Healthcare HR Week 2021: An Expert Interview & Advocacy Guide

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“I would say the biggest challenge has been really ensuring that we have full wraparound support for our employees…We meet people where they are. We do our best to understand what’s happening with the whole person and make sure that we’re supporting them. Part of that is just really listening to employees.”
Sarah Maytum, VP of Human Resources at Texas Children’s Hospital

There is no doubt about it: it’s been a year of trouble and strife for human resources departments across the world. In some areas, the pandemic has forced job cuts, while in others, it has caused a scramble for fast recruiting, posing challenges for HR departments spanning nearly all industries. These professionals have played a critical role in guiding their organizations through a set of unprecedented challenges.

Being at the helm of the fight against the virus, the healthcare industry has been particularly affected. Hospitals have found themselves with a desperate need for respiratory therapists, nurses, and other direct care workers. But the challenges for HR have run deeper than the challenge of finding new recruits.

Quickly reorganizing labor structures, introducing remote working models, and providing extra support for employees who are struggling with mental health and familial issues have been other arenas that HR has had to tackle this year. And these new additions to the job description aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Experts say they will continue to be felt into 2021 and beyond.

With Healthcare HR Week upon us (March 15-19, 2021), we talked to a seasoned pro from the Texas Children’s Hospital to learn about the challenges that healthcare organizations’ HR departments have faced during the pandemic. This year, the hospital will celebrate its HR employees with an extra dose of appreciation, after tackling an unprecedented year of changes.

Meet the Expert: Sarah Maytum, VP of Human Resources at Texas Children’s Hospital

Sarah Maytum is the vice president of human resources at Texas Children’s Hospital—the largest children’s hospital in the U.S. and one of the most consistently top-rated, according to the U.S. News & World Report. Her responsibilities include talent acquisition, community human resources, employee relations, compensation and employee records, organizational development, and performance management.

Maytum holds a master’s in education and administration from the University of Houston and a master’s in business administration from the University of Texas at Tyler. She took on the position of vice president of HR at the hospital in January 2019, prior to which, she held a variety of leadership and staff roles in operations. In total, Maytum has been with the Texas Children’s Hospital for 22 years.

Maytum graciously shared her perspective on the challenges facing healthcare professionals during this difficult pandemic era.

Healthcare HR Week at Texas Children’s Hospital

Every year, Texas Children’s Hospital takes the time to celebrate Healthcare HR Week to honor its human resources employees.

“We think it’s really important to talk about the stories and the incredible things that happen here because that’s what drives the best talent to us,” she said.

“You know, I think that it requires such a unique skill set out of human resources professionals to work in healthcare organizations. Because the service that we provide to patients and families and our members is so intensely driven by our employees, it’s really important that we have a robust structure within human resources to support them.”

This March, the hospital will be celebrating a particularly trying year in terms of challenges caused by the pandemic, including the increased demand for labor pools, a transition to remote services, and the enduring need for employee support.

The Increased Demand for Labor Pools

When hospitals across the nation were inundated with Covid-19 patients, healthcare organizations suddenly needed more workers, presenting a problem for HR departments. Even though Texas Children’s Hospital hasn’t faced an overwhelming number of Covid-19 patients (because it is a children’s hospital), it has still felt other residual effects.

The effects of Covid-19 created a need for labor pools, which are a source of capable employees who can be flexible in terms of where and when they are working and, sometimes, the tasks they are completing. Creating labor pool programs has become a trend in hospitals across the world through the pandemic.

“As our volume shifted, maybe we didn’t need as many employees to work in one location [but needed more in another]. We’ve had over 3,000 of our employees work in labor pools,” Maytum shared. “So they might’ve been reassigned to a different area. For example, employee health is an area that we needed a lot more nurses to work mid-pandemic than we had historically.”

Labor pools are good for both the hospital and the employees. First, they facilitate the organization’s ability to fill staffing shortages during a crisis. But they also offer an opportunity for team members to have different career growth paths; they aren’t held to just advancing in one department.

“That enabled them to keep their full hours every week and learn a new skill,” Maytum said. “We need additional things in place to keep the environment safe: additional cleaning, additional screening, additional PPE. So we need more people to be looking for scarce resources. I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done to just shift people around. I think it speaks to the resiliency of our employees.”

A Transition to Remote Work

With the introduction of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, virtually no industry has gone untouched by the new work-from-home craze, including hospitals. Healthcare has been slow to take up the shift to remote work for a number of reasons, including cultural issues, technological limitations, restrictive billing protocols, and legal constraints. But the pandemic has started to change that.

While there is the obvious need for direct care, some of the functions and services offered by the hospital can be done at a distance. Part of the HR department’s job was to support and help manage these transitions.

“We actually did make some pretty significant shifts early on in the pandemic. As there were stay-at-home orders, we really critically evaluated what work could and could not be done from home,” Maytum said.

Staff focused on patient intake coordination, marketing, HR, medical records management, community relations, utilization, and claims management, which can be managed remotely. But even care can take place via a remote setting. For example, if a patient is scheduled for a consultation with a pediatrician, the primary care provider doesn’t require an in-person visit, so the meeting can take place via telemedicine.

“We obviously have to have our direct patient care providers and a lot of our support providers on-site to take care of our facilities, to treat our patients, and to take care of our families,” Maytum said. “But we did make some shifts, to things such as doing more telemedicine appointments and things like that. And so those can be done from lots of different locations.”

More Support Needed for Employees

“Every person not only has their challenges at work, but they also have their worries at home. They’re concerned about their parents’ health and all kinds of different things like that,” Maytum said. “And so we’ve really tried to ensure that we have the supports available to them.”

Over 80 percent of the people who work at the Texas Children’s Hospital are women, so their workforce has faced particular challenges as women are more often the caretakers of elderly parents and children.

“I was having a conversation with an employee a couple of days ago, and she is losing sleep about her inability to get her parents scheduled for their vaccine and then another state. So that’s just a good example of how we share information as a community and how we kind of help people to get their heads around what are the components that they can and can’t control during the pandemic.”

All 50 states closed schools to in-person instruction at some point during the 2019-2020 academic year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including Texas.

“A lot of their kids either weren’t at school for a portion of the time or continue to not be at school, physically. And so that’s putting a lot of pressure on our employees. They come to work and then they go home and teach sixth grade.”

Part of the challenge for HR is keeping workers productive, motivated, engaged, and connected. During the pandemic, this challenge has intensified. Maytum said that keeping communication lines open has been a key part of their strategy.

“I would say the biggest challenge has been really ensuring that we have full wraparound support for our employees…We meet people where they are. We do our best to understand what’s happening with the whole person and make sure that we’re supporting them. Part of that is just really listening to employees.”

What Are Hospitals Looking for in HR Employees?

We also took the time to ask Maytum about what a top-rated hospital like Texas Children’s is looking for in its HR recruits during these changing times. She said that her answer is a bit different than it would have been in the pre-pandemic world. The top attribute she named? Flexibility.

“You have to be a person who wants to continue to evolve,” she said.

One example of an operational change that the hospital had to quickly adapt to during the pandemic was employee screening before entry to the hospital.

“We had never done it before, but we had to turn it on in about ten hours and get it up and running. At first, we didn’t have laser thermometers and we were just scanning people and taking their temperatures. We had to train people on how to use them. And were using paper forms. Now, we have a very streamlined process.”

She continued, “You have to think, what’s the best way to do it this week? And we’re learning that all over again with the vaccine. And so if you’re a person who just wants to set something up and you don’t want to evolve, that’ll be challenging for you because healthcare evolves really quickly. Certainly, the world is moving really quickly now with the pandemic. So you have to be somebody that adjusts and pivots really quickly. Our team has done a phenomenal job at that.”

Nina Chamlou
Nina Chamlou
Writer

Nina Chamlou is an avid writer and multimedia content creator from Portland, OR. She writes about aviation, travel, business, technology, healthcare, and education. You can find her floating around the Pacific Northwest in diners and coffee shops, studying the locale from behind her MacBook.

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