By Lydia Kleinschnitz
I think that it goes without saying for a year with a pandemic, my imaging department had to face many challenges. These challenges included a drop in outpatient volume and working with our health system to preserve our workforce. We also had to make sure we had enough personal protective equipment for the imaging teams along with correct cleaning products to keep our equipment safe for those patients that we provided service. We had to be flexible because in the early stages of COVID-19 we were getting updates from our infection prevention team daily, even several times a day. Our cleaning processes had to change as quickly as the cleaning recommendations were updated.
As an imaging director, I had to make sure all this critically important information was communicated to my leadership team and to the front-line staff. This communication chain continues to be imperative as we navigate through 2021. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are declining within our community, but our outpatient volume is increasing – even faster than expected. Now, our challenges are maintaining patient care supplies along with keeping our imaging staff levels at a safe operational level.
We have discovered at this time that many of our staff members are looking for other job opportunities. It seems the pandemic forced many techs and nurses to put a hold on any career moves or life events. Now, suddenly, I have staff moving to other states, getting married, and decreasing work hours or taking positions with travel services. Staffing has become even more of an issue as some local schools did not provide formal classes for higher imaging specialties such as CT or MRI.
Not only must we focus great efforts on staff recruitment, but these circumstances have reinforced for me and the leadership team the need for genuine communication. This communication must include updates as to what we are doing as leaders to tackle the staffing challenges, reminding staff of support they have from leadership and addressing identified concerns or worries. We must ensure that we are communicating openly and timely with the staff that continue to work with us.
I have found that this communication should consist of four essential factors. The first is to listen. Before any action, a leader must listen to staff to find out about the problem at hand and to discover how staff are feeling and thinking. It is important that one does not try to formulate an answer before the staff person has completed their thought. Only after one has a true understanding can an appropriate response be made. The second factor is honesty. An honest response helps to build trust in relationships and can go a long way to reinforcing the staff’s view of a leaders’ integrity. Being vague or giving answers that aren’t clear might contribute to a false narrative and only lead to the breaking down of work relationships. The third piece to genuine communication is dialogue and exchange of ideas. It is important, when possible, to work together with staff toward a solution. Working together will help promote buy-in and cooperation.
The final factor is that sometimes the answer is no. If the answer to the question or problem is no, then say it. This will open the way for all parties to move forward and begin work on other possible solutions. Timely communication and dialogue must be the focus when tackling tough staffing situations. If there is any good that can come out of 2020 and the first few months of 2021 for me, it has strengthened the need for clear genuine communication with my team on a daily basis.
Lydia Kleinschnitz, MHA, BSN, RN, is the senior director of imaging services at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside.