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COVID-19 resilience and recovery

Author(s): Kendra McMillan, MPH, RN

Resilience takes collaboration and alignment.

Undoubtedly, we’re navigating in unprecedented times. At a rapid pace, we’ve borne witness to a virus that’s overtaken every aspect of our lives on a global scale. Amid mass shutdowns, shortages, and economic crumbling, the healthcare workforce has risen to the call to respond, caring for the sickest and most vulnerable while risking their own personal safety in the process. As we begin to see morbidity and mortality in some of the hardest-hit states begin to decline, we search for glimmers of hope in the idea of landing “on the other side” of a pandemic.

To get to a stronger healthcare system, nurses must work with leadership to strengthen the resilience of their organizations and build an effective recovery plan that meets the multidimensional needs of staff and the populations they serve now and in the long term. Key to this plan is developing effective strategies to address staff mental health, well-being, and resilience. The American Nurses Foundation, in partnership with the American Nurses Association and three of our affiliated specialty organizations, created The Well-being Initiative to help address these needs. The National Academy of Medicine also offers resilience-building strategies for healthcare leaders and clinicians.

Looking at the broader picture, COVID-19 has transformed how we provide patient care. From starting up telehealth programs to triaging in parking lots and implementing team-based advanced practice RN–led models for acute care, our healthcare system has adopted care delivery models some health professionals once doubted were possible. And lives are being saved as a result. So when nurses are working with their organization’s leadership, they should consider the successes during the pandemic that can lead to more resilient, stronger organizations. Another factor to consider: What lessons are learned from resource allocation and what resources and training are needed to avoid the same pitfalls?

Organizational resilience takes collaboration and alignment. Every healthcare organization should have a designated workgroup that includes clinical and nonclinical team members who can analyze strengths and weaknesses within the response plan to determine what can be done differently for a better future response. Evaluate the clinical lessons learned regarding patient care, staffing, personal protective equipment allocation, and overall preparedness to develop a comprehensive plan for the future.

During times of crisis and response, organizations build partnerships, such as with government agencies and community groups, to extend their capacity and achieve the greater goal of reduced morbidity and mortality. Once the crisis is over, healthcare organizations must leverage those partnerships to continue to strengthen patient care and preparedness measures. Nurses—with their resourcefulness and astute critical reasoning—are crucial to these efforts.

Looking ahead, we must acknowledge our new normal as a starting point in our recovery. Enduring a pandemic has changed both our lives and our outlook. The question that remains now is how can you take hold of this change to bolster not only healthcare professionals’ individual resilience but also the resilience and strength of our healthcare system?

Kendra McMillan is senior policy advisor for the American Nurses Association, Nursing Practice and Work Environment Department.

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