The Changing Role of Planners and the Planning Function During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By The SHSMD Team posted 29 days ago

group of medical professionals
Lisa Crockett, executive director, strategy and planning at Providence St. Joseph Health in Tumwater, Washington, shared insights in a podcast interview on how the planning function and organizational roles of planners have changed during this crisis.

Reaching out and Connecting with People Like Never Before

Crockett pointed out that as well as unprecedented challenges, the pandemic creates unequalled opportunities. “Eyes are on us in health care right now and we have a chance to tell our stories, to explain what it is like on the front lines…to form strong working relationships with other partners in the community, with our patients, with their families. That’s really incredible…so long as we have that platform and eyes are on us, I want to make sure that we’re reaching out and connecting with people like never before.”

Potential Lasting Impacts in Partnerships

Companies all over the world are pivoting to create PPE, ventilators and sanitizing products and in Washington, a furniture manufacturer partnered with Providence St. Joseph Health to make masks for the hospital.

Crockett added, “I hope that there are lasting impacts around some of these new working relationships and partnerships…we’re sharing resources and best practices and knowledge at a rate that [I’ve not] seen at other times…people are so willing to share what they’re trying, what’s working, what’s not working, how we can truly learn from one another.” She also emphasized the importance of thinking creatively about challenges, thinking of other organizations that health care strategists can turn to for solutions beyond “our normal go-to list within our Rolodex or email.”

She noted the strengths of the SHSMD community and how “they have been very open to sharing their communication tools…there’s just a lot of knowledge and resources that we can leverage to solving problems together.”

Role of Planning

Crockett describes her planning team as “small but mighty.” Structurally, the team is located in the system office and they work in partnership with strategy leaders in each region. They also work closely with other departments throughout the organization.

During a crisis like this, Crockett said, it’s even more important to look at her team members as whole people. Her team has more frequent huddles and part of the huddle is asking about each team member’s situation, their health and that of their loved ones and asking what concerns they have. Sometimes the team can brainstorm or share solutions, such as where they found cleaning wipes or toilet paper locally. “In order for us to be effective in our roles, we may need to make sure that we’re whole ourselves.”

Turn to, Don’t Toss the Strategic Plan

In addition to making sure her team members feel supported and loved, “beyond that, you look at your team priorities of what we have to keep moving and what we might need to slow down, pause or delay.” Crockett emphasized that this time of disruption calls for more, rather than less attention to strategic plans. “Just because we’re facing a challenge like COVID, it does not mean that we throw out the plan wholesale.

Instead, the team has to look at the strategic plan and decide what needs to be accelerated, what needs to progress but at a slower rate and what needs to stop. By keeping the context of the strategic plan foremost, they can make sure that the approaches they take will fulfill the longer-term plans, not just the immediate needs of the day. In addition to making these decisions, the strategy team needs to communicate the decisions and the reasoning behind them.

Crockett cited telehealth and virtual care as examples of strategies that needed to be accelerated. Like many health care providers, their strategic plan already included a shift in volume to digital and virtual platforms. COVID-19 made this an immediate priority and Crockett commented, “The important lesson learned is that we can be very nimble and very fast when we need to be,” and cited the importance of nimbleness in Bridging Worlds: The Future Role of the Health Care Strategist.

Especially for a large system, Crockett shared, “This is really a time of standing shoulder to shoulder with a lot of colleagues system wide and leaning on everybody's area of expertise, recognizing that we all hold a piece of the puzzle and that together we can form those pieces into the big picture.” In another example, the planning team knew that they needed to work with their government affairs and legal teams to find ways to expand capacity rapidly, far faster than the standard approval processes.

“Planners and strategists were called on to essentially use our existing skills in different ways. Sometimes there were days where we were doing a lot of ad hoc analytics and data support for other teams…information that we needed to have at our fingertips right away so that clinical and supply chain leaders could make informed decisions around next steps.” They also had to anticipate future needs such as creating the processes to capture information needed for government reimbursements. Another role is “being that voice of calm, the reminder to see the big picture.”

“Within a time like COVID, there’s always this give and take between the operations and the strategy sides of the organization. We need to keep operations front and center and at the same time, look long-term to see that big picture and recognize that we’re not moving away from our mission, our values or our vision…even in the frantic day to day where we’re seeing a lot of change.”

For the full podcast of this interview with Lisa Crockett and the rest of the SHSMD COVID-19 Conversation series, click here.

For more on strategic planning, visit SHSMD’s Resource Library’s collection of planning materials.

For more on responding to COVID-19, visit the SHSMD collection of COVID-19 resources, including links to AHA resources.

SHSMD members can share resources, ideas and questions with peers in the MySHSMD community.