TONL Monthly
October 2020

Finding Our Way in the Storm

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By Gretchen Hunt, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, NEA-BC

In the early part of 2020, our lives changed dramatically. The change was felt by healthcare workers (HCW) both professionally and personally. Some can tell you they felt “it” barreling toward our hospitals like a tornado that could not be stopped. HCWs and their leaders braced for the impact.

In Texas, this “tornado” arrived as we moved into early spring. Thankfully the lessons shared by our international, east coast and west coast partners provided us with some tools to prepare. We learned the importance of proper personal protective equipment (PPE), valid testing, and innovative ideas. HCWs shared innovative ideas they learned through social media plus concepts they designed on their own. Despite the lessons and preparations, fear among the team was palpable.

Our leaders, especially our front-line nursing leaders, worked diligently to calm staff, provide them resources, and support their needs. We used Maslow’s hierarchy as the baseline, making sure they had plenty of food, water, and time for rest. As the pandemic grew and concerns were raised that our hospitals may exceed capacity, our state leaders responded, and we paused elective surgeries. This allowed us to cross-train clinical staff for COVID units and further support the teams.

During this early journey, our teams, the state, and our country came together with compassion and caring not witnessed since 9-11.

As spring turned to summer and pandemic hospitalization numbers became manageable, we returned to our “new normal.” This included resuming elective procedures, a plan for testing those having procedures, and resuming business as usual. While most hospitals were able to return to “new normal,” the state continued to have partial shutdowns and mandatory masking in public. The public became restless, and as time went on social media became the platform for their frustrations. Information was manipulated and mutated like the virus being discussed. Social media and the firestorm it created became an added emotionally exhausting force for the HCW.

Now HCWs scrambled to care for those physically ill in the healthcare settings and the emotionally stressed in the public. Some misinformation was so confounding that you could almost hear the HCWs collective sigh. The need for transparent beneficial information became our new mission as leaders and community health advocates. During this time, we recognized the need to refresh ourselves on communication tools and resources. As a leader we must take caution to recognize our emotional triggers and the potential unintended consequences of quick responses.

Here are several we used and /or were shared by others:

Recently a CNO peer shared this good communication tool during a reflection. I have heard this one before, and this was a good reminder. Developed by the British Evangelist, pastor and author Alan Redpath, it  recommends you pause and use this question before responding:

T.H.I.N.K. Is it True, Is it Helpful, Is it Inspiring, Is it Necessary, Is it Kind?

As we worked through the response to the pandemic, we needed to find ways to involve our teams. Those at the front line knew what the barriers and challenges to their daily activities were. “A leader's job is to help formulate, motivate and congratulate” (Magee, 2000). Senior hospital leaders rounded frequently, completed virtual town halls, and had daily pandemic huddles facilitating these strategies. We celebrated small wins and recognized “heroes” publicly daily.

Magee notes that “[c]ommunication involves the ability to inform, convince, persuade and entertain.” We used all these the past few months. While the idea of entertaining HCW teams may sound silly in this time, our sense of humor and ability to find the good daily has helped to sustain our spirits. There have been numerous funny memes reflecting the varied “Jumanji” levels of 2020 and the extremes we may need to go in the event PPE runs low. At moments it seemed humor was all we had.

Thanks to our HCW heroes and their unbelievable spirit.

In closing, as the TONL Education Committee chair, I am excited to share that we plan to hold our annual TONL conference as a virtual event February 24 – 26, 2021. The talented education committee is diligently working to address the webinar platform, agenda setting plus finalizing speakers. The committee will soon push out a request for poster abstracts. Clearly based on the past 10 months the team felt sharing experiences around the pandemic was important. Based on this, the theme will be: “Rising Above Adversity: Innovations in Nursing Leadership.” Please watch for more information to come and we look forward to you joining our conference


Magee, M. MD (2000) Positive Leadership Spencer books


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