Lifting Each Other in Challenging Times

By Rand O’Leary

Recently, I had an opportunity to check in with leaders across the healthcare industry to pause and reflect on the past two years of caring for our community and each other in the midst of a pandemic. We talked about what we have learned about ourselves, our teams, and what we want to do differently moving forward.

In hospitals and healthcare entities across the country, healthcare workers are feeling worn out physically and emotionally, and many are leaving in numbers not seen in the past.  Personally, I’m an optimist by nature, but these have been incredibly challenging times, and there are days, I must admit, I wake up feeling a bit discouraged. Despite months of our very best efforts, it is now clear that COVID will be with us in some form or fashion for the foreseeable future.  That slow realization has been demoralizing and downright depressing to people who have given so much of themselves—in fact, all they have—to protect and care for others. 

As these healthcare leaders and I discussed our experiences, the question foremost on my mind was this: with so much bringing us down, what can we do to lift each other up?  We must respond to these difficult times with a deep sense of caring, understanding, and support for one another and our communities.

What can we do for each other?

Articles and books about the importance of self-care in stressful times abound. They recommend that we focus on the positive, celebrate small wins, get regular exercise, schedule alone time, and recharge doing things you love.  These are just a few practices for staying physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Behaviors like these are essential, and I encourage you to pursue them.

However, we must also be willing to not only look within but also reach out to those around us with genuine care, concern, and encouragement. We must lift each other up in hard times. 

Here are just a few ways we can do that:

  • Give each other permission to disengage and unplug outside of work hours
  • Encourage regular use of time off
  • Trust your team and your teammates
  • Offer open, honest communication
  • Remind each other of the importance of the work you’re doing
  • Consider what the past two years have been like for others on your team
  • Listen to others when they share their struggles

Leaders, in particular, must take on the responsibility of checking in regularly with their people. Find some time at the beginning of each meeting to see how everyone is doing. Make space for that. Not everyone will know how to reach out and talk about what has been challenging for them. So, take the initiative in meetings and in private conversations.

Ask your team: Are you making time for your family? Things you enjoy? Do you feel able to disconnect? Then be willing to really listen to what they’re saying. You may not have all the answers. You may not be able to fix it. But just knowing that you are aware, looking for solutions, and caring about them will help them feel supported.

What have we gained?

Another way we can encourage each other in the face of the losses of the past two years is to remind each other of all we have gained.  We have come to realize that we are stronger than we could have imagined. We have gone through this rite of passage, and we are still here. As a team, we are closer, nimbler, and more decisive. We’ve passed the test and shown that together we have what it takes. 

We have earned the trust of the communities we care for.  Our mission and values aren’t just words on a wall, but are in our hearts and behavior.  We have a deeper commitment to support our patients, our staff, and ourselves.  We have learned how to approach each day with a sense of hope and keep moving forward.

I challenge you to create an opportunity for you and your team to reflect on all you have been through personally and together as an organization during the pandemic.  It doesn’t necessarily require much; you could simply cover one topic or question at each meeting.

Ask these questions:

  • What have been the struggles and challenges of these past two years?
  • How have you been able to “fill your bucket” emotionally?
  • What is something you need from me? From the other people on this team?
  • What do we have to celebrate—big or small?
  • What is one thing I can do today to uplift someone around me?

The pandemic has certainly brought much change to our organizations, teams, ourselves, and the people we serve.  But our mission to care for those less fortunate, the vulnerable, the sick, the poor and afraid, will never change, and in reality, has only gotten stronger. 

Rand O’Leary, FACHE is the Senior Vice President of Northern Light Health and President of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. He shares his thoughts on leadership and the healthcare industry at randoleary.com.