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Children's Hospital Association: Examining Children’s Hospital Employee Burnout with New Urgency

By Kelly Church

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was raging across the country. Cities were quickly shutting down, urging residents to stay home. Medical facilities, including children’s hospitals, hit pause on elective procedures and leaned into telehealth to care for patients. But children’s hospitals were met with a confusing crisis.

COVID-19 was affecting fewer pediatric patients compared to the adult population, yet children’s hospitals were faced with revenue shortfalls, staff­ing changes, new policies and procedures, preparations for taking in adult patients, and general fear of the unknown. The censuses may have been down, but COVID-19 was felt in every corner of children’s hospitals. Leaders feared a looming mental health cri­sis for their teams and faced new challenges in meeting their needs.

While burnout in health care workers is not new, children’s hospitals are now seeing it through the lens of a public health crisis.

“There’s more of a sense of urgency now,” says Jennifer Bickel, M.D., medical director, Professional Well-being at Children’s Mercy Kansas City in Missouri. “Every domain of people’s lives has changed. Add in a personal safety concern like people have never had before, job insecurity for themselves or a family member, financial stress, and we’re talking about a much more fragile workforce.”

Understanding the level of stress its teams were under, Children’s Mercy surveyed employees to understand their needs and reported those needs back to team leads. This helped the organization identify where people were struggling and outline ways leaders could consider being flexible, including creative scheduling ideas and simplifying the approval pro­cess for shifting full-time employees to higher-demand areas when needed.

“Where can we bend where haven’t bent before?” Bickel says. “One of the things that was clear from the survey was we needed to provide as much flexibility as we could.”

Children’s hospitals were left to find new ways to bring peo­ple together—and fast. 

At Children’s Mercy, most programming went virtual after shutdowns started in the spring, which included meditation, support groups, one-on-one support meetings and mind­fulness training. Bickel says the hospital is seeing higher engagement now that these programs are held virtually be­cause it introduces fewer barriers to access. Leadership has committed to keeping options for virtual support, even after the pandemic.

Virtual roundtables also started as an opportunity for lead­ers to come together as peers. Realizing leaders often don’t get a chance to talk to other leaders, Bickel says these round­tables have been a welcomed safe space to work through chal­lenges and stressors.

“It’s giving leaders the opportunity to be vulnerable because they carry so much,” Bickel says. “Their teams are falling apart a little bit more. They’re having staff­ing concerns. Leadership matters, and no well-being endeavor is going to be effective if it just focuses on how people respond and not also how leaders lead.”


Read the full story via Children's Hospital Association

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