemic preparedness plan that addresses as many variables as possible.

Assess the Situation with a Clear Mind

It's normal to feel overwhelmed in a crisis situation, especially when it's something emotional like a pandemic crisis. However, you must do your best not to let that affect your decision-making process. Assessing the situation with a clear mind will help you determine the cause of the problem, look at it from all sides, and choose the best course of action. Remember, when you stay calm and composed, it will inspire confidence in your staff and help them remain calm as well.

Plan to Ensure Adequate Care

A pandemic crisis has been expected among global healthcare officials for a long time. One of the greatest causes for concern during a public health emergency is hospital staffing. According to this article from Emergency Medicine Reports, infectious disease is a daily risk for hospital staff, but during a pandemic crisis, the risk increases exponentially.

Hospital management must do everything they can to prepare for staffing shortages due to illness during a pandemic crisis. According to the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, hospitals should prioritize the following key areas in their plan to ensure adequate care.

  • Refer to CDC projections for your region and plan for surge capacity accordingly.
  • Protect your staff and patients by taking all possible measures to prevent the spread of the illness.
  • Look for ways to supplement, stretch, and maintain the healthcare staff you have available.
  • Be calm and organized when allocating resources to ensure that you can help as many people as possible.

Outline an Emergency Plan

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Having an emergency plan is essential during a pandemic crisis. Your emergency plan should be a collaborative effort with input from your healthcare staff, hospital management, and your hospital's human resources, legal, and finance departments. Consider guidelines from state, national, and global health organizations, as well. Getting as much input as possible will result in a well thought out emergency plan that addresses the widest variety of variables.

According to the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza released by the US Homeland Security Council, your pandemic crisis emergency plan should address three pillar areas

  1. Communication and preparedness
  2. Detection and surveillance of the illness
  3. Response and containment to prevent the spread
When outlining your plan, keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to help as many people as possible while keeping in mind that healthcare staff and other essential resources will likely be limited.

Adapt and Effectively React to Demand Surges

While your emergency plan provides a guideline for how your hospital will react in a pandemic crisis, you must also be ready to adapt and adjust your strategy as necessary. In your pandemic preparedness plan, be sure to include specific goals and targets to help you determine if the plan is working. If you're not achieving the desired outcome in a set timeframe, you'll know it's time to improvise your strategy.

Your plan should also include strategies for effectively reacting to demand surges when your healthcare staff becomes ill. Remember, nursing staff is especially vulnerable during a pandemic. You should consider a plan that includes utilizing retired professionals, experienced volunteers, temporary healthcare workers, and aid from relief agencies to meet demand surges.

That being said, external support will likely be limited during a widespread pandemic. Resources will be spread thin because they'll be needed in so many places. Other issues may prevent your current staff from coming to work too, such as taking care of sick family members or emotional distress due to the difficult situation. Try to be prepared with a contingency plan that can be adapted for all foreseeable issues.

Keep Your Team Safe

All it takes is a look at history to see how crucial it is your team safe is during a pandemic crisis. For example, many healthcare workers, visitors, and patients got sick and transmitted the virus to the community and other hospitals during the SARS outbreak of 2003. As with all viral outbreaks, providing your staff with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) will be crucial.

However, PPE will be in high demand during a pandemic crisis, and shortages are likely. As part of your pandemic preparedness plan, you may want to consider setting aside additional gear to keep your hospital staff safe during the outbreak. In a situation where a shortage is likely, available PPE should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers who are involved with direct care of the sick, as well as those who are already infected.

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