Preparation and Adaptation: How Rush University Maintained Resilience During COVID-19

By The SHSMD Team posted 05-12-2020 04:46 PM

Rush University System for Health combined preparation and adaptation to remain resilient throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Ryan Nagdeman, AVP of marketing strategy, Rush University System for Health and Julia Brady, president of Envision Brand Advisors LLC took the time to share their thoughts on resilience, adapting preparation designed to respond to terrorist attacks and the importance of leadership during crisis. The full podcast is available online.

Rush’s preparation started back in 2012, when Rush constructed its hospital tower, the first in Chicago designed for a mass outbreak of a highly infectious disease. The tower has 40 negative pressure rooms; three separate units in its emergency department and a separate room for every ED bed; an entry bay that can be arrayed to isolate new patients and other features optimized for rapid isolation and treatment. In addition to this, Rush has emphasized building its virtual care and telehealth capacity in more recent years, also increasing its ability to respond to highly infectious conditions in mass. Equally importantly, the staff have internalized a state of readiness, saying, “We’re built for this.”

Rush developed a command center and leaders kick off every day at the command center, in person or virtually. They also have a playbook, Excellence Leads the Way: A Playbook for Navigating the Clinical and Operational Challenges of a Global Health Crisis, which helps staff to implement the necessary decisions.

A crisis calls not just for planning but for adaptability and persistence. Nagdeman described the process of getting work done. “We come up with a list of daily assignments, daily communications…and we get through all of it. We’re wildly efficient right now and so we’re also studying that to look at what we can keep from this crisis to embed when normal returns.”

Another key is consistently authentic leadership that conveys assuredness and even calmness. For example, under ordinary conditions, a video message from the CEO would be made from a studio and include rehearsed messaging points. Now, however, the CEO makes a five-minute recording using a cell phone, without rehearsal or even time to edit. Thanks to a spirit of readiness, “[it] needs no editing because he’s on it and he knows every point he needs to hit, because we’re coming out of something we did at the command center.” On another occasion, there was a virtual meeting that was nothing but questions and answers, without an agenda. “Collaboration and transparency are baked into who we are and how we communicate,” resulting in authentic messages. Brady noted that Rush was culturally prepared for that kind of response. “It is much tougher to become that way or shift when you’re in the midst of a crisis.”

While focused on responding to community needs, Rush’s leadership was also very much aware of the impact of COVID-19 on staff’s personal lives, the stress of working on the front lines and of balancing work and caring for their own families. The transition to having as many staff as possible working from home was difficult, Nagdeman said, but “we’re learning about that right now…we’re making things normal.” Despite the seriousness of the situation, they recognize that team building and relaxing for a while can help motivation. As time allows, “it’s okay to have a virtual trivia hour and still have a little fun.” Nagdeman advises, “Keep looking for moments like that and endorse it so that way, people don’t feel guilty.” He adds, “We’re also saying if you need help, just raise your hand…we’ve gotten really flexible with the time and I think when we come back to the office environment, we should think about incorporating some of these learnings.”
Brady adds, “If you can take moments during your day to say hello to a friend, to go for a quick walk, to do some things, these mental health breaks, do it, because there are going to be times that you may have to respond to a crisis at nine o'clock at night or 10:00 AM on a Sunday.”

For the rest of the SHSMD COVID-19 Conversation series, please 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.

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