In the Eye of the Storm – Weathering any Natural Disaster in Your Community
“This is not my first hurricane”, I thought, as Florence was about to wreak havoc on Wilmington, NC, and our new home. I have been in North Carolina for 15 years and faced a number of hurricanes and tropical storms as a former hospital CEO, but this time, it was different. From being a leader during a natural disaster to now, as an executive coach, I sit in my dark, powerless, non-air-conditioned house, reflecting on how I would advise an Executive team on “weathering the storm”.
The following guidelines will help your leadership team and staff feel supported throughout the adversity. The end result will be that your patients and their loved ones will get the care and attention they deserve – no matter when they come to us for care.
My thoughts focused on the “Bs” of storm management:
- Be the Leader
- Be Prepared
- Be Seen
- Be the Cheerleader
- Be Understanding
- Be Thankful
Be the Leader and Be Prepared:
Being a leader during a natural disaster, we generally have a good amount of notice that a storm is heading our way. That first warning is the exact time to lead your facility in preparing for the event. The key is making sure you have enough supplies, water, food, meds, etc. to weather the storm. Followed by staffing–Who will stay, do you have accommodations to shelter in place, will you be able to feed the staff, have you established A, B and C teams for relief? Proper preparation is the best insurance for a successful natural disaster survival. The middle of a storm is no time to think you should have ordered more fuel for the generators. I suggest preparing a storm folder with a “To-do “ list to use for easy reference.
Be Seen, Be the Cheerleader:
It is important for the staff’s morale to see you during the storm. Rounding, thanking the staff, helping to lift their spirits is an important job right now; you need to be one of them. When Isabel hit our community 15 years ago, I purposely didn’t shave for a week; it had an amazing effect on the staff, they felt I was with them. My wife works for the local healthcare system running their physician practices; during hurricane Florence, she didn’t need to be present onsite, however, she listened to the twice daily, status update communication conference call. Each one was led by the system CEO, and he always had an uplifting story and praised the staff who were sheltered in place for those five to six days.
Storms frequently mean staff must shelter in place for extended periods of time, often with no knowledge of their home or loved one’s condition. After several days, nerves become frazzled and staff becomes frustrated and sometimes angry. You need to manage their mental and emotional state in a positive fashion. Not an easy task by any means, however. Reassure the staff the hospital is doing everything possible to get them home. Then provide the support they need in their own struggle. Very important.
After the storm has passed, and life is beginning to return to some semblance of normal, it is vital to thank the staff for all they did to keep the hospital running. It can be very simple; hospital people like food and nothing says THANK YOU like an ice cream social. My point is, celebrations are important to the moral and engagement of the staff.
I find it interesting that in times like these, my thoughts were to still find ways to help others. And one way is to provide insight and wisdom to leaders on surviving In the Eye of the Storm. Regardless of your storms be they hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, floods, blizzards – remember being a leader during a natural disaster isn’t easy. I hope you will find this wisdom valuable so that your team feels your appreciation and your patients get great care.
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