COVID-19 Caregiver Collaborative: Surge Timing Determines Caregiver Needs

Added on Apr 9, 2020

By Jessica Dudley, MD, Chief Clinical Officer


In this space, I previously shared themes that emerged from the first two meetings of the COVID-19 Caregiver Collaborative. The Collaborative was convened to discuss the challenges front-line caregivers are facing in the COVID-19 pandemic and to share strategies and tactics for addressing them. The themes included collaboration, candidness, creativity, and consistency as they relate to six areas: physical safety, emotional well-being, surge capacity, ethical decisions, financial concerns, and communication.

Our third meeting felt different. There was a new level of intensity as participants from organizations that are further along in their surge shared their experiences, with the express goal of helping others who are in their “calm before the storm” phase.

While collaboration, candidness, and creativity continue to shine through, consistency of planning and action across the group is no longer possible because of this separation between those who are in the surge and those who are anticipating it. Timing has become the differentiator, and those who are in the surge have much to offer those who see it on the horizon.

Among those who have entered the surge, four themes emerged: the importance of collaboration and centralized policies, the shift from planning to proactive deployment, leadership succession planning and communication, and psychological support.

Collaboration and centralization of policies: Health systems are collaborating across cities and states to support resource needs (e.g., sufficient PPE) and to address challenging ethical decisions, such as policies for rationing of resources. Working together in this way strengthens battle readiness.

Proactive deployment of practices: There has been a shift from developing ideas to deploying practices that address pressing concerns. Examples include establishing processes for safely donning and doffing protective gear and clothing and engaging palliative care providers to round with hospital medicine, ICU, and ED teams.

Leadership succession planning and communication: The rapid spread and reach of the pandemic has elevated the importance of succession planning for all leaders. Organizations that have created contingency plans in case a leader becomes ill report that doing so eases anxiety and creates a stronger foundation. On the communication side, individuals from organizations in the surge stress the importance of reliable, succinct communication as one “source of truth” that is easy to access and can be reviewed quickly. For some, this means replacing meetings with regular emails that include links to resources. Others report that brief virtual town halls delivered daily by leadership to all employees have been helpful.

Psychological support: The psychological and emotional support needed by caregivers differs based on individual need and where an organization is in the surge. The immediate and longer-term psychological impact of the pandemic on staff is significant. For those who are dealing with the surge, traumatic stress has become more apparent, including the impact of witnessing colleagues becoming ill and, sometimes, becoming patients.

This has been a challenging week, especially for those who have entered the surge. For those who are not yet there, the lessons are clear: Make the best use of the time you have to prepare by addressing anticipated staffing shortages, developing succession plans, providing caregivers with resources to stay physically and emotionally healthy, and collaborating aggressively. We are in this together.


Visit our dedicated COVID-19 webpage for additional resources, including an Executive Summary of each week's meeting.