At the 2022 Health Evolution Summit, healthcare executives shared insights and tactics for battling the ongoing workforce crisis by addressing mental health, leveraging virtual tools and taking a whole-person approach. 

How devastating has COVID-19 been on workforces? Health care professionals experienced more cognitive and emotional potential moral injury during the pandemic than military veterans who entered a combat zone after the September 11, 2001 attacks.1

With half of health care workers feeling “defeated by their job” and three-quarters “ready for change,”2 workforce surpassed financial challenges as the top concern among CEOs for the first time since 2004.3

“Workforce is the number one issue being discussed in C-suites and boardrooms. People are really unclear about what to do and this is not short term. This is long term,” said David Shulkin, MD, formerly 9th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

At the 2022 Health Evolution Summit, Shulkin participated in the Outlook on Building a Healthier Workforce to Strengthen Resilience, which also included Jan Berger, MD, CEO, Health Intelligence Partners and David Henderson, CEO, DayTwo. 

“We’re seeing an increase in anxiety and depression and even chronic diseases because of the pandemic and other factors,” Henderson said. 

The experts discussed tactics for addressing those issues to create stronger and more resilient workforces that are needed urgently to survive the pandemic, including:

  • Addressing mental and behavioral health
  • Leveraging virtual tools to personalize care
  • Implementing a whole-person approach to care

Addressing mental and behavioral health


The mental health stressors of the last two years are greater than at any other time in recent history. They impacted the frontline and essential workers who are so critical to health care the most.   

On top of their regular day-to-day stressors, for example, health care workers during the pandemic faced life and death decisions, while also being worried about their families and loved ones. 

“These concerns are not left at the front door of our workplace. Whether the front door is a virtual front door of a zoom meeting at the beginning of the day, or as we go back into the workplace, the mental health stressors impact productivity, employee relationships and more,” Berger said. “Without integrating behavioral health, we will not be able to address either the value-based care issue or the health care costs associated with chronic disease.”

Shulkin added that in the VA’s case integrated models can cost 30 percent less overall.

“When you start dealing with the behavioral health issues, the cost of care actually starts to come down,” Shulkin said. 

Leveraging virtual tools to personalize care


Health Intelligence Partners surveyed 250 people with chronic diseases to understand how they feel about the self-care support being offered by employers and health plans. The firm found that 72 percent of respondents indicated that the tools actually make them feel more isolated and abandoned than before.4

“It was a technology play. It was not the high touch that they need when they’re already struggling mentally and physically,” Berger explained. “So all this great work we’re doing in technology right now, we better remember it’s the relationship and the human touch that matter most.”

Executives now have the opportunity to improve upon that earlier work to make care more personalized, Henderson said. 

“You can’t take the traditional broad approach to population health and think that will make a real impact at the individual level,” Henderson added. “Personalized care is critically important, not only on the health side, but also personalizing the work environment and how you engage with employees.” 

Henderson suggested that a personalized approach includes coaching and engagement with employees and members to enable a real team dynamic complete with collaboration, support and of course relevant science. 

“We are moving toward the ability to personalize health care more, whether it’s genomics or the microbiome, or for specific conditions,” Shulkin said. “The hybrid world allows you to take advantage of this personalization in a way that I don’t think many people saw even a couple years ago.” 

Implementing a whole-person approach to care


While many CEOs and executives in health care are working toward or considering integrating behavioral health with physical care, Henderson said that should also include employees’ microbiome health as well. 

“We discovered, particularly in the last five years, that the microbiome is an indicator of what impacts your health and the microbiome also impacts various diseases,” Henderson added. 

That includes behavioral and mental health as the microbiome can interrelate to anxiety, stress, sleep quality, energy levels, a sense of control over their condition and more. 

“It’s very important that we find a way to take the mental health, the physical health and the microbiome together when thinking about how we want to impact workforce resilience and decrease employee turnover,” Henderson said.

Shulkin added that delivering a valuable and personalized health care experience is a reason that employees will want to remain with an organization. 

“It can be a connective tissue when turnover rates continue to be so high,” Shulkin said. “If you have a connection with your employees where they are getting real value out of the program, they won’t leave as quickly.”

Conclusion


Health care has been disrupted in the last two years and the impact will likely be felt for years to come, particularly as it relates to workforces. 

The Great Resignation, for example, appears to be continuing apace with one out of every five doctors and two out of five nurses indicating plans to leave their job, and one out of every three doctors and nurses saying they plan to work fewer hours.5

Executives looking beyond the pandemic will need to continue focusing on making their workforce healthier to improve resiliency. Addressing behavioral health, leveraging digital tools to personalize care and implementing a whole-person approach as ways to engage the workforce can be effective tactics toward achieving that resilience.  

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1 Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Study compares moral injury in health care workers and veterans 

2 Morning Consult, With health care workforce feeling ‘defeated’ by pandemic, staffing woes could slow recovery

3 American College of Healthcare Executives, Top issues confronting hospitals

4 Health Intelligence Partners survey February 2022

5 Mayo Clinic Proceedings, COVID-related stress and work intentions in a sample of US health care workers  



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