As organizations dealt with physical and mental illnesses during the pandemic, they learned from one another, keeping abreast of symptoms, recovery times, vaccines and more while also trying to offer employees a safe and understanding workplace.

Although vaccines are being offered to just about everyone now, COVID-19 remains a factor in our daily lives, which is why the Central Florida Development Council recently held a webinar to address the topic of Workplace Wellness. Patrick Phillips, senior vice president of Business Development at Lakeland Regional Health, introduced the panelists.

  • Dr. Daniel Haight, LRH’s vice president of community health, discussed the fluid state of the virus and vaccines.
  • Alice Nuttall, LRH’s associate vice president of Behavioral Health Services, provided tips on how to help and support co-workers, as well as ourselves. 
  • Scott Dimmick, LRH’s senior vice president of human resources, talked about how to continue to build a talent pipeline. 

Dr. Daniel Haight

The former head of the Health Department in Polk County, Haight said the number of cases in early March was decreasing, as were hospitalizations. Since then, the number of cases has started increasing again.

Throughout the past year, Lakeland Regional Health has been treating people with and without the virus, Haight said, urging people not to delay getting treatment for fear of contracting the virus. “We are able to take care of all those conditions at the same time.”

Throughout the pandemic, some people have gotten much sicker than others, especially those with underlying conditions like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. “Sometimes the immune systems over-fights,” and we need to address that. “We’ve learned a lot in the last few months to care for people,” including having people lie on their stomachs, if they are able, to open up their lungs and get the oxygen flowing.

One thing doctors have noticed: “As people recover from COVID, a lot of young people are getting blood clots in their legs, heart attack, strokes, blood clots to lungs,” Haight said. The hospital is part of a nationwide study seeking people over age 40 who had the virus within the previous two weeks to see if aspirin or anti-blood-clotting medicines help prevent clots as people recover.  Contact Haight at the hospital if you are interested in participating.

Haight said the three vaccines being offered now — Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — are safe and effective, with few side effects — sore arm, shivering and achiness, for example — that can be treated with things like Motrin, Aleve or Tylenol.

Alice Nuttall

We all must deal with the emotional impacts of COVID and help employees through this difficult period while also taking care of ourselves, Nuttall said. “You may not have ever thought of yourself as someone who is essential in the skills of psychology and emotional first aid, but in fact, you are, as a resident, neighbor and business leader.”

Everything that happened last year contributed to a degree of isolation and drove the rate of those dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse and addiction from 20% to 33%, she said. “And who isn’t reaching out and is silently suffering?”

One-third of the workforce has some degree of burnout, which Nuttall said is a syndrome describes as a depletion of energy, increased mental distance from the job, a higher degree of cynicism and a reduced ability to be efficient. “If skilled professionals are burned out, it’s going to be a difficult day.”

Those who are fatigued are less likely to be nimble and resilient, traits we needed last year, she said. That reduces the likelihood that we will be creative and innovative. “Those are the types of things that really suffer.”

From an organizational standpoint, fatigue and burnout are indicative of the workplace or community culture, she said. “Make intentional decisions to put systems in place to support wellness and emotional health (to) help people. … Too much stress + not enough time to take care of oneself = negative energy.”

When dealing with high-stress situations, leaders must be honest and transparent, and communicate frequently, she said. Leaders can prevent conditions from worsening by being proactive and preventative in nature by doing things like:

  • Expressing gratitude. “We underestimate how much this means to people.”
  • Listening, which is most important.
  • Reflecting on the organization’s resiliency. 
  • Being mindful. This includes things like taking three deep breaths daily, which lowers your heart rate, stabilizes blood pressure and decreases cortisol and stress hormones. Doing that even a few days in a row for several minutes can help make you happy and resilient.
  • Experiencing awe, whether a trip to Paris or watching your kids sleep. “Pause in the moment and think: That is truly remarkable.”
  • Journaling. Take 30 seconds to “dump” anything that comes to your mind to help create a clear path for the next day.
  • Smiling and laughing, which infuses the community with positivity.
  • Avoiding constant distractions.

Leaders also should schedule time for themselves and share hope. How will you tell the story of COVID, she asked. “Tell about the hardships, resiliency, but as you share, are you doing it in a way to highlight opportunities, wins, surprises, and to provide for people who can’t see the future a degree of comfort and support? … The way we share our story is what can really revolutionize how people respond to hard times in their future.” 

Scott Dimmick

Lakeland Regional Health has aligned its core values to motivate its staff and help the organization move forward, Dimmick said. Part of that is its Talent Management Value Chain, which focuses on hiring, developing and rewarding its staff for maximum optimization.

The Talent Pipeline programs like the High Involvement Work System are designed so LRH can “be one step ahead of what’s going in your organization,” he said. “Departments that have perfected it have a high-functioning, high-capability operation that simultaneously generates increased talent engagement. Individuals like it. When you develop skills … (it) fuels continued development of job skills that build the confidence of our leadership team to continue fostering our high-involvement work system.”  

The results: 

  • Outstanding workforce outcomes.
  • Outstanding business outcomes. When you involve people who do the work in business decisions, the outcomes are much better, he said.

The results: The hospital continues to increase its workforce numbers and focuses on filling positions internally. “In Polk County, we have access to (a lot of) low-skill talent. That’s why we have these feeder programs and talent pipelines.”

Dimmick and his team customized strategies during the pandemic to maintain morale and safety, including things like:

  • Providing all employees with N95 masks and face shields.
  • Offering rapid testing.
  • Having onsite leadership in all departments.
  • Not laying anyone off. 
  • Donating paid time off to employees who might not otherwise be paid.
  • Offering recognition, appreciation and emotional support programs.