I don’t think I really understood what it would be like to work in a hospital when COVID-19 hit us. No, I am not on the front line caring for patients, but I am right in the thick of things none the less. Prior to COVID-19, my role in Human Resources found me focusing on retention, engagement, compliance, and reinvigorating our Diversity Council. It seemed as if overnight, things changed. I was now educating myself on National Incident Command training and became part of our hospital’s Incident Command Center; my new jobs became Support Branch Director, and Personnel Manager.
In these roles, I was charged with managing our hospital Labor Pool. As we faced state and national government restrictions on elective surgeries, and the public became skittish to seek hospital services, we needed to redeploy and retrain staff that had performed those services to care for COVID patients. Some of these nurses hadn’t provided bedside patient care in many years, however, none shied away from the call to duty. As it became required for all employees to wear masks and to be temperature checked at our hospital entrances, I was charged with staffing these checkpoints.
Each morning, we begin the day with our daily safety huddle. In this huddle, reality hits hard. We review the number of total patients, open beds, COVID patients, Patients under Investigation (for COVID infection) and how many patients are in the morgue. Additionally, we review the national and state COVID statistics, and a zip code view of the COVID hotspots, as well as local trends. My hospital is in Baltimore County, one of the early hotspots of the state. I wish I could say I have become numb to it but hearing this information every day does take its toll psychologically. To help alleviate some of the heaviness in the room, we end every call by recognizing staff for their contributions. Some of the recognition sometimes includes a staff member that helped family members say “good-bye” to their dying loved one by holding up an iPad to facilitate one last conversation. This has become almost a daily recognition.
As I am not myself caring for these patients, I am interacting with people that are, and I can see their faces, even through the masks, their eyes telling the story of pain and stress. I have come to admire our caretakers even more for what they must endure. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them.
Understandably, my own HR team had become fearful of coming to work. I had tried to have my team work remotely, but after 4 weeks of a trial period, it became impossible as the volume of work increased dramatically. Its been a balance of trying to stay strong for them and with them, while trying to keep myself adjusted. I am proud of my team, as they have fought through their fears, and understand our role in supporting these healthcare heroes.
In the 8 or so weeks since COVID hit us, I think I have worked 7 days a week, with hardly a real break, working on average 12 to 14-hour days. I won’t lie and say I haven’t had my share of meltdowns, but then, I think back to morning safety huddle, and this brings me back to reality. I have seen under stressful conditions the true character of people, the good and the bad. Sometimes the stress of our collective situation builds, and there isn’t always a healthy release of that stress. What I have come to appreciate is that we are giving each other a break when we aren’t being our best, and not holding grudges.
In addition to these duties, my HR team and I were put on point to coordinate all hospital in-kind donations. It would take me a full paragraph or two to list all of donors, but we’ve had enough lunches, dinners, snacks, and beverages to keep us fed for days. Coordinating these events has been one of the fun aspects of our new world. Our employees are enjoying all this wonderful generosity. A few times, I’ve delivered meals or donuts to our patient care areas in the hospital. On some floors, there are heavy plastic tarps with warning signs not to enter without proper personal protective equipment. These are areas of the hospital I used to visit frequently, and now I am forbidden to go.
This work week in particular ended on a note I don’t think I will ever forget. I received a phone call about one of our employee’s that have survived COVID-19. The voice on the other side of the phone began to tell me this employee is a miracle, as given his condition, “should not be alive”. At the same time, one of my favorite employees, also diagnosed COVID positive last week, was released from the hospital and sent home. Knowing we had staff members infected with COVID does remind us all that our health care workers are putting their own lives on the line to help others. I couldn’t be more thrilled they are both on the mend. And, as I’ve said from the beginning of all this madness, there isn’t anywhere else I would rather be, working side by side with such incredibly wonderful people.
I should close by saying that writing this article was more emotional than I thought. Several times, I had to stop and wipe the tears away, but somehow, getting these words out has made me feel just a little better.
- Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.