The Surgeon General Vivek Murthy last week sounded the alarm on healthcare worker burnout and resignation with an official advisory. As a laboratory serving the skilled nursing facility community and as an employer in the healthcare space, leadership at Lifescan Labs is paying close attention.
Burnout in healthcare was an issue prior to the pandemic that’s only been exacerbated by it. This advisory from our nation’s highest medical office has been a long time coming.
Doctors, CNAs, nurses, skilled nursing home staff and others dealing with patients on a daily basis have worked in crisis mode for over two years of the pandemic. Exhaustion, coupled with staff shortages make healthcare worker burnout a public health emergency.
Behind the scenes, staff at labs around the world, like Lifescan Labs, have worked around the clock, 24/7 to get patients and providers fast results to COVID tests and others as well. Lifescan alone has processed over 2 million COVID tests, with a 24-hour turnaround.
Just like at every other healthcare facility, staff at Lifescan have worked overtime to fill in for employees out sick and for those who burnt out entirely. Everyone feels the burden of the war with COVID we’ve experienced.
The Surgeon General chose this May’s Mental Health Awareness Month as the time to put the weight of his office behind the problem.
Here are just some of the issues Americans face in light of healthcare burnout:
There’s a projected shortage of more than 3 million essential low-wage health workers in the next five years.
For physicians, that number is nearly 140,000 by 2033.
The pandemic didn’t help these sobering statistics as health workers risked and even sacrificed their lives in the service of others while responding to COVID-19.
The cause of burnout is multifaceted and complex. According to the advisory report, “There are a range of societal, cultural, structural, and organizational factors that contribute to burnout among health workers.”
Addressing burnout in the SNF space as a lab
At the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, it was clear that skilled nursing facilities would be disproportionately affected. LifeScan Laboratories CEO Elly Kutoff knew that the SNFs who made up the majority of the lab’s customer base would need unprecedented support to manage the pending crisis.
These were teams that were already often short staffed and exhausted. “We stepped into action to do whatever we could to support SNFs and businesses as well to face seemingly insurmountable challenges,” says Kutoff.
That meant making the process to ramp up testing whole facilities of residents and staff as easy as possible. Lifescan developed a barcode process that would eliminate the slow process of writing patient information on forms and vials or entering it into a computer. Instead, SNF staff just had to slap a sticker onto a vial.
To process all those tests quickly, the LifeScan team built a full-scale molecular lab in an astonishing three months’ time.
Lifescan also developed a Mobile Response Team of phlebotomy trained in serving seniors, who could collect samples on site. This meant SNF facilities in the Chicagoland area could access fast, accurate test results without burdening their employees to collect the specimens.
Addressing healthcare burnout for phlebotomists and lab workers
Behind the scenes of every COVID test (or any specimen) is a phlebotomist who collected it, a courier who delivered it and a lab worker who processed it. Like every other healthcare employee, these team members too are suffering from exhaustion and even burnout.
To support our staff at Lifescan, that means focusing on culture and hiring. COO Matt Linker says, “We are shifting from a ‘just get it done’ mindset to a proactive management positioning and a focus on the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement.”
Here’s how we’re continuously working on improving both culture and hiring:
We segmented operations between preanalytical and laboratory operations so that each segment has the leadership and support they need. The preanalytical includes the following field operations team members: phlebotomy, couriers, COVID team, supply, processing and dispatch.
New management hierarchy and leadership opportunities
The lab directors are then able to focus on the laboratory operations, support the teams and focus on growth, including our exciting upcoming move to a bigger laboratory. We also added a COVID Manager and a Phlebotomy Manager to support the operations, along with re-zoning our existing geographical structures.
We empowered our supervisors to lead their teams differently by putting more ownership around scheduling, routing, and overall management of their teams.
So far this new hierarchy is proving to show significant improvement to support the overall lab operations and employees better, more efficiently and effectively.
We are recruiting a director of field operations to work with the field operations and partner with our director of laboratory operations.
Improved processes to ease employees’ job and support more recognition
A new mobile app in development will streamline field operations, supporting both our teams and clients. The app will add visibility into completed work, tracking specimens and real-time data to monitor our daily operations.
Linker says, “We expect to see improved turn-around times, efficiency and improved employee morale with the simple use of an app versus a manual process. We will also be able to reward our top performers with the visibility that will be created.”
Dispatch is transitioning from our field operations into our Resolution teams department, where they will work closely with our resolution teams and work in a more structured environment that aligns more with their existing job duties.
Linker says, “The goal is to put the right people in the correct positions to be successful while creating an empowered workforce with the autonomy to operate in their space, take risks, and hold their teams to a high standard while having the corporate office resource to support them as needed.”
Employee benefits support for mental health
As part of Lifescan’s employee benefits program, all employees are eligible for a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP). WorkLife Matters through Guardian provides guidance and support for any personal issues or challenges, whether it’s a life event or on a day-to-day basis.
WorkLife Matters includes:
- Unlimited free telephonic consultation with an EAP counselor available 24/7 at 800-386-7055
- Referrals to local counselors — up to three sessions free of charge
- A resource library of over 3,400 helpful articles on topics like wellness, training courses and a legal and financial center
This is just the beginning of growth and improved processes at our laboratory. “Our people are our greatest asset, and they all have a voice at Lifescan. We will determine all of our strategic initiatives and execution plans through a collaborative team approach. Not only will this improve the quality of service we provide, but it will also create a culture of ownership, and improve the quality of life our employees experience while working at Lifescan,” says Linker.
As for healthcare burnout, we recognize it’s not going away any time soon. In the meantime, we’re doing what we can to support our employees and the teams working at our clients’ facilities.
Burnout is going to take our whole society to fix, as Murthy outlines in the advisory. “If not addressed, the health worker burnout crisis will make it harder for patients to get care when they need it, cause health costs to rise, hinder our ability to prepare for the next public health emergency, and worsen health disparities.”
We plan to do our part.
Want to join our growing team at a company focused on career growth and culture? We’re hiring! Check out our jobs here.