As we lead our organizations through the COVID pandemic, the stress on leaders is just as acute as the stress on providers. Here is a leader who took it out on their staff, and how they responded:
“I was in a stakeholder meeting and yelled at someone. I was on day 32 without a break. Broke down crying after that. I recognized my need for a day off and started giving my team a day off per week starting then, and quickly tried to move to a “normal schedule” as quickly as we could.”
Raphael M. Barishansky, EMS thought leader, had some observations. “It’s hard for us to disconnect from our workplaces in normal times, and the pandemic has made it even harder. We are constantly answering telephone calls, emails, and texts no matter where we are and what we are doing. The stakes with COVID are so high that now we feel like every message could be life and death. As leaders, we need to let the folks who work for us know that they are allowed downtime, and even go so far as to enforce it. Disconnect personnel for periods of time and avoid sending them messages during these periods. As employees, we have to learn how to manage ‘up’ as well, triaging the things we respond to and putting off things that don’t need to be dealt with right away. It’s hard to break the habit of responding immediately to get it off our plate and move on to the next issue.”
Michelle Kobayashi, Administrative Director of EMS at Hackensack University Medical Center, suggests using the tools you already have. “Don’t wait until your team is overwhelmed to establish operational periods. When running a long-term major event, we know that we quickly establish lines of responsibility and clear handoff of that responsibility. This pandemic is just a very slow-moving, very long-term ICS event.” Michelle notes that mental health and resiliency need to be part of your planning for your leaders, in addition to your front-line team members. “The hardest part is protecting your downtime. With an incident of this size and scope, as a leader you may feel the need to always have your finger on the pulse. There will be times when only you have the information needed by other team members. Triage communication needs just like you would triage multiple patients. Give yourself permission to not respond immediately unless it’s absolutely necessary. Know which of your team members can handle the different aspects of your program so you can delegate effectively.”
To everyone fighting the pandemic, please take care of yourselves. This is the hardest thing that any of us have ever done, and we will be measured by how we rise to this challenge. There is nothing wrong with taking a breather, stepping back and regrouping, and coming back to the table. No matter your role, be honest about how you’re doing, talk to your peers for support, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
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