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The Great Resignation: An opportunity to improve the health care workforce?

At the 2022 Health Evolution Summit, health system CEOs discussed ways to leverage the current crisis to improve conditions for employees and consumers alike.

Tom Sullivan | May 3, 2022

There is no issue today more important to CEOs than workforce and that is at least as true in health care as any other industry.

“There are a lot of challenging things happening with health care workforces. We are all dealing with shortages. We’re all dealing with turnover. We’re all dealing with burnout,” said Marc Boom, MD, CEO, Houston Methodist. “COVID 19 may be a reason, but it’s never an excuse.”  

Extensive workforce challenges, in fact, have given rise to what many are calling the Great Resignation or the Great Reshuffling, which forward-looking CEOs view as an opportunity, albeit one born of necessity.

“The Great Resignation — I have to flip that around because this is really a great opportunity for us to act and think differently and try to model the way we take care of people very differently than we ever have in the past,” said Susan Turney, MD, CEO, Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Marshfield, for instance, has reevaluated its compensation, examined areas of excellence in its workforce, and provided stay bonuses and other incentives to maintain employees, all which Turney said are temporary efforts to get the health system through the pandemic. “We have to look at a much longer-term strategy. Part of that ties into your culture and how you automate and how you use different innovative ways or models of care,” Turney added.  

In developing strategies, Sarah Krevans, CEO Emeritus, Sutter Health added that CEOs also need to consider the larger picture and determine what the organization can and cannot do on its own.

“We have to look at our organizational structures. We have to look at work design, we have to look at benefit design, and we also need to accept the fact that some of this is going to need to be done through partnership,” Krevans said. “We’re going to have to think about our solutions to workforce, particularly what we do ourselves and what do we do in partnership or we are never going to get through this.”

Houston Methodist’s Boom said that executives need to be thinking about how to leverage digital tools to improve the experience for the workforce, many of whom have a long history of encountering technologies that make work harder or more time consuming rather than more efficient.

“We need to figure out how we finally use technology to make work better,” Boom said. “First and foremost, that means obsessively thinking about the consumer, the patient experience and, a very close second, making the lives of clinicians better by enabling them to care for more patients who need the things only human beings can do. That makes work more desirable and makes us more sticky as an institution.”

Derek Streat, CEO, DexCare, added: “As we add more technology, more digital tools, it is important that we still maintain a human element when there’s so much pressure to drive efficiency and lower costs.”

That human element is also critical when leading the organization through difficult times because COVID-19 has neither been the only issue nor will it be the last challenge to stress the workforce and make employees question leadership’s decisions.

“We need to live by our mission, vision and values and we need to follow the science regardless of ideology,” Turney said. “We made a choice to do what was right. Most people came with us and those that did not made their own choice.”

Boom, who was the first CEO to require that the workforce receive a COVID-19 vaccine, was sued for doing so, then won the legal battle thereby setting the precedent for other health systems, explained that Houston Methodist’s leadership team used data to guide that decision.

“Whether you’re talking about digital and physical, whether you’re talking about COVID, whether you’re talking about the political environment or whether you’re talking about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion we try to be data driven and apolitical, not take a political stance,” said Boom. “Obviously, the vaccine mandate is a great example of that, but there’s many other things you could look at as well.” 

About the Author

Tom Sullivan, EVP & Editor-in-Chief of Digital Content

Tom Sullivan brings more than two decades in editing and journalism experience to Health Evolution. Sullivan most recently served as Editor-in-Chief at HIMSS, leading Healthcare IT News, Health Finance, MobiHealthNews. Prior to HIMSS Media, Sullivan was News Editor of IDG’s InfoWorld, directing a dozen reporters’ coverage for the weekly print publication and daily website. Contact: toms@healthevolution.com or @SullyHIT on Twitter.