4 minute read 9 Mar 2021
Woman modeling clay

How healthcare industry leaders are adapting workplace modeling for a COVID-19 environment

By H. Mallory Caldwell

US Health Leader

Proven executive and business strategist. Passionate about helping reshape and restructure industry to meet marketplace demands.

4 minute read 9 Mar 2021
Related topics Health COVID-19 Workforce

Workforce modeling: now, next and beyond in a COVID-19 environment

Leaders representing various US hospital systems and providers joined a virtual roundtable on April 17 to discuss the challenges of the current COVID-19 crisis and share ideas and thoughts on how they are preparing for the short- and long-term phases of recovery after the surge.

Now: planning for the surge and flattening the curve

Health care leaders from various areas in the US were willing to collaborate and share lessons learned, including ongoing concerns about the potential surge within their communities. For those preparing for a peak in the next few months, the focus is primarily on preparation and flattening the curve, while those currently experiencing the surge were acutely focused on improving staff morale with hopes of maintaining current service levels. Regardless of which stage, however, systems appeared to be focused on, two primary goals developed: (1) preparing staff (clinical and nonclinical) emotionally and physically for the challenges ahead and (2) utilizing telehealth and other mediums of remote alternatives to enable patient care.

Top three priorities for your organization related to workforce management

Some additional key topics and themes included:

Preparing staff

  • Pre-surge: Many health systems are reducing their staff who are focused primarily on elective procedures and/or outpatient care and realigning them to urgent or COVID-19-related services where possible. Redeployment of staff to other community needs, such as assistance in nursing homes, has also been a priority. Retraining has been necessary for these realignments, including critical care and elder care training.
  • Surge: For those who believe they are experiencing the surge now or will be in the coming weeks, the focus is more on maintaining clinician well-being and resiliency to handle the increasing demand. Health systems are crafting generous compensation packages that include benefits such as day care per diems, alternative housing options and advanced COVID-19 hazard pay. Systems have also ramped up internal marketing campaigns, celebrating Nurse and Physician Weeks, and using phone, email and video messages to disseminate information and highlight success stories from within their organizations.

Utilizing alternative care methods

Leveraging telehealth is now a major focus to help assist with COVID-19 patient care and those patients whose clinical needs cannot be postponed and can be handled remotely.

  • Pre-surge: Organizations are looking at strengthening their telehealth offerings to help handle the inflow of patient care requests, both critical and noncritical. In addition, organizations that believe they will run out of bed space or equipment are looking for local partners to help alleviate the strain. Learning from those ahead of them, these organizations are preemptively reducing the number of visitors allowed into the hospital.
  • Surge: To assist with flattening the curve, in addition to telehealth offerings, these organizations have set up mobile units and drive-throughs for their patients living in more rural communities. They have set up testing sites in common gathering places, such as churches and community centers.

Next: re-energizing staff and defining ramp-up volume and timeline

US health systems and providers believe they are in or approaching their respective COVID-19 surge; however, they each have worked tirelessly and anticipate having to navigate a unique set of challenges. Respectively, they are focused on the following priorities:

  1. Drafting and refining acuity-specific team compensation plans (clinical and nonclinical)
  2. Forecasting and modeling current and expected volumes
  3. Forecasting and modeling the waves and timing of each ramp- up phase
  4. Leveraging key clinical staff leaders to create workforce and patient public service announcements about the safety of returning to facilities for work and treatments

Understanding health systems have allocated significant time and resources for the potential surge of new COVID-19 patients, they now must tackle the challenge of maintaining ongoing service and delivery expectations at a time when reinforcements are in short supply.

  1. Pandemic or hazard pay
  2. Additional childcare and housing benefits
  3. Community-sponsored funds for the grants or awards to non- exempt frontline workers
  4. Online daily meditation and happy hours
  5. Online recruitment, hiring, training and onboarding

Additionally, health systems are working collaboratively with regional physician groups on solutions for physician compensation and employment. Many health systems are continuing physician payments — offering an end-of-year true-up to actual revenues — to help smaller physician group practices stay solvent.

Beyond: making sustainable changes to health system decision-making and care delivery

The long-term “new normal” for workforce modeling and management will require substantial changes to the operating model and brick-and-mortar reliance. This crisis has highlighted that health systems need a faster, more effective way of making pivotal organizational decisions, as well as the flexibility to provide telecommute and telehealth offerings.

Organizations are seeking to make telecommute and telehealth offerings the new normal. Some organizations have predicted that they could reduce operating expenses by 40% or more by transitioning away from traditional brick and mortar. As the new normal takes hold, the workforce and care delivery model of the future will be a direct reflection of the impact and evolution of the health care industry in the COVID-19 environment.


This article synthesizes key trends and themes and near-term and long-term strategies shared by leading health executives to address the current crisis and aftermath.

About this article

By H. Mallory Caldwell

US Health Leader

Proven executive and business strategist. Passionate about helping reshape and restructure industry to meet marketplace demands.

Related topics Health COVID-19 Workforce