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Health Centers in the New Era of Emergency Preparedness

Health Centers in the New Era of Emergency Preparedness

Early 2020 ushered us into a new era of society, healthcare, and preparedness. Despite decades of pandemic planning, our reality was rapidly and drastically impacted by the spread of the novel SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus. Health Centers have played a vital role in response to the ongoing Public Health Emergency (PHE) for over two years, and the lessons learned have been many and shared across the healthcare and public health sectors. Engaging Florida’s Community Health Centers in After-Action Reporting, FACHC has recognized how long-standing CHC characteristics, such as their mission-driven culture, adaptability, and system-based approaches, have been instrumental in overcoming significant challenges primarily related to shifting patient demands, staffing, and global supply chain issues.

Although working through the COVID pandemic was navigating a whole new territory, CHCs have significant experience responding to emergencies and disasters, having dealt with hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, infectious disease outbreaks, flooding, and even ice storms. The communication and coordination capabilities of CHCs have been demonstrated consistently, developing resilience and a unique perspective on the importance of emergency management and Whole Community Preparedness’

Now more than ever, CHCs are meeting the diverse and growing needs of vulnerable populations, individuals without healthcare coverage, and those seeking patient-centered care close to home. CHCs’ ability to address a wide range of primary care issues, from dental to behavioral health, makes them a crucial part of the nation’s healthcare infrastructure and pandemic recovery. Prompted by the pandemic’s restrictions and a focus on safety for all, CHCs launched expanded telehealth operations to enhance access to care. Another point of expansion has been seen in mobile health operations, with CHCs bringing testing and vaccination services into communities that would otherwise remain out of reach. With support from HRSA’s various supply programs, CHCs have distributed hundreds of thousands of at-home tests and N95 masks, and are positioned to play a significant role in the National Test-to-Treat program.

Looking ahead, the 2022 Hurricane Season is predicted to be above-average yet again. This annual focus on the tropics is now commonly paired with a discussion of the short- and long-term effects of climate change, especially across Florida.  Focusing on preventative measures, CHCs can take steps to fortify their facilities and adjust plans to address environmental risks and evacuation zones. Flood protection and emergency power supply options (including generators and solar options) can be explored and possibly funded through Mitigation grants and other partnership initiatives. Across all phases of Emergency Management (mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery), the importance of integrating with local partners and regional Health Care Coalitions (HCCs) cannot be understated.  Ongoing HCC engagement supports effective communication and coordination and further defines CHC and partner roles at the local level.

The cycle of preparedness promotes continuous planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking corrective action (improving) to enhance capabilities in incident response. FACHC supports all CHCs in these efforts while maintaining situational awareness among various State, Federal, and NGO partners, providing training and deploying resources/equipment to support emergency operations statewide. Through robust communication and enhanced coordination, CHCs will continue to emerge as resilient leaders in the new era of healthcare emergency preparedness and response.  

Gianna Van Winkle, MBA
Director, Emergency Management Programs
Florida Association of Community Health Centers, Inc.

Key Strategies that Make the Workforce Roller Coaster a Less Scary Ride

Key Strategies to Make the Workforce Roller Coaster Ride Less Scary

Lately, the nation's jobs marketplace appears to be on a roller coaster ride, especially within healthcare. With record resignations and work separations, many feel as though they are headed up to the first big climb on a roller coaster. The anticipation of who may leave next feels daunting; however, that churn means there are lots of qualified candidates looking for jobs, and employers have the opportunity to acquire truly talented individuals (similar to the thrill of that first big drop on the roller coaster). Like any scary ride, the ups and downs don't stop there. The seemingly insurmountable wage war represents the twists and turns; an organization's obligation to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workforce, and the effort that this obligation requires, can feel like a big loop that turns you upside down before setting you straight again. In the end, the roller coaster returns you to level ground. But any ride worth its merit gives its riders a badge of honor, having experienced profound elements that leave one with a new perspective. In many ways, the current jobs marketplace can do the same for Community Health Centers.

So, what should CHCs be focusing on to navigate the current jobs marketplace?

Know Your Data: We all collect data; it's the nature of a Community Health Center. Data collection is generally established for external reporting or internal purposes. From a workforce development perspective, the fundamental strategy is using this data. To use the data, a CHC must know its data. Simply put, what is the story that your data is telling you?

For the workforce, data collection should focus on every aspect of your employees' engagement: from pipeline development to recruitment, to sourcing and selection, to workplace engagement, to retention, to advancement, and finally to separation. Within each of those phases, the data has a story to tell. For example, patterns from pipeline development to recruitment can help gauge how effective an organization's outreach is; further, separation data will help tell why someone is leaving to define trends. Suppose a significant number of mid-level employees are leaving. In that case, the “Great Resignation” is hitting an organization hard, or if a substantial number of first-year employees are leaving, there's a perfect opportunity for a mentorship program. Understanding the story behind your data is often the first step in understanding your workforce development strategy.

Leverage Existing Infrastructure: For the most part, CHCs have an expansive workforce development infrastructure. The professionalization of these efforts has taken hold in organizations of all types over the last couple of decades, helping organizations transition from a transactional nature to one focused on relationships and engagement. That's the good news. The even better news is that CHCs don't have to recreate the proverbial 'wheel' to respond to today's workforce challenges. Instead, leveraging your existing infrastructure to adapt to your organization's needs and the workforce is far more effective.

Take, for example, the ever-growing commitment to substantive DEI efforts. Most organizations now know that DEI efforts require far more effort than simply putting together a blue-ribbon committee. Accordingly, the challenge for meaningful changes within an organization related to DEI relies on the actions. Those actions can (and should) be embedded within an organization's existing infrastructure, like training opportunities for hiring managers, utilizing data to understand wage inequity, or utilizing professional development opportunities that lead to advancement. While these strategies require an affirmative commitment, the infrastructure to make these changes already exists and creates significant momentum toward positive change.

Engagement: "Employee engagement" can feel cliched at times. The rhetoric behind employee engagement is self-evident, but the concept is a truism for that very reason: it simply works. We know that individuals often say they leave because of pay. Still, when you look at the data surrounding separations (see the strategy above), engagement (or lack thereof) is often the culprit.

I've said it forever: people take a new job agreeing to a salary or hourly rate; they leave a job because of a lack of engagement. Certainly, this isn't true for all, but it's true enough that we must pay attention to what is truly happening when people leave. Being unhappy with your salary is often a proxy for lack of engagement. If we think about a typical salary complaint, it might start like "I'm not paid enough to deal with…" or "I didn't sign on to have to do…". Is this a complaint about one's salary, or are there other underlying issues?

Employee engagement is how individuals develop agency within their job; no longer simply exchanging time for money, they are contributing to a greater cause (and what greater cause can an individual find than contributing to the health and well-being of our community's most vulnerable populations). Engagement, when authentic, doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. When we use data to understand the needs of the workforce better, engagement can be as simple as job shadowing or job sharing, participation on an organization-wide committee, or mentoring (as a mentor or mentee), all of which are needs of an organization as well. When we help meet the holistic aspirations, engagement becomes powerful for the CHC and the workforce.

Beyond this silly roller coaster metaphor, the state of workforce development is genuinely in a transformational phase. Even though we don't yet know how this will play out, many truisms remain: career pathways for your employees are a tried-and-true strategy; "grow your own" approaches are as effective as ever, and a substantive commitment to DEI will transform your organization.

Steven Bennett, MA, SHRM-SCP
Director, Workforce Programs
Florida Association of Community Health Centers, Inc.